To be or not to be a “happy Muslim”

A number of prominent Muslims appeared in the "Happy Muslims" video including Salma Yaqoob

With all the injustices taking place in the Muslim world and the never-ending demonisation of Islam at home, journalist Hasnet Lais asks whether Muslims in Britain have much to be happy about.

Islamophobia is the most popular form of discrimination since anti-Semitism swept across Europe during the 1930s. Muslims in Britain can particularly identify with this description, seeing how they are an under siege and politically targeted minority. It’s near impossible to capture their sentiment in an upbeat tone, let alone with handclapping breaks and a retro soul touch. Unless of course, you were one of those euphoric British Muslims moving rhythmically to Pharrell Williams’ smash hit “Happy”.

Before I’m accused of being a sad-sounding party pooper, I can confidently claim that a considerable number of Muslims refuse to sing from the same hymn sheet. Fair enough, I get the point. Amidst the cacophony of anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK and far-reaching implications of the War on Terror in which Britain is mired, collective displays of happiness by a group often labelled as fifth column and seditious goes a long way to dispelling misconceptions, lifting spirits and projecting a romantic idea of “British” and “Muslim” as comfortable bedfellows.

That is of course until good old patriot, Mo Ansar – who featured as part of the ensemble cast – has his home raided in the early hours of the morning by immigration officers, who not only terrify his family in the process but demand to see his citizenship papers. And here’s a man who often issues ringing declarations of love and pride for his “Britishness”.

But it doesn’t take an experience like Mo’s on a Wednesday morning to appreciate why many Muslims in the UK deem this celebration of happiness as insincere. There’s no way of jingling around the fact that much of this country has become uncritically receptive to the negative stereotyping of Islam. As Baroness Warsi controversially but rightly quipped, Islamophobia has “passed the dinner-table test”.

Pessimism or realism?   

Many reading this would suggest I put a cap on my pessimism, arguing instead that Muslims owe a special debt of gratitude to the UK for its galaxy of freedoms which are absent in the majority of “Islamic countries”. But that logic has run its course, as many of these liberties are now being systematically denied to Muslims. The Babar Ahmed and Moazzam Begg sagas are just a few examples of the miscarriage of justice we have endured under a criminal justice system heavily tainted by the War on Terror narrative.

Many Muslims felt like this gentleman after watching the "Happy Muslims" video.
Many Muslims felt like this gentleman after watching the “Happy Muslims” video.

So the grim context in which this video was produced hardly calls for celebration. The happiness experienced by Muslims owes absolutely nothing to citizenship. Why? Because the oppression inflicted on us at home and abroad occurs under the watch of British institutions – from the Monarch’s endorsement of the War on Terror, the army’s human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the evident bias against Muslims in the Crown Prosecution Service and the Islamophobic leviathan which fittingly describes large sections of the British press.

In light of this backdrop, our public figures ought to be far more judicious when appealing to certain emotions, or otherwise risk making a dangerous misrepresentation of the mood prevailing in our community. You can have as many sheikhs and mullahs grooving to a summery vibe but that will not cloud the reservations which so many victimised Muslims have with this notion of “Britishness”.

What is there to be happy about?

The “Happy British-Muslim” is therefore, a highly problematic and disingenuous merging of identities and the video is an obfuscation of the painful realities on the ground. It is a misleading, insincere description for a beleaguered community, incensed by the government’s shameless complicity in the bloodletting of Muslims overseas, mass surveillance at home and the media’s derisory treatment of their faith.

My common gripes with British foreign policy and the various onslaughts confronting Muslims offer little incentive to embrace religiosity through a tinge of patriotic, old school fun. To the Mo Ansars and Salma Yaqoobs of this world, I’m a Prophet of doom for not sharing their enthusiasm. But even if their show of good will is dressed with bearded clerics and women donning abayas, they have an impossible PR task in convincing the irate among us to dance to their tune. Far too many Muslims are burdened with a common grief, alert to the possible travesties which await them in contemporary Britain and clued up to fall for misguided gimmicks, however well intentioned.

Every morning, thousands of Muslims wake up in the UK with the weight of injustice on them. A moment does not pass without supplications for their brothers and sisters in occupied territories, the victims of drone warfare, those subjected to extraordinary rendition, and the countless others bearing the brunt of a litany of British borne abuses under shady pretexts which pay lip service to legality.

There’s just not enough energy to throw ourselves around the high street in fits of joy because bouts of rage collectively define us.



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