As a Rotherham grooming gang survivor I’ve watched the events of the past few weeks with interest and rising concern. The public’s response to the Brexit negotiations has focused on issues of immigration. At the same time, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has announced a proposed definition of Islamophobia.
Since the news of the Rotherham child abuse scandal broke in 2014, there has been a flood of reports from victims with similar experiences to me. The list of prosecutions of Muslim Pakistani men in towns including Huddersfield, Oxford and Telford keeps getting longer. I’ve watched with alarm the public response to these revelations, with a rising anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment, and the appearance of some far-right extremists and self-styled neo Nazis in the UK and Europe. Experiences like mine are being used to fuel this anger, and with the uncertainty posed by Brexit uncertainty and an increasing militancy on the far left of politics, emotions are running high on all sides.
The Brexit Betrayal march, planned for 9 December at Downing Street, could result in a dangerous clash between pro-Brexit protesters, who feel the deal does not go far enough to protect Britain from what is seen as a dangerous religious invasion of immigrants, and anti-Brexit campaigners who are angry at proposed limitations to freedom of movement after Britain’s departure from the European Union, as well as the massive financial impact it will have on the UK economy. Some far-left counter-protesters are are agitating for violence towards a popular movement that they see as based in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, and Islamophobia more specifically.
Social media is advising pro-Brexiteers to stock up on yellow jackets – emulating the recent riots in France, where cars were set on fire and the Arc de Triomphe was vandalised, resulting in more than a hundred people being injured.
As tensions boil in the run up to a parliamentary decision on Brexit, the APPG on British Muslims’s report, titled ‘Islamophobia Defined’, states clearly: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
As a grooming gang survivor who has seen a lot of the backlash towards Muslims, I welcome this definition of Islamophobia. Although I prefer the term “anti-Muslim hate”, the word Islamophobia exists and so it needs a working definition. Of course Islam is not a race, but it’s understandable that victims of Islamophobic attacks feel exactly like victims of racism; their core identity has been attacked. Having been a victim of profoundly racist abuse myself, I understand how they feel.
Gang grooming isn’t like any other type of sexual abuse, because there is a large element of racist and religious abuse involved too. Thankfully the APPG report acknowledges that it is absolutely not Islamophobic to condemn atrocities like the ones I, and other survivors, experienced – one of extremist-related sexual violence carried out in the name of religion.
But this does raise one question for me: in this environment, what do we call other types of religious and racial hatred not covered by these definitions? As grooming victims, my friends and I were called vile racist names such as “white trash” and “kaffir girl” as we were raped. Our Sikh and Hindu friends who were also targeted by Muslim Pakistani gangs were disparagingly called “kaffir slags” too. Muslim rape victims were called “coconuts” for acting “white” (which means brown on the outside, white on the inside – a term that is racist to both brown and white people at the same time).
There are also examples of racist attacks on Muslims carried out by other Muslims, such as the murder of 71-year-old Jalal Uddin in Rochdale in 2016, reportedly killed by Isis supporters who claimed he wasn’t Muslim enough. And former Muslims are attacked daily for having left the faith.
People like these need to be able to report the hate crimes they suffer because of their perceived lack of Muslimness. Accurate information is important in developing government policy to tackle all kinds of hate crimes. In order to prevent racist and religious abuse, we need to teach that hatred towards non-Muslims is just as unacceptable as hatred towards Muslims. A healthy society needs to counteract fear, prejudice or hostility towards people who are perceived to lack sufficient Muslimness – especially when perceived to be a threat towards an ideology, way of life or a proscribed moralistic view.
Perhaps a working definition could read something like this: “Non-Muslim hate is rooted in racism, and is a fear, hatred or hostility towards non-Muslims or those with a perceived lack of Muslimness.” As with the definition of Islamophobia, aligning non-Muslim hate with racism is likely to be helpful because people intuitively understand racism, and the majority deem it to be unacceptable in today’s Britain. And although we don’t necessarily self-identify as “non-Muslims”, victims recognise that is how we are viewed by perpetrators of such hate crimes.
In my experience, many Muslims I have spoken to agree that hatred towards non-Muslims, especially prejudice towards white girls, is a real phenomenon in their communities. So as with Islamophobia, I suggest that it is finally time that both these problems are fairly reflected in government policy and legislation. Perhaps when these changes are made education about racism will improve, hate incidents like the ones against my friends and myself will cease, and there won’t be any more dangerous street riots on the issue. What the country needs is a mutual understanding of everyone’s different Brexit views at peaceful protests on Sunday.
Ella Hill is a pseudonym