Over the last few days, the video of a black woman launching an islamophobic attack on two Muslim women has attracted much attention on social media, and eventually was reported in the National Press. The provocative lady who undertook a tirade of threatening verbal abuse has since been arrested by the police, and one hopes she will be held to account for her actions.
As a black Muslim woman I was sickened by this lady’s behaviour. It was particularly saddening that a black person acted in such a venomous manner, and undertook a xenophobic attack upon another minority in a way that black people often experience themselves. Her behaviour illustrated sheer ignorance of the history and struggle of her own people; if she had truly internalised the lessons from black history, she never would have behaved in such a manner. Her actions culminated with a distinct lack of humanity, when despite her irrational grievances she felt it was acceptable to threaten to kick a pregnant woman in the stomach.
However, I was equally disgusted by the reactions of seemingly ordinary Muslims who used utterly vile anti-black language on social media in response to this episode. Although part of me is not surprised at this spew of vitriol, the carefree manner in which some Muslims expressed their racism so openly was something I have not seen before. In one social media group full of Muslim women, one commentator thought it was acceptable to state that ‘half of all Caribbeans are animals’. There was a common theme of people using disgusting racist language such as ‘banana eating inbred’. There were references to her skin tone being the product of ‘ancestral rape by the slave master’ and questions around the father of her child (who she can’t possibly know because all black women are whores). Worst still were the numerous references to the enslavement of black people by Arabs; ‘’we used to own you!’’ one social media commenter spited, regardless of the fact that she was of Asian descent and not an Arab.
Furthermore, not only were there those who readily used anti-black language, there were those who sought to justify their use of it – ‘we are racist towards black people because of women like her’. Let us be very clear that the South Asian Muslim community of Britain has struggled with racism, and this incident somehow gave a number of racist Muslims the ‘courage’ to publicly air their views. For those that found this ignorant black woman’s islamophobia disgusting, it would be hypocritical if they were not equally disgusted by the racist anti-black reactions. It is imperative that we condemn both equally and unreservedly.
However, let us not forget that whilst this black woman’s actions are totally reprehensible, she didn’t create Islamophobia. She isn’t the person who has criminalised Islam and made it synonymous with terrorism and violence. She is not the enforcer of the laws that continually view Muslims through the lens of securitisation. She does not give muscular public speeches, beating Muslims with a stick that they must adopt undefined ‘British values’ (even though the overwhelming majority of Muslims proudly assert their British identity). She is not of those spreading suspicion throughout society, encouraging others to view the Muslim community as the fifth column. Whilst she has no doubt been influenced by much of the negative discourse surrounding Muslims, we must remember that much of it is essentially coined by the upper echelons of society.
Of course, this in no way diminishes the crime that took place on that bus, especially now that this woman has been arrested and charged, but what next? Should we demand the arrest of Daily Mail writers, and certain politicians who tread ever so closely on the boundary of free speech and inciting hatred? Whilst this isolated attack on a bus is indeed shocking, the ‘well-articulated, well-reasoned’ Islamophobia we face is far more sinister and much more insidious than what this woman did.
The rise in racism throughout society is indeed a worrying phenomenon, and superficial approaches to the problem will do little to address it. The BBC recently ran documentaries on Britain First and the Ku Klux Klan in America. However, I think there is a fundamental problem in focusing on fringe groups when addressing racism, as in some respects these groups become convenient scapegoats in much the same way that this ignorant black woman has become following this incident. At the heart of the debate around racism and Islamophobia is power, and that many of those who run our society hold similar, narrow- minded views. Documentaries such as those aired by the BBC hide from this fact, leading us to fall into a false belief that anti-Muslim and anti-black sentiments are largely limited to a handful unintelligent individuals that are part of a crazy cult. It absolves the institutions of the state; from politicians, the media and the police, from the role they play in creating and perpetuating racism and Islamophobia. It allows cross sections of society to be under a collective illusion that hate and xenophobia are exceptions – it isn’t us; it is ‘them’.
This type of superficial analysis does nothing to challenge the structural and institutional racism and Islamophobia that affects us all and impacts adversely on our children. We should be angry at this latest incident, but let’s also have some perspective and get a grip on reality. This woman isn’t the root cause of the problem, her actions and the actions of others like her are symptoms of a deeper problem, that is in fact far more dangerous than a lone black woman’s vile rant on a 206 bus in London.