This week I joined an exclusive club, a club with a very lucrative and specific membership list.
Having been elected as the President of the University of Salford’s Student Union and a National Executive Councillor of the NUS, I was chosen by the tabloid press for scrutiny.
The headlines started rolling in when tweets that I wrote as a teenager, at the beginning of sixth form college, caught people’s attention. The adolescent comments of a young girl were twisted to make them seem far more sinister than they ever were intended to be. “If I was President I’d oppress white people just to give them a taste of what they put us through! LMFAO” said one. In another, I said everyone should read the Quran; a separate one said that I didn’t think girls could be friends with guys and that there should be “boundaries” in those sorts of friendships because it was “Islamically not correct”.
There’s no doubt this collection of social media posts was supposed to make me seem like a fanatical Muslim and a threat to British society. I find it strange that I even have to clarify this, but for the avoidance of doubt I will (again): the comments clearly do not reflect my views today.
In 2012, when the tweets were written, I was just 16 years old. I was struggling with my view of the world and my place in it. I was grappling with the deep injustices I could see around me and trying to figure out how I could make the world a better place.
For almost all teenagers who have gone through and will go through the same struggles and growth as I did, they will have the luxury of never having to worry about comments they made being dragged up years later.
For Muslims who take public roles in society – specifically, in this case, a black Muslim woman – it's not so simple.
It feels like the aim of this sort of article is to make politically active Muslims feel unwelcome in the public sphere. And it’s working. For 48 hours, I have had to sift through comments of hate, rape and death threats and attempts to intimidate me out of the public discourse. But I won’t be silenced.
I’m not the only target, of course. The press is full of attacks on young people like me, particularly within the student movement. It’s unfair and unnecessary treatment.
I said these things when I was young, impressionable and still developing my personality and opinions. In trying to paint me in this way, they failed to mention so much of who I am and what I do. In the past two years, I have done a wide variety of work on my campus and in the community in the hope for equality.
They failed to mention that I volunteered at Bolton Solidarity Community Association, an organisation that exists to promote diversity and inclusivity. They failed to mention that I work with the Ramadan Tent Project, an interfaith initiative aiming to bring people from all walks of life together to share meals and conversations. They failed to mention that I was elected onto a national anti-racism and anti-fascist committee to tackle extremism in all its forms and protect all marginalised groups.
Young Muslims like me, who want to get involved in our communities and be politically active, are all too often shown that the minute we edge our toes out of private spheres, people will begin to riffle through everything we have ever said, done or thought just to discredit us. It’s a scary place to be when you’re at the beginning of your career.
I am still learning and fighting the injustices around me. I will always try to make my society and world around me a better place. But this is not the picture that the right-wing media wants to portray of young Muslims. They often paint us as caricatures undeserving of empathy or understanding.They want to deny our humanity because they want you to be afraid of us.
We cannot allow this situation and allow this cycle to continue in Britain today. Because the first step of solving any problem is admitting there is one.
Zamzam Ibrahim is President of the University of Salford Student Union and is on the NEC of the National Union of Students
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