I woke up this morning, after hitting the snooze button one too many times, to the blaring headline of The Sun newspaper's front page, claiming that 1 in 5 British Muslims have sympathy for jihadis. Instantly a feeling of dread came upon me as I thought about how much hate and suspicion would be churned by this one page; I wish I had stayed asleep.
Islamophobic attacks have risen by 300% in the week following the Paris Attacks, and that figure doesn't cover the large number incidents that have not been reported. I have personally heard friends speak about their experiences of being pushed on the Tube and being verbally abused and harassed with bystanders remaining silent, and the stories of women being kicked off buses and pushed into trains even before this surge, has left me shocked and, unfortunately, also fearful.
I have never been one to feel afraid as a result of people's perceptions of my identity. I have never felt anxious walking down the street or waiting for a train, but recently this has been the case. After seeing the video of a woman waiting for a train in London being pushed into its path in an attempted murder, the fact that someone would be willing to kill another person, in a place so familiar to me, just because they are a Muslim and because of their perceptions of what that means, is, for me, chilling. When I saw that footage, I kept thinking that that woman was like me, waiting for a train in London, wearing a headscarf, going about day to day life; the only thing that separated us in that moment was time and place.
Of course, you can't let yourself think thoughts like that for too long, otherwise you can find the fear engulfing you, and when that bolt of fear jolts through your heart and warns you to stay away from the tracks, and get home before it gets too late, you tell yourself, to shake it off and keep going, because you refuse to let the fear-mongering and dividing have its bite of you.
With this thought in mind, I recently chaired an event on Muslim women in the West at King's College London as part of Islamophobia Awareness Month. The conversation covered how deeply islamophobia is rooted in society, why women in particular are most targeted, how this affects them and what can be done to combat it. In this room, which was packed to the brim, I saw people facing the reality of islamophobic sentiment, something that has to be done in order to counter it.
The fact that newspapers are publishing headlines like that of The Sun, and cartoons like that of The Daily Mail which suggests that Muslim refugees are rats is unacceptable. Add to that the government's continued treatment of Muslim citizens as suspect, and the pedalling the discriminatory Prevent Strategy, the extent of islamophobia in the UK is shown. However I will not give in to the fear this evokes; I will not let it turn fear into the norm.
November is Islamophobia Awareness Month and you can find out more and read about the events taking place here.