by Yasmin Begum
Anti-Muslim violence is rising across the world at an alarming rate. Following the violent attacks in Paris, the firebombing in Germany, and the high population of Muslims who are victims of the refugee crisis, Islamophobia in Europe is reaching extreme levels.
In the United Kingdom, where I live, anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen by 300% over just the past couple of months. Before recently, much of the Islamic experience in Europe was limited to discrimination and socio-economic poverty. But the recent turn to increased violence has been a long time coming. Tensions between Europe’s racism and Islamophobia are based on deep-rooted issues of colonialism and cultural purity. Europe is known for its xenophobia— its dislike and fear of people from other countries.
As a Muslim woman of mixed Pakistani and Welsh descent who lives in the U.K., my identity has always been broadly read as “Middle Eastern.” Even though I didn’t understand the meaning of the towers falling as a seven-year old child, I’ve always known that I grew up in a climate of Islamophobia and racism.
As a teenager, I was the victim of a hate crime, which resulted in taking out a restraining order. This wasn’t an unusual experience for my peer group and the communities I grew up in. In fact, I knew many people who had similar experiences.
Troublingly, I have noticed that the most invisible form of Islamophobia is the rising violence against women. The vast majority of victims of Islamophobia are Muslim girls or women dressed in Islamic clothing. And the number of attacks on Muslim women are only based on instances that have been reported. Undoubtedly many more have taken place.
I have been on the receiving end of gendered Islamophobia for my entire life. And recently, it feels like it has gotten worse. Just a few weeks ago, someone called me a terrorist while traveling on the train in London, the day after the U.K. voted to bomb Syria.
Now as an adult, I am just beginning to understand how Islamophobia, along with sexism, has shaped my life and the lives of others.
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Various black feminist thinkers such as Angela Davis and Claudia Jones have talked about how oppression intersects at gender, class, race and sexuality. For example, we know that racism is gendered and sexuality is highly racialised.
Muslim women of color have the combined oppressions of being women, people of color and of having a marginalized faith. Because a lot of Muslims in Europe are of African descent, the racism they experience is specifically anti-blackness.
As if Muslim women were not already visible and vulnerable against a backdrop of majority white, Christian citizens, policies have been enacted that further isolate Muslim women. Wearing the burqa, niqab or the hijab can be very isolating in European countries such as France, where the veil was banned in schools. French monitoring and anti-racist organisations have reported a sharp spike in hate crimes following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
The violence taking place against Muslim women of color goes beyond being attacked or slurred at in the street. Islamophobia against women of color is also taking place on a large scale, state level.
Throughout Europe, Muslim prison populations are growing. The number of women in prison in Europe is “increasing rapidly”, 70% of France’s prison population is Muslim, despite Muslims only making up 10% of the country’s population. It’s a similar case in other countries like the U.K., where the Muslim prison population has nearly doubled over 12 years. Additionally, Black people are four and a half times overrepresented in prison in the U.K., a rate even higher than the incarceration of Black people in the U.S.
As violence against Muslim women of color increases in Europe and abroad, we need to pay attention to how policies and incarceration are being built specifically upon racism and Islamophobia. While Islamophobia grows in Europe, its countries are imprisoning Black and Muslim prisoners at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, the “War On Terror” still targets Muslim women abroad. While we are being locked up in our home countries, the military is trying to destroy our communities in other countries, too.
It’s important that we follow the lead of those who are most affected by Islamophobia and racism. In the U.K., the hotline called Tell Mama was set up especially to report and monitor Islamophobic hate crimes. Many Muslim women are already resisting Islamophobia, such as Arzu Merali who helped to found the Islamic Human Rights Commission, a research and monitoring body on Islam and Islamophobia. While these projects are resisting Islamophobia against women of color, they are not enough; we must all continue to fight together until we end sexist and racist Islamophobia.
Yasmin Begum is a 20 something year old writer from Cardiff, Wales. She is interested in radical politics, prisons and likes to write in her free time. Yasmin tweets @yasroti.
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