By Anisah Islam, BA Global Liberal Arts
When we think of phobias, we often think of a person who has a debilitating fear of an object or situation. It is very rare for people to have a ‘phobia’ for human beings; a xenophobe is simply a racist. There are no medical reasons behind it. When a person shows hostility towards Jewish people they are called antisemitic, as there are no chemical imbalances in your brain that makes you a bigot. But people who are islamophobic claim there is an actual reason behind their hatred.
According to the Oxford dictionary ‘Islamophobia is the fear of, hatred of, or prejudice against the religion of Islam or Muslims in general.’ So when far-right activist Tommy Robinson declares that he’s ‘not talking about Muslims, he’s talking about Islam’, it’s very hard to believe him when a quick search on Youtube will clearly show him attacking Muslim people. `
It is argued that islamophobia truly emerged after 9/11 when the name Islam meaning the ‘religion of Peace’ was suddenly associated with terrorism. But when did it become acceptable to terrorise innocent Muslims because they ‘might be a terrorist.’
I, as a young hijabi girl, had my fair share of islamophobia when I was just seven years old. The first incident was at a park when I was with my half-white, half-Bengali cousins, and a Caucasian mum shouted ‘The ball better not hit my pram you “P’s!”’ I had never heard that word before and thought it was targeted at my cousin’s uncles who were actually playing with the ball. I initially thought it couldn’t have been as they look the same as her. I was the only one wearing a black pull-on hijab. At that moment, I hesitantly reached up and slowly pulled off my hijab as I was scared she might scold me again. It was the first time I felt ashamed of being a Muslim.
“I’m not a packet, I’m a human.”
The second incident was in Wales when I was nine and a 13 year old girl called me the “P” word once again. ‘There’s that word again! But why is she shouting bloody packets? I’m not a packet, I’m a human.’
It seems funny to me now that I mistook the derogatory term for something else. But it also underlined my innocence and at how early of an age my intense fear for practicing my religion began.
I grew up in East London, a predominantly Bengali community, so I never faced discriminantion on a regular basis. It was when we traveled outside my little bubble that I experienced the harsh reality of the real world. During my younger days, I would be petrified of train stations as I was worried someone might attack me. Going on a trip to Butlins made me weary of what might occur, when any other child would be thinking of what rides they might go on. I even altered my speech to not bring any attention to myself- I hated travelling with my nan as I didn’t want to communicate in Bengali, and I even called my mother ‘mum’ instead of the Bengali word ‘amma’ when we were out.
However, I didn’t know that it would get worse until I went on a school trip to France and Belgium. This truly demonstrated to me how the islamophobia I experienced in the UK was minuscule to what I faced alongside my classmates in both those countries. I experienced my first disgusted stares from French people as we walked through the market, and my first denial of access to an ice cream shop by a Belgian customer – not even the staff. Once again my classmates and I made jokes about the situation and reminded ourselves to ‘never visit again’.
But why should people fear traveling to other countries because of how they look? Why should people avoid talking in their mother-tongue to appease people that can only speak one language? And why should a child ever feel the need to question their identity?
Islamophobia is not about the fear of Islam. It’s fearing anyone who looks like they can be associated with Islam. Hence why Sikh’s are also a victim of islamophobia despite practicing another religion. Islamophobes should understand that there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world and if we were all terrorists then why are the people who are not letting Muslim teenagers into an ice-cream shop still alive?
In all seriousness, l believe all those incidents defined who I am as a Muslim today, as I did not allow myself to succumb to their bigotry. I now speak Bengali in public with confidence, I call my mother by the term I used my entire life, and I wear my hijab and surname with pride.
Photo Caption: A crisp packet on a park bench in Regent’s Park, London (Credit: David Martyn Hunt).