A Muslim walks into a bar on a Friday night. The set-up already alludes to a preposterous story but bear with me. It's a good one.
Said Muslim sits down and gets chatting to a well-meaning gentleman. The conversation flows as follows:
"You don't look like you're from around here. So where do you come from?" asks the well-meaning gentleman.
"I'm actually from London," replies the Muslim, somewhat flattered by the sudden interest from a stranger.
"Come on now. Really. Where are you from?"
"Well, my parents are from India."
"Oh, so are you Hindu or Sikh?"
"Actually, I'm Muslim"
"So are you against ISIS, then?"
Cue an awkward silence an abrupt end to the conversation.
It doesn't take a genius to guess that the Muslim in question was me, and the well meaning gentleman wasn't actually that well meaning.
Or was he?
I left the bar wondering whether that was a mildly inebriated rare occurrence, or actually something I could end up confronting more. As I listened to the radio over the weekend I repeatedly heard the story of Isis' propaganda video warning and started wondering whether I should tweet something or write openly that I condemn their actions.
I've never really felt the need to be openly anti-ISIS until I was confronted - in real life, rather than online. I'd just assumed that as a (debatably) well-adjusted British Muslim nobody I encounter at a bar in central London would have me down as pro-ISIS.
As a joke I once considered starting a blog called 'ISISnot', documenting the rather humdrum life of regular Muslims who just go about their day not issuing fatwahs and carrying banners that say 'Islam will dominate the world'. I laughed off the idea as I figured that it would just be a stream of me going to work and occasionally papping a hijabi at a bus stop but I've registered the Tumblr and will will start posting.
More noble, perhaps, are the young Muslim artists speaking about their experiences of recent cultural tensions. Their aim is to change the narrative and show that there is a multi-faceted Muslim culture in the UK that doesn't revolve around Syria and Shariah law. The one point from the article that sticks out is about the "relatively relaxed multiculturalism of the 1990s".
I would have put money on the Teletubbies making a return before relaxed multiculturalism does, and that would have been a good bet, if somewhat haram. It is true, however, that there once was a time when questions about Islam came from a place of intrigue rather than what I now sense: fear.
Let's be real. Nostalgia is not an option. Some atrocious things are happening around the world all in the name of religion. You just have to Google image search 'Muslim in London' to get a glimpse of what this looks like (I was looking for ISISnot content to get started and was severely let down)...
Some discourse is taking place to discuss just how Islamic those actions are, but this isn't happening in mainstream media. The truth is ISIS headlines get clicks - in the past 24 hours there are no less than three video ISIS-related videos on the Mail Online garnering over 5,000 shares - and clicks get increased ad revenue so where's the business incentive to show a balanced argument?
There isn't one, but I believe that in time as more balanced viewpoints creep into Facebook timelines, the debate about British Muslim identity will move forward. As a young Muslim today it must be excruciating to piece together an identity that has been imposed upon you with what's in the news day in day out that continually makes you want to pick a side. It just doesn't have to be that way. At least in my day (okay so I got a bit nostalgic) we had Goodness Gracious Me, a more light-hearted approach to Islam and a more balanced news agenda. The time has come to address that.
If you asked me now if I thought the gentleman was in fact well-meaning I would say yes. Until a more balanced view of Muslims appears in the media he has every right to ask me about my views. If I get asked again in the future I will speak up because if I don't then stereotypes will only perpetuate.
My one request is that I don't get asked on a Friday night. Some of us just want to enjoy a drink, ok?