When Donald Trump says: 'all Muslims' what exactly does he mean by that? You see it is not so clear-cut when it comes to questions of faith. My surname is Islam, my parents are Muslim, and most of my relations in Bangladesh are Muslim. So would I be banned from entering the US?
Drawing of Muslim Somali boy featured in my book Avenues, 2006 (pencil on A3 paper)
Islamaphobia has reached a level that is pernicious and counterproductive since hostility towards Muslims is becoming more overt and less tacit.
Islamic State (IS) forces Christians and Yazidis to renounce their faith and beliefs or face persecution and death. Their world vision is extreme, but so is Trump's; his statement implies that all non-Muslims are peace loving law-abiding citizens and all Muslims are potential knife wielding terrorists. It's such a ridiculous statement if you look at the actual percentage of the world population engaged in such acts, the statistics confirm that the vast majority of Muslims are non-violent.
Drawing of Muslim Bangladeshi girl featured in my book Avenues, 2003 (pencil on A3 paper)
I recently had a conversation with a fellow Bangladeshi woman, who I would perceive to be a practicing Muslim and fairly conservative. We were discussing the Paris massacre, and she spoke instead of Western foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria arguing that this type of terrorist activity was taking place in so many countries and just because it was in Europe there was an outcry. During our conversations I picked up some hostility towards the Western way of life, a definite bias towards the Muslim way and an intrinsic belief that it was morally superior. And I have encountered this with other Muslims, too. I know that she condones peace and is a hard working mother, even if she holds views that could be perceived as anti-Western and are antithetical to my own.
And surely we have met many people who hold views that we simply don't share.
Tony Blair recently stated that Islamic extremist's ideology enjoys the support of many Muslims. He said: "The reality is that in parts of the Muslim community a discourse has grown up which is profoundly hostile to peaceful coexistence. Countering this is an essential part of fighting extremism."
Drawing of my Muslim, Somali friend Nemo, featured in Avenues, 2006 (pencil on A3 paper)
These sorts of sweeping generalisations serve little purpose apart from to fuel divisions and suspicion. The fact is there are very conservative and religions communities in the UK, France, the US, Asia and beyond. Yes, some communities might virulently enforce their traditions and defend their faith. Since 9/11 those feelings might have become more pronounced and I have seen such religious conservatism in east London and Bangladesh - it's ubiquitous and to think that we can eradicate it because we disagree with it is totally naïve.
So what is the answer? Engaging in dialogue, trying to understand and listening, which is what I did with that fellow Bangladeshi lady. I honestly don't think me trying to convince her to empathise with those killed in the attacks would have changed her stance; just as we can look at images of people killed in suicide attacks in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan with glazed eyes because they have become so habitual.
We have to accept difference within our society and world. There will be millions of people who hold views that we find unacceptable. To think that we can change them is unrealistic. Saudia Arabia has an appalling human rights record and does unspeakable things to its citizens in the name of religion, but Western governments continue to do business with them because of their affluence and the desire for their trade. How can you change Saudia Arabia? People that have dared to have been flogged, imprisoned and killed for trying.
However US and European governments could go into schools in areas with a large Muslim contingent and offer another perspective; encourage imams to preach tolerance; and ban those inculcating hate and violence. More needs to be done to regulate the extremist content that young, impressionable people are accessing on the internet. It's a mammoth task, but that's more realistic then banning Muslims from entering the US.
Muslim Somali school girl featured in my book Avenues, 2006 (pencil on A3 paper)
The intrinsic difference in opinion is something I have accepted long ago. Each time I have visited Bangladesh, for example, I have modified my dress but emphatically worn my style of clothes with my hair uncovered and been judged for it. Some relations have told me that I will go to hell because I married a non-Muslim. They believe they can convert me, but they can't, just as I know that whatever I say will not dent their perspective.
It seems that the world is becoming a facile dichotomy of those for Islam or against versus those for the West or against. This black and white vision is beyond simplistic because there is no black or white, there are infinite gradations of colours and a myriad of world-views and the best thing we can do is to engage in a dialogue.
Donald Trump I dare you to invite ten Muslims from different backgrounds, ages and races into your living room, just like the young Muslims that I have drawn and photographed, and listen to their views, I guarantee that they will all hold very different opinions.
This is something that I learnt when I made my film Connecting Faith for the British Council in 2003 where I interviewed three young Muslims in London, Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka, Bangladesh. All three of them had unique perspectives about their faith and it's this difference that makes the world interesting.
We also have to accept post 9/11 the political landscape has changed irrevocably and foreign policy decisions do impact on citizens, especially if they are virulently opposed to decisions being made.
The recent bloody killing of 14 innocent civilians, in San Bernardino in California, has left people scared. The key is to stay calm. If people like Trump imply that all Muslims are potential terrorists the chances are as Muslims face unfair discrimination and attacks by simply 'looking' Muslim; carrying a name that suggests they could be Muslim; or even having brown skin, paradoxically more people could become potentially radicalised. Far from becoming safe, by excluding and falsely accusing, our world will become a more divided and dangerous place to inhabit.Suggest a correction