23/03/2017 06:39 GMT | Updated 24/03/2018 05:12 GMT

In The Wake Of The Westminster Attack, Londoners Need To Call Out Islamophobia


It's always been a case of when, and not if London will fall victim to another terrorist attack. Since the 7/7 bombings in 2005, where 52 people died at the hands of suicide bombers on the London tubes and buses, the capital has lived in a perpetual state of fear.

Those fears were realised on Wednesday afternoon when a man carrying what seemed to be a kitchen a knife stabbed a policeman, ran over innocent bystanders and tried to gain access into Parliament - killing four people in the process. Subsequently, reports deemed it a terrorist incident until the police knew otherwise.

And just like that I my guard was up.

Not just because I was worried further attacks were imminent, but because being a British Muslim (practicing or not) you learn that when the word terrorist is banded about in the media, you prepare yourself for the onslaught of abuse the public will throw at you. Fear and ignorance manifest and then take form of either racial/Islamophobic insults hurled directly at you or subtle micro-ragressions, such as a stare followed by a whisper.

In the weeks after the 7/7 bombings London was a scary place. I remember being called a smelly terrorist paki by a passerby in Greenwich - I was 15-years-old at the time. My sister, who wears the hijab, was called a bomber in Lewisham and my school friend's hijab was pulled off as she walked around London with her friends.

I boarded a bus with a rucksack full of clothes after spending the weekend at my cousins. The police saw me and ordered me to empty out the contents of my bag in front of everyone on the bus as passengers whispered among themselves- again, I was 15 years old. Still to this day I get stares and worried looks whenever my bag looks bulky as I get on the tube.

Don't get me wrong - I understand the concern. But when you have sensationalist headlines paraded across all media outlets, being Muslim in the wake of a terrorist attack is exhausting. And let's not kid ourselves into thinking that when people hear the word terrorist or terrorism, they don't instantly think of Muslim men with beards or women in hijabs. Trust me, I have every right to be scared of getting on public transport or walking down the street in the wake of a terrorist attack than you do of being scared of me - or people who look like me.

When I left work upon hearing news about the attack in Westminster my colleagues wished each other a safe journey home, with many of them adding 'especially you Yusuf, because you know...' As expected the tubes were oppressively packed with commuters scrambling to get home, but to add to the already uncomfortable journey I was subjected to lingering stares and the odd comment when the train passed through Westminster station. I remained silent trying not to let it bother me, but believe me it did - it always does.

In the coming days and weeks London will be on high alert with an increased presence of police across the capital. While this is intended to keep everyone safe and at ease, I, and others like me, will have to keep our own guards up. The impending sensationalism by the media will hope to create yet another moral panic about Muslims - The Sun newspaper already thinks one in five British Muslims sympathise with Jihadis, so expect more of the same rubbish to come.

All I ask is this: If you see or hear any Islamophobic commentary in the wake of what happened in Westminster, please say something. Don't be that person who records a stranger spewing their vitriol on your phone and upload it to Twitter later to then voice your outrage. This does nothing. Speak up and let everyone around know that the opinions of an ignorant few do not represent that of the rest of London.

The attack in Westminster was intended to divide us during an already contentious period in our country's history. To the rest of the world London is celebrated for being inclusive and open to welcoming to everyone - now is the time to act like it.