An event was held in collaboration with activists from ‘LGBT+ against Islamophobia’.
UCL, in collaboration with the group ‘LGBT+ against Islamophobia’, hosted a panel discussion on the 23rd of November. Dani Singer, who has been running the campaigning group for a few months, explains the purpose of the event: “November is Islamophobia awareness month, and it is time to promote discussion and engage as many people as possible on their cause”.
Formed at the beginning of 2015, ‘LGBT+ against Islamophobia’ started as a simple banner that was used in demonstrations all over the United Kingdom to give out a message. Early in 2016, some decided to formalise their fight and establish themselves as a socialist group with a purpose: battle racism in the UK, especially targeting racism against Muslims and people with a Muslim background.
Dani is accompanied on the panel by Usmann Rana, Pakistani activist and member of ‘LGBT+ against Islamophobia’, and Saad, a Muslim student living in London. Both of them, while sharing the experience of growing up in Muslim communities as gay men, highlight the dichotomy that they were presented with, they could be “either gay or Muslim”. Being part of the LGBT+ community seems to be irreconcilable with being a person of faith.
But “it’s more about the neighbours than it is about the religion”, underlines Usmann. In his opinion, it’s as much about preventing gossip than it is about what the Quran says. And while people of faith sometimes have a hard time accepting members of the LGBT+ community, the three panellists agree that there is a huge rejection coming from LGBT+ members against Muslims. Because of the impact of the media and government, they see the Islam as a negative force that wants to annihilate them, and so they disapprove of the efforts of the campaigning group. However, as Saad clearly says, both sides should join forces, “oppressed communities who join hands win against oppressive forces”.
There are signs of this reconciliation. The members of ‘LGBT+ against Islamophobia’ have, as Dani recounts, been received “with open arms” by representatives of the Muslim faith, including an influential British mosque. However, open arms are not enough. The aim is to take action and erase the hatred toward both communities, as well as between them. But that can only be achieved through conscious work. Something as simple as having the right answer for someone who is being Islamophobic is incredibly powerful.
And that’s because racism is not always obvious. We encounter “casual racism” all the time: in the way some relatives might talk about someone like Usmann, or most recently throughout the US election. There is often no malice behind it, but it can still be very harmful to the targeted communities. So what can we do? We can speak up. Next time we hear our grandma mutter “migrants are taking our jobs”, or we read on someone’s status on Facebook that “Muslims are bombing this country”, we must say something. Maybe try to get that person in someone else’s shoes, or remind them that terrorism does not have a religion.
This is not an easy task, of course. In barely an hour and a half, the discussion’s attendees raised topics from Occidentalism versus Orientalism to the very real threat of terrorism. It is virtually impossible to fix all these issues on our own. But that is exactly why a group like ‘LGBT+ against Islamophobia’ stands out in this time of hatred and confusion: it is a torch that reminds us that we need to keep fighting.