Monday, July 07, 2008


This article appeared on the Guardian's Comment is Free. In it, the writer, Huma Qureshi , describes her life as a Muslim in the UK. It probably represents more or less the experiences of Muslims anywhere in the West.

She says:

"The programme, called It Shouldn't Happen to a Muslim, looks at how life has changed for Muslim families in the UK since 9/11. It recounts vicious stories of horrific, racist brutality against Muslims, not the extremist ones, but the ordinary, law-abiding ones; stories that are rarely reported in the press."

The rest of her article is dedicated to descriptions of how uncomfortable life is for a Muslim in a Western society. Of the few examples she furnishes from her family's experience, I have picked three to challenge :

“Sometimes, it's subtle, like how my hijab-wearing mother had to justify to colleagues why she'd started wearing a headscarf.”

Any person at a place of work effecting some visible, permanent, change in their appearance would give rise to the curiosity of her colleagues. A woman who decides to shave her head would be subject to just as much curiosity and questions.

“Every year, I fast for Ramadan, but (until now at least) probably only one of my colleagues actually knows. I'd rather not shout about it because then it saves the questions,”

Every year, I eat matzo during Passover and people I work with see me, and know that I eat matzo and celebrate Passover. When they are curious, they ask questions, or make comments which are generally motivated by benign curiosity and actually, genuine interest and good will. What’s the big deal about fasting on Ramadan ? Why does she want to avoid questions? I just don’t get it.

“Every Muslim can probably tell you a story or two of how they got held for hours of interrogation by immigration on the way to the US for no apparent reason other than because they had a Muslim-sounding name or an Arab/Asian face.”

We travel regularly to the US. And we also get subjected to prying questions (Are these your children? Where are you going to stay? With friends? Who are these friends? Where and when did you meet them? What’s their address? Where were you born? If you live in New Brunswick, why are you crossing from Quebec? etc etc.), our car searched (Who is this cake for? Did you bake it?). It’s annoying but we realize it’s necessary. If we felt it was such an unbearable humiliation, we would not travel to the US. It’s that simple.

I'm not trying to belittle this person's sense of alienation from her society, which is probably more than just a perception. However, the examples she provides are hardly evidence that bears out her earlier statement about "vicious... racist brutality against Muslims". If her intention was to stir up sympathy, she chose the wrong anecdotes. If these are the symptoms of a sick, Islamophobic society, then they are pretty feeble and certainly do not merit the loud drum roll that preceded them.

All immigrants, anywhere and everywhere, suffer from alienation and misunderstanding and are the target for sometimes too nosy curiosity, often even a malign type of curiosity. It is in the nature of human beings, to huddle together and to scrutinize those who don't look or sound like them. Difference marks you out. Immigrants who move from one culture in which they were part of the tribe to another culture in which they stand out, should be prepared for it. No legislation or PC laws are ever going to make this experience disappear, despite all the good intentions of the host society.


(For a different set of opinions, check out this post and comments on Engage
And yet another opinion, on "The Iconoclast")


At 5:44 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I'm Muslim. Trust me, we don't have an issue with puppies. --- Humi


"Trust me" is polite speak for "fuck you."

For those who may not know.

At 5:20 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cry me a river. The poor oppressed Muslims in the UK who are catered to every day. It is enough to make a thinking person sick to their stomach.

Don't like the U.S., Huma? Please, stay home. Better yet, go vacation in Riyadh. I hear they treat Muslim women much better there than in the horrible "anti-Muslim" U.S.

Or how about a business trip? I'm sure there are loads of Muslim women in your occupation (finance/insurance) over there.


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