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Casual racism is common: I’ve been called a terrorist

‘We are the same as you, we do all the same things as you. I don’t understand why there’s so much division?’

19 November, 2021 — By Merium Bhuiyan

Merium Bhuiyan, who is the vice-chair of the Islington Faiths Forum

IT’S one of those things where the larger incidents I can count on one hand – which is of course still too many – but it’s the smaller, micro-aggressions that you experience much more regularly, like once a week.

Well, maybe it’s less but I’m on the alert, and sometimes something happening is equal to the fear of it happening. It’s more that you’ve got heightened stress and you’re always conscious that something might happen. It’s the added layer when you’re just trying to go through your daily life.

I drive instead of taking public transport, partly because I want to feel safer. And that’s not just a Muslim woman issue but a woman issue.

I do want to stress that when I do take public transport most of the time it’s fine – but there have been times when it’s not, and that’s not OK.

People look at me, they hold their bags closer, or might start muttering under their breath, or they just look uncomfortable.

Ultimately, I just want to get normal treatment – an occasional smile or the anonymity that others experience.

I’ve been called a terrorist, someone asked my sister why I was a wearing a rag or a towel on my head. I’ve been spat at. Someone even threw stones at me from a window once, that was a weird one.

It’s really confusing when it happens as you’re not quite sure what’s happening at the time.

Men see me driving and I think they’re more aggressive: they’re thinking woman, brown, headscarf – easy target. They see me and take their aggression out on me so they can feel better about themselves.

I hate to say it, but it does generally seem to be white men that do it, ironically the most privileged in our society.

I’ve been thinking about the Muslim experience, and specifically the female Muslim experience, a lot this month, as it’s Islamophobia Awareness Month.

I feel like I get both positive and negative stereotypes. Some people see me and think ‘Oh she’s wearing a headscarf’ so she must be smart and trustworthy but on the flip-side people think I’m stupid or weak or an easy target. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, when you put on that symbol of your faith I feel like people dehumanise you. You’re not a person anymore, you’re a headscarf, which is really bizarre.

In order to engender change, general things need to happen. The media need to be held accountable, the Daily Mails and the Suns who write things about refugees such as calling them “vermin” and describing “swarms of people coming over”; it’s speaking about ethnic groups as not human. That’s inciting hatred and dehumanising groups of people.

The second thing that needs to happen is to have stricter laws to deal with this problem. I recognise my own privilege: I speak English and drive my own car – but what about my sisters in Islam that don’t? I’d like to see stricter laws so that people from different faiths feel more protected, and can feel confident that their reports of crime will be taken seriously and investigated.

Education is a massive part too – within schools, although they already do a lot, but also in organisations. It’s unconscious bias – it’s so entrenched in every sector of our society. The dots aren’t joining up and lots of things slip through the net.

My message to your readers in essence is: we are the same as you, we do all the same things as you. I don’t understand why there’s so much division? We’re all just getting on with our lives. Why can’t people just be kind?

There are so many different labels, it’s multi-layered. I’m a woman. I’m a Muslim. I’m young – that’s a position of privilege.

I’m educated – privilege. I face a lot of positive discrimination as well as negative, and because I’m so aware of that I know a lot has to be done to fix the issues.

Merium Bhuiyan, 34, is a lecturer at Uxbridge College. Born and still living in Islington, she is the vice-chair of the Islington Faiths Forum.


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