Muslims and racist portrayals

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(In comment to: ‘Deporting ‘foreign criminals’ in the middle of the night doesn’t make us safer‘)

“Look at modern British history, and you’ll find that the “criminal” and the “immigrant” blur into one another in popular and official thinking. In Victorian England, crime was often blamed on Irish immigrants (“dangerous classes” were labelled with the Irish-derived name “hooligans”), and then on Jews from eastern Europe. These narratives neatly anticipated the way the spectre of “black criminality” was peddled by the press in postwar Britain, as well as contemporary narratives about Muslims and sexual abuse.”

Now the sexual abuse story, in as much as it was inaccurate and absolutely racist, was largely a south Asian story and particularly Pakistani/Kashmiri (please note I’m NOT legitimising the racist reporting on the issue and the demonisation of an entire ethnicity I neither accept nor condone) but yet somehow it became a Muslim one. How disgusting that sexual abuse and Muslim share the same sentence? And yes whilst I deplore both, for me sexual abuse and Muslim sharing the same sentence in far worse. Yet in the rightly protest against such framing, there was little demarcation made, Muslim and Pakistani were treated synonymous by both non-Muslims and Asian Muslims.

Now the truth is that portraying Islam as an ethnicity puts non-Asian believers in a sticky predicament. Do we allow the conflation to persist (much of it in-house) or simply abandon the label Muslim since words signify something and what the word Muslim signifies has little to do with Ishmaelite monotheism in societal culture?

In wider society, I’ve occasionally told non-believers I’m not a “Muslim” whilst affirming strong theism, Quranic law, and a proud Abrahamic identity. I’ve then countenanced a very positive interaction with people and not had to deal with a lot of the baggage and misunderstandings between wider society and the South Asian community. That struggle (the natural settling and integration of an ethnic immigrant group finding its place in the dominant culture) isn’t mine, nor does God oblige me to make it mine.

Of course I’m ALWAYS willing to help all, immigrant or native, but here I’m helping as an outsider. With the native Brit I’m culturally similar but with shar’i differences, and with ethnic groups I have some shared Shar’i norms (we don’t share all shar’i norms) but cultural differences. But with any group, I cannot assume their battles – life is too short and I have too many of my own!

Some Muslims assume a black and white scenario where it’s Muslims vs non-Muslims, but that’s a village mentality betraying the socio-political reality. In as much as a person is a Muslim they also carry other identities which cause variance with others. Anecdotally, I’ve always maintained my shar’i sensibilities and identity in wider society and I’ve never felt ‘out of place’ or ‘unaccepted’ because of my deen. Yes, I’ve been different but not that different and after a short conversation my interlocutors have always seen where I’m coming from. Many ethnic Muslims confuse their deen with their ethnic culture, and because they come from culturally insular communities which hinders their ability to find common cultural ground with others (even other Muslims!) they seem to put it down to their faith rather than ethnicity which is usually the case.

I usually respond to “But Islam doesn’t allow xyz so we can’t integrate or find shared cultural norms” with “No, either your culture or your ethno-religious leaders who provide a cultural reading of the shariah don’t allow xyz.

I am agnostic to all peoples and cultures. They’re subjective experiences formed over time. I deeply enjoy all cultures, studying them and learning from them, and I don’t assume any ethnicity to be monolithic. But God’s Law is universal and becoming synonymous with ANY culture (including modern Arab culture) is to drag God’s will into the pit of subjective human living, and deeply intolerable.

So how does this play out in practical terms? Well any response or protest to racist portrayals starts with removing God from the nonsense first and foremost – God must remain above the banal human noise, and then moving on to dealing with the prejudice. So for example, on sexual abuse a fitting response:

  1. God and His messengers have nothing to do with this issue, and their ethnicity has nothing to do with faith – you’re an ignoramus for suggesting so.
  2. Whilst the perpetrators are of Pakistani origin, this have nothing to do with ethnicity as you’ve suggested. Some depraved men who work in the night time economy used the cover of darkness and the evil that lurks to target underage troubled girls. The girls happened to be “white” and the men happened to be “brown”. Most of the time the men are actually “white”. The issue is one of evil, not melanin, nor does any modern culture advocate such behaviour.
  3. Your reporting is racist which shows you’re also depraved and morally inferior just like the rapists.

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