Through my lens: navigating Islamophobia

In the aftermath of 9/11, the global surge in Islamophobia has cast a pervasive shadow over my experiences as a Muslim navigating through these mysterious and confusing times.

Growing up during the war on terror years meant that my childhood was far from ordinary. The constant fear, fueled by negative perceptions of my chosen faith, transformed seemingly simple tasks like walking home alone at night into daunting challenges. No child should bear the weight of such fear merely due to their religious beliefs.

Witnessing far-right politicians exploit Islamophobia for their gains adds another layer to this complex journey. A striking example is Marine Le Pen in France, who instrumentalised Muslims as a political punching bag. Comparing those praying in the streets of Paris to Nazis, she employed inflammatory rhetoric that not only deepens societal divides but also fosters an environment where Muslims feel increasingly marginalized and vulnerable to attacks.

In the United Kingdom, the aftermath of the Hamas attack saw a staggering 600% rise in Islamophobic events. The former home secretary’s actions further exacerbated the situation, fanning the flames of hatred towards the Muslim community.

Muslims collectively find themselves caught in the crossfire of divisive political narratives, contributing to an atmosphere of increasing hostility.

The media’s role in shaping public opinion cannot be overlooked in this narrative. A major analysis by the Muslim Council of Britain highlighted a disturbing trend of negative portrayals of Muslims in mainstream British news outlets. The Mail on Sunday, for instance, showcased a disconcerting 78% negative coverage, well above the industry average of 59%. It’s troubling to see how media outlets, consciously or not, perpetuate harmful stereotypes that contribute to the broader issue of Islamophobia.

One striking example is the comment made by Trevor Kavanagh on Rupert Murdoch’s Talk TV, insinuating that Muslims are born to be anti-Jewish. This type of rhetoric perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, contributing to the negative narrative surrounding Muslims. As a Muslim, it’s disheartening to see such comments, especially when they lack any basis in reality. It’s crucial for media figures to be held accountable for their words, as they have a profound impact on public perceptions.

Trevor Kavanagh’s comment, implying an inherent anti-Jewish stance among Muslims, not only lacks factual basis but also perpetuates harmful generalizations. As someone who strongly identifies with my faith, such remarks contribute to a hostile environment and make it even more challenging to navigate through societal prejudices. It emphasizes the need for media figures to exercise responsibility and consider the real-world implications of their words.

The influence of media extends to television, where responsible reporting can help mitigate biases. Local television broadcasts, regulated for balance, are notably less likely to perpetuate negative stereotypes. However, the responsibility falls on all media outlets to foster an environment of understanding and fairness.

As a Muslim, I believe it’s crucial to acknowledge and address these issues head-on. I’ve personally experienced the impact of Islamophobia, from the fear of walking alone at night to the unsettling reality that Muslim women are seen as easy targets. This should not be the world we pass on to future generations.

I want to highlight the importance of fair and balanced reporting. The media has immense power to shape perceptions, and journalists must be mindful of the narratives they perpetuate. It’s not about silencing negative stories but ensuring they are fair, reflective, and do not generalize about all Muslims, contributing to a broader far-right narrative.

In the midst of these challenges, initiatives like the Muslim Council of Britain’s media monitoring center are steps in the right direction, fostering transparency and accountability. The awareness generated by such initiatives is crucial in urging media outlets to reassess their narratives and consider the far-reaching impact of their reporting.

Navigating the shadows of Islamophobia is an ongoing journey, one that requires collective efforts to dismantle harmful stereotypes and foster understanding. As a Muslim, I am not only a product of my faith but also a part of a diverse tapestry that contributes to the richness of our global society. Together, let’s strive for a future where Islamophobia becomes a relic of the past, and respect for diversity becomes the norm.


* Mo Waqas is a member in Middlesbrough and the PPC for Middlesbrough and Thornaby East.

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  • Silifat Oladosu 16th Feb '24 - 12:52pm

    Your insightful and poignant analysis of the effects of Islamophobia is fascinating. It highlights the need of honest and balanced reporting to combat damaging stereotypes and throws light on the complicated issues Muslims faced in the wake of 9/11. It’s critical to support discussions that advance tolerance and respect for differences.

  • Neil Hickman 16th Feb '24 - 7:06pm

    Oh dear.
    There is also a heartbreaking article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian reporting that anti-Jewish incidents (including children not being able to wear uniform to travel to school) increased dramatically in the week after the Hamas’ attack, before Israel’s response.
    Why can’t we as a society respect one another as fellow human beings rather than seeing each other as wearing labels?
    “What unites us is more important than what divides us” is associated with the martyred Labour MP Jo Cox, but the idea is one reason why I’m a Liberal Democrat.
    Peace be with my Muslim and my Jewish sisters and brothers

  • Alex Macfie 17th Feb '24 - 8:56am

    Marine Le Pen “Compar[ed] those praying in the streets of Paris to Nazis” which surely means she approves of them!

  • Mo Waqas’ timely article challenges us to consider how we respond to the current increase in Islamophobia and all other forms of prejudice based on Ethnicity, Race, Sexual Orientation and Class.
    This week ( Guardian 15th Feb) Moustafa Bayoumi wrote an article on a hero of mine, Edward Said. ” Reading Said reminds us of the necessity of standing against oppression everywhere, of discovering an ethical position that translates into action, and of scepticism before partisanship.” (Bayoumi)
    Mo Waqas echoed this when he wrote, ‘Together, let’s strive for a future where Islamophobia becomes a relic of the past, and respect for diversity becomes the norm.’
    As Liberal Democrats we need to fully embrace diversity and its potential to make our world a safer and better place. Moreover, we need to publicise our ethical position and translate it into actions to ensure that our multi-ethnic and multicultural country KNOW where we stand.
    Thank you MO.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Feb '24 - 2:41pm

    The roots of Islamophobia lie in ignorance and the antidote to ignorance is education. Like many of our challenges, tackling it needs a radical reform of our educational system so it promotes inclusion, diversity and tolerance. This will be assisted by more mixing of different faiths in our schools.

  • Martin Gray 17th Feb '24 - 5:33pm

    @Peter Hirst…The Batley Grammar school teacher is still in hiding 3 years after the controversy. We have a unwritten blasphemy law in the UK which only relates to one religion…The unions & the progressive politicians have abandoned that teacher in the name of inclusivity – the complete opposite of what liberalism is all about …

  • IAN G L JONES 17th Feb '24 - 6:10pm

    Fully agree with Mo . Thank you for writing this piece. It’s time we fully embraced our diversity and took action to challenge prejudice wherever and whenever it rears its head.

  • Mohammed Waqas 17th Feb '24 - 7:10pm

    I value your perspective. It’s important to note that the UK doesn’t have a blasphemy law. The Equalities and Diversities Act prohibits segregating religions. Understanding the potential harm in joking about the Prophet Muhammad is crucial. The emphasis on education extends to all faiths, not solely for Muslims. They feel unheard, expressing, “Drawing pictures of the Prophet Muhammad hurts our feelings; why do it?” This isn’t exclusive to Muslims; it’s about respecting what various religions find offensive. To build an inclusive and tolerant society, more education on these matters is needed. What feels right for one may not for another. Is it right to make them feel uncomfortable?

  • Martin Gray 18th Feb '24 - 5:38pm

    @Mohammed ….Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a liberal society..Nobody has a right not be offended . What’s evolved is a de facto anti blasphemy law . All too often inclusivity is used to mask intolerance & that is the opposite of what a liberal society should be …

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