Campaigner and activist Iram Bhatti says that anti racist and anti Islamophobia campaigners face unrelenting abuse for speaking out and are not given enough support by the community.
Recently The Mirror published an article regarding a young man named Kasar Jehangir from Birmingham who was killed in a horriffic car crash along with several other people.
The focus of the article was, however, not on the crash that the man died in, but on his ethnicity and his past criminal convictions.
The mood of the article consisted of the usual venom that the right-wing frequently exhibits against one of Britain’s most relegated and slandered communities.
When the motives of The Mirror’s article were challenged by Maz Saleem (the daughter of Muhammed Saleem who was murdered by a terrorist in Birmingham in 2013), she was flooded with vicious invective and abuse from the far-right within hours of the article being published.
Since she did an interview regarding Britain First’s Jayda Fransen and an opinion piece for the Independent she has been heavily trolled on Twitter, Facebook and the Stand Up To Trump page. She has been called (predominately by white men) a “Muslim prostitute,” “a dog,” a “paedophile” and told to “go back to your country slut.”
Under the fake guise of free speech, fascists and racists are targeting anti-racist campaigners. We have seen the vile abuse Diane Abbott and David Lammy have received. It has become far too normalised and Islamophobic talk leads to violence.
The media and pundits are too quick to assassinate people’s characters when they literally have no voice. This was done to Mark Duggan and now to Kasar Jehangir. It is fundamentally wrong to character-assassinate someone when they cannot defend themselves. This feeds into negative stereotypes about young Muslims.
In fact, anyone daring to challenge the right-wing faces abuse and threats both publicly and privately.
In some instances the right-wing media, organisations or elites have gone as far as labelling them as “radicals,” “Islamists,” “terrorist sympathisers,” “anti-West” etc in an attempt to silence them.
On the contrary, these far-right organisations have free reign to be as offensive and belligerent as they wish – yet this will be put down as exercising their right to “freedom of speech.”
We have heard the right-wing harp on about “freedom of speech,” what it means, when to apply it and when not to apply it depending on what suits their agenda.
Anti-hate speech legislations are put in place in order to protect people from discrimination but when it comes to certain minorities they cease to apply.
In fact, the abuse faced by anti- racist campaigners and Muslims is seen as a justified response. We are also accused of playing the victim, or told that we shouldn’t be taking offence and learn to be thicker skinned.
Some media platforms may censor or delete some of the worst abuse, but on the majority of social media sites and comments sections of online articles you get to see what anti-racist campaigners have to go through on a regular basis.
Below are just a few of the comments received by Maz Saleem after her article regarding Kasar Jehangir was published.
“Oh look, it’s Maz Saleem who spends her days hanging out with far right Islamist groups pushing their victimhood agenda”
“You need to shut that big mouth of yours Maz!!! President Trump is more than welcome on our streets, try shutting them down and watch what happens!”
“Go back to your paedo death cult shithole!”
“Will he still get his virgins, hopefully not. People who drive like maniacs and believe that Allah is doing the driving should never get a driving license, maybe this question should be made part of the UK driving test?”
What is also worrying is the silence of organisations that seek to tackle hate crime against certain ethnic minorities. Despite the surge in abuse faced by Maz Saleem after writing the article there has been no response, acknowledgement or support from certain Muslim organisations.
There is an atmosphere where bigotry against anti-racist campaigners is often seen to be less offensive than that voiced against other groups. And with far-right groups such as the English Defence League and Britain First, we have street movements that are more than determined to exploit that bigotry.
What adds salt to the wounds is when this bigotry is endorsed by those in the highest form of authority.
For instance, President Donald Trump retweeted various Islamophobic tweets by Britain First’s Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen. By doing this he has indirectly sanctionned abuse and the demonisation of Muslims on an online platform – because if the President of the United States can be Islamophobic and not be held to account, what stops the general public from saying the same?
To insult someone, to be offensive, provocative or racist is not only uncivilised, rude and disrespectful, but also causes societies to live in misery with anger and tension. Those who find this acceptable or support this concept should enlighten us on why this is beneficial to society/an individual.
While the principle of free speech means one can say what they want whenever they want, in practice anti-racist campaigners have to think carefully about the impact of their words due to the horrific abuse they will receive in return.
However, we must never allow bigotry to shut down grown-up debates; neither must we allow room for tolerating hate speech in any shape or form.
The language deployed by racists is often deliberately designed to hurt and silence but it is our duty as civilised members of society to create healthy, respectful and pleasant communities by challenging injustice and abuse whenever it arises.