‘Spreading intolerance and hatred?’ How criticism of The Martyrs has missed the mark

‘Spreading intolerance and hatred?’ How criticism of The Martyrs has missed the mark

The recent release of short film The Martyrs depicting three real-life Islamophobic incidents in the U.K by film maker Rizwan Wadan has prompted Tell Mama to call for the film’s immediate withdrawal. 

In a recent article in the Guardian, an organisation the records anti-Muslim attacks, Tell Mama, has condemned the film as ‘sensationalist’ and have made the following comments:

“This film should be withdrawn immediately. Following the Christchurch attacks, there is a lot of fear among Muslims. The Martyrs just promotes this. Many Muslims will see it and be too afraid to go out. The film is unnecessarily sensationalist. It involves excellent film-making skills, but what use is this if all you are doing is spreading more intolerance and hatred?”

“You have three very hard-hitting stories within a short film. The vast majority of cases we deal with do not involve such viciousness. At the same time, many non-Muslims stand in solidarity with us and come to the aid of Muslims. Why is this not reflected? This film does not breed confidence, it does not promote any dialogue or unity, and it can actually encourage violence if watched by the wrong person.”

As a BAME NGO working on issues such as Islamophobia, we believe that Tell Mama have unfortunately missed the mark; especially to suggest that The Martyrs is promoting fear and intolerance. The reality is that people from ethnic minority communities, especially Muslims, are already scared. They are scared based on real-life things that are actually happening, which may have happened to them, their friends or fellow Muslims around the world. Many visibly Muslim women who we have spoken to have informed us of their fear, that they have been called ‘terrorists’ or ‘letterboxes’ or physically assaulted in the street. As an organisation we have also been the target of Islamophobic hate, including vile racism and threats of arson. The goal here isn’t to spread more intolerance and hatred, it is to call attention to it, create a dialogue about the reality of the situation we find ourselves in, so we are able to alleviate it as a society. Tell Mama themselves have just reported that there has been a nearly 600% rise in Islamophobic incidents since the Christchurch terrorist attack, which is important reporting. However, could this not be conceptualised as sowing the seeds of fear as well if we apply the same line of thought? The truth of the matter is that this short film does not promote hatred, there are individuals out there already promoting hatred which the film-maker is drawing attention to with the view to combat said hatred. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest that this film promotes violence against Muslim people as opposed to drawing attention to how horrifying and disgusting it is.

Although it is true that there are non-Muslims that stand with Muslims and intervene, there are also many times when people do not. Women have spoken to us at JAN Trust of being the victims of hate crime in public spaces where no one has intervened. The cases that were showcased in The Martyrs film were based on real events. Depicting non-Muslim assailants committing an act of violence doesn’t mean that there are no instances at all where non-Muslims help and/or intervene. In fact, to watch the film and essentially say ‘but what about non-Muslims who help?’ is quite frustrating and derailing when trying to talk about issues the Muslim community face. It seems that the point of the film was missed here and we need to re-centre Muslim people and the racism and/or Islamophobia many have been subject to. There are many great non-Muslim allies; they know who they are and how they can help. They also understand the importance of not de-railing or centring themselves in these conversations, and not silencing Muslim voices. It’s disappointing to hear Tell Mama promoting this kind of narrative when Muslim people are trying to depict real examples of Islamophobia -strangely-the very incidents Tell Mama itself documents.

To criticise the film for not promoting unity is strange. When activists speak about an issue passionately or are angry at an injustice perpetrated by an individual or organisation, it would be bizarre to suggest to them that they are being divisive and should promote unity instead. If we use the example of police brutality in the USA for instance, would we expect Black people to not criticise the police force that mistreated them because that criticism may promote further division? In order to have a more unified and just society it is necessary to speak about the injustices you face in order to raise awareness and ultimately bring about change.

For Tell Mama to suggest that the Martyrs could encourage violence when watched by the wrong person is an interesting point. Watching the news coverage or of the Christchurch terrorist attack could encourage violence when watched by the wrong person. Watching what happened during the 7/7 London Bombings could encourage violence when watched by the wrong person. Watching a violent movie could encourage violence when watched by the wrong person. Where do we draw the line on what we should ban/withdraw or not when informing people (obviously excluding terrorist propaganda)? It’s important for people to see the reality of what is happening to many Muslim people in the UK and to have a responsible, factual dialogue surrounding Islamophobia to try and stop these incidents from happening. We cannot bury our heads in the sand or sit on the fence under the guise of promoting unity when there is clearly a problem. In addition, it’s important to remember that this is a film, created by a Muslim film-maker, where scenes are re-created by actors – not abuse or trauma disseminated by far-right extremists where they are depicted as good or heroic.

Another interesting topic The Martyrs touches on is how the media, notably but not exclusively radio shows, give platforms to hateful opinions and rhetoric which can influence others to carry out acts of violence. The mainstream media must be held accountable for this, which is something our CEO Sajda Mughal OBE and JAN Trust have spoken out about for quite some time, especially in relation to far-right extremism.

This is a well-made and hard-hitting film from Rizwan Wadan. The film shows the experience of victims and gives them a voice which they may not have had in the mainstream media. Rizwan himself has spoken about how difficult it was to get the project up and running, which just goes to show how often Muslim voices are side-lined.

As a BAME NGO, we campaign on issues such as hate crime, Islamophobia and discrimination and have worked on projects of our own such as our Another Way Forward initiative to start a dialogue surrounding hatred in the UK. We join the many organisations, members of the Muslim community  and other individuals who fully support Rizwan Wadan’s The Martyrs and the importance of raising awareness of the realities faced by those attacked.

Watch The Martyrs here!