According to Theresa May's speech in response to the terrorist attack in London on Saturday night, we need to have 'difficult and embarrassing conversations' about 'Islamist' extremism and radicalisation. In saying so, I felt that she was insinuating that the Muslim community has up until now been shying away from the issue at best, and being complicit with terrorism at worst. In my view, it is an insult and an indication of utter ignorance to suggest that Muslims in Britain are afraid of talking about terrorism or confronting radicalisation. Let's get one thing straight - British Muslims hate terrorism and extremism as much British non-Muslims, if not more, and we talk about it a lot more.
Firstly, we are just as likely to be caught up in a terrorist incident as non-Muslims, and so are no less afraid of terrorist attacks and no less horrified by them. We are more likely to be part of the medical teams that help save lives of victims, as we make up a large proportion of NHS workers. My family is a case in point: my younger sister was trapped with friends near London Bridge while the incident was taking place, which was terrifying for the whole family as we couldn't get in touch. Meanwhile, my older sister who is a doctor at St Thomas's left in the middle of the night to help with the casualties at her hospital. However, we are the ones who are blamed for being 'part of the problem', as this is how the government presents the issue. What they don't say is that we are also the victims of terrorism, and to a much larger extent than non-Muslims.
It is our children that are being targeted for recruitment, to blow themselves up, to fight and die in wars abroad, to commit crimes that will end up in their death or incarceration. The government does nothing to address the brainwashing that is taking place on the internet, akin to grooming by paedophile gangs. Just as victims of online child abuse are treated as just that - victims - so we should understand that young, innocent, impressionable (and often vulnerable) minds are being deliberately warped and controlled by powerful propaganda machines based abroad but with easy access to every laptop, tablet and mobile in the country. If something like this was happening to white British youngsters, it would be presented in an altogether different light, that much is undeniable.
It is our children who are being treated like criminals at younger and younger ages, by teachers, social workers and the culture of mistrust and paranoia fostered by the PREVENT programme. Rather than helping youngsters better understand the confusing world we live in, they are constantly being asked to make a choice - are you British or are you Muslim? We may as well ask Theresa May, are you the Prime Minister or are you a woman? Such questions do nothing to help guide young minds through the muddy waters of identity and adolescence, and further fuel the false notion of a 'clash of civilisations'. If anything, it makes young Muslims feel less 'British', less accepted, less valued by their society for who they are. That is a sad, sad thing.
British Muslims are much more likely than non-Muslims to be affected by terrorism abroad; we have relatives living in places facing far worse terrorist attacks, on a much more regular basis and bigger scale. Just one day before the London attacks, 100 people were blown to pieces in a huge explosion in Kabul. For them there were no concerts, no vigils, no 'I heart Kabul' profile pictures. Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Nigeria are being blown up, decapitated, tortured, kidnapped, raped and enslaved by ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram and the like. What we saw in Manchester and London is not even a tiny taste of the daily horrors that Muslims around the world experience. What many people don't realise it that 95% of people killed by 'Islamic' extremists are Muslim. So how is it conceivable that we are somehow ok with it? We are more scared, more sad and more angry.
Not only are we victims of 'Islamic' extremism at home and abroad, but we also have to contend with racism and right-wing extremism on our doorstep. It is our faith that has been conflated to such an extent with terrorism that now identifying as a Muslim comes laden with stigma and fear of being discriminated against, or worse, accused of being an apologist for terrorism. For the first time in my life, I now think twice about giving my last name, as I fear judgment and suspicion. Born and raised in London, I am now 'the Other'.
We are the ones who feel the full force of a racist backlash each time a terrorist attack happens. We are the ones who are made to feel guilty, on the defensive, anxious that our children will be picked on in the playground, or that our colleagues are whispering behind our backs. We are the ones who are abused, sworn at, spat at, pushed, punched, kicked, beaten and even killed on British streets. Our homes and places of worship are petrol-bombed and have faeces posted through their doors.
These acts are no more a universal British problem than terrorism is a Muslim problem. So please understand this - we are even more gutted than you are when a terror attack happens. We don't just have the fear of terrorism, but the fear of collective punishment as well. It's time the government and media started recognising us as victims of terrorism and extremism. We must resist the damaging rhetoric that frames terrorism through the lens of 'Islam versus the West'. We are as British as you so are please feel our pain, and not make us the enemy. We have a common enemy, one that is hard to fight, and it is scary. But we are even more scared than you.