Monday 27 June 2016

Europe and Brexit: Racism and My 13-Year Old Daughter

With the vote on whether or not we should remain in Europe taking place last week, the campaign for both leave and remain had been going full swing. Everyone at work was discussing it with most people not sure which way to vote. Everyone at home was discussing it, with my children being very vocal in trying to convince me to vote to remain.

In the end I and most of my colleagues voted to remain. The winning result was announced the following day as leave. I told the children when I woke them up that morning, and they were not very happy. Gorgeous was worried that prices would go up and everything would be expensive by Eid (I told him it would take much longer than Eid if that happened) Gorgeous also wanted to know if there would be eight continents as we were no longer part of Europe (no). Little Man wanted to know if we would now be kicked out of the European Football Championship (no).

I came down to make breakfast and found them all on the computer trying to read up on what the leave vote would mean for people in Britain. Their dad thought it was funny to tell them they would all have to move to Pakistan now.

I have to say that I was disappointed, mainly because the vote would affect young people for a long time to come and I could see how strongly young people felt about staying in Europe. But at the end of the day I accepted the results as what the people of this country wanted. If the remain camp had won such a close race, my first concern would have been, all well and good, but how can we address the concerns of the other half of the country? I am hoping that the same occurs to the winning leave camp – half of the country have to live with an outcome that they did not feel was right for them, how can our worries and issues be addressed? But considering the tone of the leave campaign in recent weeks I am not holding my breath.

The focus on immigration and the amount of vitriol that has been levelled at immigrants, both European and Muslim, legal and illegal has been pretty depressing. Now that the voting is over, it feels as if the win has given legitimacy and voice to the most hateful, racist, bigoted people. All weekend I have been hearing about racist incidents, people being insulted, assaulted and generally told to go back to where they come from.

Usually I discuss these things with my children, but this time I have not wanted to expose them to the level of hate and what feels like the sheer volume of it. Instead I have been sharing my thoughts with my sisters and sister-in-law who are equally indignant at what is happening. Most of all, after all of the hard work, all of the outreach, all of the community building, the sharing of iftars, the feeding of homeless people, the getting to know your neighbour days, there is a sadness. Was nothing good we did worth anything? Do we really deserve this level of hatred? I ask myself, are these a few incidents or is this what most people really think about us? 

Then I think to myself that this is a time for us to rally ourselves. For those of us who want to look beyond, politics, hatred or prejudice, we need to make sure that we do not become complacent or let ourselves get depressed by current events. As Muslim’s we should be hopeful and positive. We should always strive to show excellent characters and to do our best to serve others. This is the time to renew our outreach, to step up out good deeds and to talk about the good things we do (like the results of thisJustGiving survey which found that Muslims were the most generous group of all religions when it came to giving charitable donations).

We need to think about how we can engage, educate others and try to change people’s hearts and minds. As a community sometimes we feel that we can barely defend ourselves let alone others, but I think we should be the ones that’s stick up for the victims of this racist abuse, for immigrants for refugees, for the poor and the homeless, all groups which have been stigmatised in recent times.

I may have tried to protect my children but not sharing with them what is happening, but that does not mean that they will not be affected by what this surge of hatred. Today I came home from work to find my daughter waiting to speak to me. She was visibly moved and described what happened to her on the way home from school today. She had an argument with a girl not much older than her who proceeded to racially abuse her saying unkind things about Muslims. I was angry, but more than that I was scared. Scared because she had held her ground and argued back and refused to be cowed. I am terrified that one day my fearless daughter will stand her ground with the wrong people and get hurt. I explained to her that things seemed bad at the moment because there had been a number of racist incidents since the Brexit vote, but that I hoped that things would calm down. I tried to explain a little about how bad things had been for her grandparents when they came here. I asked her to write down what happened to her to help her process what had happened and to understand clearly for myself. I know sometimes a racist comment or incident can seem like a small thing, but I also know that when you are subject to it through no fault of your own, how deeply humiliating and devastating it can feel.

I was surprised at the clarity of what she wrote and the things that she had said, so I asked her if I can include it here:

Standing Up For What Is Right

On the way home, I encountered a horrible, extremely racist girl not much older than me. I sat on the bus with my best friend talking about how Brexit could affect Britain and how it might impact our futures. She listened into our conversations as we spoke about how Brexit would change Britain’s trade system with the European Union and immigration to the UK. She butted into our conversation telling us how trade would not change at all as the UK could still trade with the US. I briefly mentioned that we (my friend and I) were talking about trading with the EU as a whole, not just the US. I eagerly pulled out my Citizenship book and began stating statistics and facts about the negative impacts of leaving the EU as I am strongly against Brexit. 

She became silent for a while as my friend and I discussed who could become our new prime minister as David Cameron had just resigned. We said we wanted someone who could make a big difference (for the better) and make Britain proud. We didn’t say anything negative about Cameron so we were slightly confused when the girl started to get really defensive on his behalf. I apologised if we had come across as offensive but she continued to angrily shout about how he provided jobs for UK citizens. 

She was beginning to annoy me so I blanked her and carried on talking to my friend. It was then she mentioned that it was because of areas like Forrest Gate and Tower Hamlets ‘full of Paki’s and Bengali’s’ that the referendum had to happen. Naturally I found this quite offensive. I tried to hide the fact the words that her words stung and held my ground – though this led me to wonder just how many people thought so low of me. She cussed Green Street too, I don’t live there but I wasn’t going to sit there and let her get away with being so racist. 

Unsurprisingly, no one spoke a word or tried to stand up for us, they acted so blind towards the racial abuse, so I stood up for myself. I’m not one to sit around getting roasted by some close-minded racist. I knew I had to say something otherwise it would keep replaying in my head and I would definitely regret it later. So I asked where she lived, she told me her local borough and I sarcastically replied “Right, cos your borough is so much better.” We began bickering back and forth as the argument escalated.

I knew that the media played a large role in promoting racism and it influenced many people. According to this 
 racism is a global issue faced by many countries. It is identified as a serious issue that can cause social unrest and moral panic in society. Racism also cause hate-crimes such as murder or racial harassment. I totally agree with this. It hurts to know that so many people look down at people like me. It is extremely saddening that people were being attacked because of their faiths, backgrounds and beliefs. No one deserves this.

In my defence I stated that neither I nor my friend lived in Forest Gate, Tower Hamlets or Green Street. We didn’t even live in the borough, we were just on our way home. I asked her why she was being so racist, she just rolled her eyes. That did it, my friend said to her “Yeah, just go on rolling your eyes. You might find a brain back there, you never know.”

The girl continued making stinging remarks about us ‘Paki’s and Bengali’s’. My friend argued that diversity and multiculture was something to be proud of, not shunned. Her exact words were ‘Yeah, multi Christian culture’. My jaw literally dropped at her utter stupidity. I have nothing against Christians at all but the words that came out of her mouth dripped with racism. She was racist, islamaphobic, xenophobic and downright rude. 

I did not make a single remark about her religion, race, background, faith or colour through all of this, yet she pressed on, enjoying watching me seethe and literally shake with anger. I held my tongue until I couldn’t take her taunts any longer. I had to let it all out.

“It’s because of close-minded people like you the world is a messed up place! You can’t see beyond yourself and respect others. YOU NEED TO GET OVER YOURSELF, GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE AND REALISE THAT YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN ME OR ANYONE ELSE FOR THAT MATTER!! I sat here taking your cr*p and listening to the trash coming out of your mouth. Well I’m tired of being the ‘better person’. I don’t need to take anything from you! Ever since I got on this bus you’ve been annoying me. Get lost, I don’t need any racist telling me how much they hate me, keep it to your disgusting self! ”

I fully acknowledge I shouldn’t have embarrassed her in front of everyone and I apologise for this but I hoped maybe next time she would think twice before insulting someone like she did me and my friend. 

However, some people just never learn. She carried on with “You won’t be accepted”. I was pretty sure she meant that society would never accept ‘people like me’. We (my friend and I) clearly told her that not everyone was simple-minded like her and that we did not need to be accepted by people like her when we were perfectly happy with ourselves and we accepted ourselves.

With no smart comebacks or rude replies left she swiftly exited the bus with “I’m leaving, you people get on my nerves, and I’m clearly wasting my time here.”

I think that we need to continue with our good deeds and sharing our good news and promoting when we do something good so people can see another side to us compared to what the media portray. We need to defend ourselves and others. I think we should also report these incidents. I recall a lady who was racially abused by a bus driver and a fellow passenger reported the bus driver and got him sacked. Little Lady described the girls uniform and I recognised which school she goes to, so I have e-mailed this account to the school to ask them to remind their students that racism is not acceptable. Finally I think we need to hold the media and the politicians to account for the vitriol of recent times. It has been far too easy for them to take the most vulnerable, voiceless people in society and use them to scapegoat and fear monger for votes and readership. People have read so many lies about us that sometimes even we start to think it is true. We need to step up our complaints and questioning of this causal racism and ignorant bigotry and prejudice.

We recently saw how the racist campaign for Mayor of London failed to prevent a Muslim Mayor being elected when Londoners saw through the dirty tricks. Now the onus is on each of us, Muslim or non-Muslim, immigrant or not to stand up to the lies and hate. Now it is no longer just a matter of principle, we are now witnessing it become real hate crime and racist abuse that even our children are not safe from.


  1. Anonymous28 June, 2016

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    I would just like to say you have a very smart, eloquent daughter mashaAllah may Allah increase her.

    I as a revert can relate. I know these exact areas that are mentioned in the post and understand the whole situation your daughter is going through.

    Alhamdulilah she's has been brought up to stand up for what is right and speak the truth without having to stoop to such a level.

    I love how you posted what she had written because you can even see the language of young Londoners no different to how anyone her age would speak why because we are ALL Londoners.

    We should all make dua that the impact on minority's is not too bad. I think we are all slightly scared right now. Allah knows best why he's tested the Ummah of Britian like this.

    but you should be very proud of you daughter mashaAllah, I'm sure you are.

    I'm still heartbroken about the Brexit, subhanAllah </3

  2. Anonymous28 June, 2016

    Salam aleykoum,
    I am sad to read that Brexit vote opened a way for racists to express themselves (and as a Belgian living in Brussels, I am sad of you British leaving us!).
    But I wanted to comment about your daughter: MachaAllah she seems so smart and mature for her age! It seems like you re making your job very well as a mum :-) May Allah make her a devout muslim and a smart and devoted citizen, I'm sure she will be a person who will help to improve a society (and not undermine it as those racist acts and comments).

  3. I too am very worried about the way that the Brexit campaign (and result) has provoked and legitimised racist abuse. I think it's disgusting. I'm so sorry that your daughter had to go through that - I'm not Muslim but I think the levels of Islamophobia in this country and others is pretty shocking and it makes me so angry to think that people think it's ok to target Muslims in this way.

  4. Wow lovely comments. I really enjoy reading your posts. Especially how u have bought your kids up mashalla. Beautiful and Allah keep your daughter strong. Ameen

  5. Anonymous04 July, 2016

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Well done to your daughter for standing up for herself.

  6. mashaAllah.. how old is she now?? I still think of her as that tiny little shy girl all those years ago :D