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I'm a British Muslim and no politician has the right to make me feel I do not belong

After a Tory victory, many British Muslims are considering leaving the country but I have decided to stay and keep up the struggle
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a speech after retaining his seat for Uxbridge and Ruislip South in Uxbridge, west London, on 13 December 2019 (AFP)

I have to be honest. I was devastated following the news of the Labour Party's electoral defeat on Friday.

I, like many other party supporters, genuinely thought that Labour would win, perhaps naively due to echo chambers on social media. However, lies won over principles and racism won over unity.

A campaign fought to "get Brexit done” which was rooted in Islamophobia, racism, and fear mongering, gave Boris Johnson a mandate to be our prime minister for the next five years.

The frightening reality

The palpable anxiety felt by British Muslims prior to the election and the clear and present danger posed by the Tories had become a reality. Within 24 hours Tommy Robinson, the British far-right activist and the former leader of the anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL), had joined the Conservative party, compounding these fears further.

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The clear and present danger posed by the Tories had become a reality

Following the Tory victory, many British Muslims, particularly doctors who were equally distraught at the prospect of a privatised NHS, as previously supported by Johnson, started to consider leaving the country. Friends who are visibly Muslim, i.e. wear headscarves, became fearful for their safety and also worried for the safety of their daughters.

These fears were based on facts as the number of hate crimes reported to the police has more than doubled since 2013, with just under half (47 percent) of religious hate crime offences targeting Muslims (3,530 offences).

Protesters demonstrate at Downing Street following the result of the general election in London on 13 December (Reuters)
Protesters demonstrate at Downing Street following the result of the general election in London on 13 December (Reuters)

On Monday, an article in the Metro also revealed that British Muslims had started the process of leaving the UK over fears for their "personal safety" under a Johnson victory. The reality for some Muslims was simply too frightening. It was upsetting  to hear friends so concerned that they would actually leave the UK.

This is my home

It’s taken me days and a rapid journey through the seven stages of grief to get to this point, but I have decided I won’t be leaving. I was born in Manchester, grew up here, am a proud Mancunian and I am a British Muslim. This is my home.

I was born in Manchester, grew up here, am a proud Mancunian and I am a British Muslim. This is my home

It is home to my two boys and to future generations of British Muslims. I will not run, and no one, neither a politician nor a keyboard warrior on social media, has the right to make me feel like I do not belong.

Things need to change. It won’t be easy, and the change is unlikely to occur in my lifetime. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Perhaps I will be sharpening the axe for many years to come, and for me that is ok.

Muslims believe challenges in life are guaranteed and Allah does not burden any soul with more than it can bear. So while the work to be done in tackling the growing tidal wave of Islamophobia increases, a handful of the 3,372,966 Muslims in the UK might leave, but millions like me will stay, and ensure the fight for an equal and fair society which includes British Muslims continues.

The fight may have got harder but my resolve will grow to meet the challenge. It has to.

Defining the struggle

Who will be my allies? Those that deny me the right to define my struggle, Islamophobia deniers, Boris Johnson and the Tory party are not my allies. Those who work to remove the protections I deserve while seeking it for themselves are not my allies.

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Those that give platforms to Islamophobic hate preachers are not my allies. Those that pit minorities against each other are not my allies. But the election has shown there are many that will be my ally, from Cathy the teacher next door to Gary Neville.

I am not alone.

Politics is not the only loci of power in a democracy; there are many others, as well as institutions and opportunities that will come forward to give a voice to those marginalised and “othered”.

It can only happen if we stay here and use our voices. And I will.

For those that voted to “Get Brexit Done” because of racist ideologies - even at the expense of the NHS - which as a doctor, pains me further, I say: let's start paying more than lip service to British values, and instead recognise and tackle Islamophobia to ensure British Muslim feel safe at home.

Because I’m going nowhere, and neither I’m sure are millions of other British Muslims.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Siema Iqbal is a mother, a doctor and a British Muslim opinion writer based in Manchester. She is currently a partner and trainer at a North Manchester GP practice. She enjoys writing and can often be found public speaking and raising money and awareness for charities both in the UK and abroad
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