Muslim Identity Politics: Activism and Agency in Securitised Times

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February 24, 2022
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Muslim Identity Politics: Activism, Agency in Securitised Times.

Dr Khadijah Elshayyal

Drawing upon a range of historical examples Dr Khadijah Elshayyal commenced her presentation by commenting on the long history of Muslim activism in the UK that encompassed causes, campaigning, organisation and the search for justice. She touched on responses to social injustice that pervaded the lives of earlier settlers to Britain, including the Yemeni Lascars - which manifest as riots rooted in response to vicious structural racism. Endemic racism led to a conveyor belt of grave miscarriages of justices, including the hanging in Cardiff prison of a Somali seaman, Mahmood Mattan, in 1952 for a crime he did not commit – here, Dr Elshayyal referred to the recently acclaimed book written on this subject:  The Fortune Men, by Nadifa Mohamed.

Mass migration of the 1960s and1970s saw significant influxes of predominantly South Asian Muslims to the industrial areas of the country. Subsequent generations engaged in anti-racist activism to counter the activities of neo-Nazi groups, such as the National Front who marched through British streets, possibly, with the collusion of the government and police. 1989 saw the Rushdie affair hit the headlines – viewed by many Muslims as a direct attack on Islam. Muslim consciousness rose across the country outraged by the belittlement and scorn exhibited by the establishment towards Islam. This pivotal moment shaped the trajectory of Muslim organisation within the UK, thereafter.

Dr Elshayyal’s discussion ranged across themes of Muslim identity and incongruity; activism and agency juxtaposed against constraint; securitisation and the growth and manifestation of suspicion; social and public engagement spiked with conditionality and detrimental forms of acquiescence.  The speaker detailed how Muslims organise politically in the public space to unpack and refute the idea of faith being antithetical to politics. In a temporalsphere she questioned the extent to which secularism draws upon certain religious traditions while forsaking others.

The lecture considered the formation of an overarching Muslim umbrella organisation, the MCB in 1997 which saw some Muslim activists closely aligned to the then Labour government. Dr Elshayyal discussed how this short lived relationship was curtailed largely via widespread Muslim disapproval of the UK’s military trajectory and opposition to war. As political engagement became normalised she addressed how dissent was painted out of public spaces. The speaker discussed the concept of astroturfing which has seen a range of pseudo grass root organisations/websites surface which have yielded a damaging impact and fuelled suspicion and mistrust regarding their authenticity, for example, SuperSisters. The 2014 Trojan Horse scandal was highlighted and the harm is wrought on individuals and the image of Islam within wider British society. The contentious Prevent policy saw legislation initially framed on a racialised model of Muslim communities. Support for which, could be analogised to buying into a racist understanding of Muslim communities. From this a range of harms were detailed including placing people in difficult situations.

The session concluded with robust discussion and audience participation centred on how Muslims can engage meaningfully in British society - to exert positive influence and tackle islamophobia.



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