Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Why should Muslims put up with being stereotyped?

Like everyone, we are creatures of many parts. But we are not allowed such complexities

Share
Related Topics

Looking back at what I did this week, a parade of identities walks past, each one a part of the whole, none the whole of me. A passionate Londoner, I declared against Boris Johnson. With Billy Bragg at the Barbican on St George's Day, I was graciously invited by him to feel part of "progressive" Englishness and, funnily, in that hall, I did.

On to the launch of Quilliam, a think tank set up by reformed radical Ed Hussain, and felt part of a new worldwide ummah of open-minded Muslims. At The School of Oriental and African Studies, I joined a panel and an engaged audience to discuss racism. From deep within stirred the old, anti-racist activist. I read words by James Baldwin at a moving gathering organised by the Stop the War Coalition, and united with other kindred spirits who still fight for Iraq.

Performing my show at the Oxford Playhouse, I returned to my Afro-Asian roots. Attended a concert of classical European music in a church hall, being just myself I guess. Was also a mum, wife, friend and neighbour.

Like all other humans, I am a creature of multiple and changeable parts. However, British Muslims are not permitted such complexities. We must be only Muslim (definition highly specified), walking rule books in uniform, freakishly religious, and preferably demanding and noisy.

Authoritarian Muslim "leaders" impose these orders. But so too do many of the influential and powerful for whom there is no such thing as a complicated or comfortable Muslim who skilfully negotiates various allegiances. Institutional gatekeepers trade in archetypes: those who vociferously refuse accommodation and defiant apostates are easy. Ardent opponents of all things western are sought-after enemies; facile supporters of western duplicities are best friends.

Not welcome are Muslims who defy the classification system – too much toil and trouble when everyone wants simple clarity. Are you with us or against us? Do you have faith or are you a democrat? Do you think Salman Rushdie was right in his Satanic Verses or do you want him dead? Do you support an Islamic state in the west or do you want the west to allow you an Islamic state within? TV is the worst culprit, but quangos and think tanks are not far behind.

They know best what makes a real Muslim. Huma Qureshi, who has great hair and style, says she was auditioned for a BBC series on Muslim women and rejected because "they wanted a really authentic, well-covered one". In her memoir, TV journalist Yasmin Hai writes of her irritation with executives who always want on screen "some mad Mullah types".

At a major arts conference, organisers refused to invite a devout Muslim artist because she paints faces and to them was a heretic. Millions of Muslims are expected to pick a single identity and plump it up with artificial injections of absolute loyalty, causing a distortion both grotesque and unpalatable. Muslims who are content in their faith and are of this land and its history belong but are told they cannot make such claims. They have lived in a democracy, imbibed its principles but have been refused full membership. This Thursday, the day of the local elections, some of us are launching a new organisation to help turn around the invented, destructive and man-made divide splitting Muslims and their state.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) believes the separation of state and faith gives us all a safe and mutual space. Most members are not atheists. We can see clearly how religion is poisoning political governance and that politics contaminates religion. Muslims must be free to choose how they practise their religion or even just to be "cultural" Muslims. Diversity has been the constant companion to our faith since its inception. Most important of all, we hope to speak to young British Muslims who have lost trust and their bearings. Obvious and subtle anti-Muslim racism and the failures of their own communities have alienated too many. Self-exclusion and exclusion are blades of the same scissors.

Denied democratic entitlements, stereotyped and used, they feel an anger that is ripe for exploitation. I know this question is not allowed (much is not allowed) but what made Mohammad Sadiq Khan, educated and a loving father, into a bomber? Sorry, it wasn't simply some wicked Mullah. Something far more unsettling is going on. As Zulf, BMSD supporter and medical student, put it: "Nobody understands. We are not stupid, just so disappointed all the time, never allowed to be ourselves, told do this, do that, never free. When will our rights be respected by the community and country?" When indeed?

y.alibhaibrown@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own