One of our employees was subject to anti-Islamic rhetoric whilst carrying out off-site research outside Westfield shopping centre in Stratford in March. Her story illustrates how normalised and ubiquitous anti-Islamic sentiment is and how much work still needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia in this country.
Earlier this year, I was working on an off-site research project for JAN Trust across London. On the 15th March, my colleague and I were outside Westfield shopping centre in Stratford speaking to visibly Muslim women. I had only been in the area for a couple of hours when a man approached me and interrupted my interview to ask me what I was doing. I replied, but asked him to leave so I could finish my work. He then stated, ‘You are biased, what about the people who suffer under Islam?’
I immediately felt uneasy and scared as he continued to stand right next to us, listening and waiting, in an intimidating manner. Being a young woman, this fear was magnified and I felt especially vulnerable.
He began to lecture me in an oratory style which implied to me this was rehearsed and a topic of great interest to him. He proceeded to state exceedingly anti-Islamic views including the hateful and utterly misguided view that it is the agenda of Islam to take over this country. He was getting louder and I felt panicked thinking about how I could get out of the situation and hoped no Muslims could hear his bigoted views.
He remained in the area for a few hours, watching us. He interrupted me again in a confrontational and increasingly intimidating manner, demanding that I speak to him and not ignore him. We left the area as I felt threatened and was worried that he would follow me and the situation could escalate.
It is important to note that there was an incident at Stratford train station in February, where a visibly Muslim woman was viciously verbally and physically assaulted. This was right next to the Westfield shopping centre, so you would think that the centre would prioritise tackling Islamophobic hate speech. However, when we contacted Westfield shopping centre to notify them of this issue their reply didn’t acknowledge the problem and merely deflected the issue. We have also tried to get in contact further to no avail.
The recent rise of Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims is something we at JAN Trust work every day to change. It is telling for me that I, a white non-Muslim woman working for this cause, was harassed by this man. If I experienced this targeted harassment, it only goes to show that the problem for visibly Muslim people is much, much worse. Muslims have long been telling us their stories about Islamophobia and hate speech and those voices need to be listened to, amplified and taken seriously.
It is frankly unacceptable that British Muslims currently live in this environment where bigotry and hatred towards them has been mainstreamed and normalised. Not only is it in the streets, but the British media pedals misrepresentative narratives surrounding Islam, Islamophobic hate speech is all over social media, and unfortunately it is now a cemented part of daily life for a large proportion of Muslims. A lot of non-Muslim British people do not seem to understand the gravity and extent of the sustained and targeted discrimination against a group of people which is happening in our country right now. These are not isolated incidents carried out by a few ‘bad eggs’ – the problem is systematic and pervasive. This is illustrated by the growing number of people who are being radicalised to hate Muslims and the rise of far-right ideology. We all need to play our part in taking this problem seriously and not standing by while innocent Muslims suffer.
I am proud to work for JAN Trust, who tackle these issues on a daily basis and provide essential services for marginalised BAMER and Muslim women. To find out more about the work we do visit our website here: https://jantrust.org/.