I'm sure you have all seen it – the deeply disturbing viral photo of the one piece of paper that has affected thousands of Muslims worldwide titled Punish a Muslim Day. The letters started circulating in late March, sent anonymously to multiple communities in Britain. It was sent to homes, businesses, and lawmakers. It detailed an extremely disturbing and inhumane point-based system that would AWARD attackers for acts of violence on Muslims. 500 points for "butchering a Muslim using a gun, knife, vehicle, or otherwise."
For many, April 3rd felt like Doomsday. Muslims around the world took to social media to share their thoughts on the hate-motivated campaign. People were sending well wishes and urging Muslims to take care and look out for each other. Many were determined that the letters would not cause them to change their daily habits.
Just as quickly the letters went viral, so did another one – Love a Muslim Day. The letters promised rewards if anyone smiled or threw flowers at Muslims – while 2,500 points were on offer if a family was bought a trip to Mecca. Dozens formed a human chain around a mosque in London. Their message was clear, spread love not hate.
But is it enough to counter Islamophobia?
There may not have been a major incident, but “Punish a Muslim Day” did what it was designed to do – strike fear in the hearts of individual Muslims and those already being impacted by hate crime and racism. Many women refused to leave their homes yesterday, taking the day off work or changing their social plans.
Many argued that the best way to deal with “stunts” such as “Punish A Muslim Day” is to ignore them. Best not give oxygen to whoever is responsible for orchestrating this campaign of terror. We cannot avoid the fact that British Muslims are facing rising levels of Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate and the mainstreaming of racism in our country on a daily basis.
This “Punish a Muslim Day” is not a one-off day of hate targeting Muslims; for many, it represents the daily structural Islamophobia we are up against and the increasingly poisonous rhetoric directed against Muslims in everyday life. Islamophobia is fully mainstream and is part of our daily public and political discourse.
To counter Islamophobia at its roots, we need a grounded and honest national conversation about the extent of the problem. We also need a strong and diverse anti-racism movement willing to tackle the politics of bigotry and division head-on. “Love a Muslim Day” is a worthy gesture but most Muslims I know are not bothered about being loved – we just want to feel safe and secure in our country. We’d like the right to live with dignity, to be seen and valued as full human beings and citizens without having to prove how good we are.
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