‘The media have failed us’: British Muslims on coverage of the Paris attacks
One week after Isis-affiliated jihadi killed 129 people in coordinated attacks, British Muslims tell us how their lives have changed.
Islamic leaders and the Muslim population have been quick to show solidarity with France and condemn last Friday’s terror attacks.
On social media, people used the hashtags #IamMuslim and #PrayforParis in a show of unity. But what effect have the attacks had on Muslims and do they feel public sentiment towards them has changed?
We asked British Muslims to share their thoughts and experiences, including whether they thought the media had reported the attacks and their aftermath sensitively. Here’s what they had to say:
Anonymous, 19, Preston
I am a westerner. I am free, liberal, a British citizen but also a Muslim. It is not a contradiction. I can be all of these things and I am. But events such as the Paris attacks, paint a very different picture.
My life has been affected a lot more than I thought it would be. I shan’t delve into a sob story, or complain about my situation because I deal with it like I deal with everything else that goes on. But I will say that when I am out in public people don’t see me; they see the scarf wrapped on my head and that for them that is enough. I get glances in my direction, a sigh as someone walks passed and every now and then an intense stare. I don’t mind it, but being ostracised for being a Muslim isn’t great. It makes me feel impure, vulnerable and worst of all a victim. I do not want to feel like a victim nor feel victimised. I want to weep for those whose innocent souls have passed, not for myself.
A couple of days ago, I was on the bus at 5:41am as I had an early lecture to attend. A white middle-aged man came on to the bus and asked to buy a weekly ticket costing £34. He paid £30 and began to rummage in his bag for the remaining £4. The driver took the money, and waited for the man. In the minutes that follow the man is unable to find the correct change and panics; if he doesn’t get on this bus he has to wait at least 45 minutes in a leaky bus shelter for the next one. I rummage through my own bag and find £4. I proceed to give the change to the driver. Both the man and the driver look at me in awe, like they didn’t expect me to do what I did. The most beautiful thing about it all wasn’t my charitable act, but that through this I had broken the stigma that they held about me.
Sharma, 17, London
Muslims, if anything, have it the worst. We carry the dual burden of not only fearing a terror attack, just like the rest of the western world, but also the threat from people who feel they have the right to attack Muslims in response to Paris. Lone Muslim women are particularly vulnerable; I’ve experienced stares and horrible looks on public transport.
People now associate the Muslim community with terror and violence, and people see us as aliens. Sweeping statements have been made to generalise an entire religion of 1.6 billion people on the basis of the actions of a few corrupt individuals. British Muslims, like myself, now feel frightened or at risk to leave our houses due to backlash attacks. We were born and bred in this country and now fear a simple walk to the shop more inconceivable than ever.
The media have failed Muslims by making no distinction between a minority terror group, who even Muslims are victims of, and ordinary Muslims who follow a peaceful religion which perpetuates joy and social cohesion. By the media sparking fears around ordinary Muslims, we are playing into the hands of the terrorists. The terrorists want to see a rift between Muslims and non-Muslims and, in the long term, want to recruit lost Muslims who feel neglected by British society.
Zaynab, 32, Stanmore
I’m the 9/11 generation. I was in London for a university open day and saw the second plane crash in to the twin towers live on television. But now, for the first time, I’m worried to travel on public transport after seeing clips of insults and hearing of the abuse my friends have gone through. One of my friends had something thrown behind her, which sounded like a pop, and then the boys who threw it laughed and called her a terrorist. And I regularly see Facebook status updates about similar comments.
Personally, I haven’t felt the public’s perception change, however Muslim friends say they feel people are staring at them more. I feel very conscious when I see Wembley stadium in the distance, lit up in the colours of the French flag, as though it’s reminding me of tough times to come.
I know unemployed Muslims who are considering changing their name as they’ve been told that people will think negatively of their Muslim name, and not call them for an interview. We need the media to be more balanced at least and raise awareness of the challenges we face.
I’m fed up of seeing Muslims apologise, we haven’t done anything wrong! If anything we are in danger ourselves even more than before. I’m Shia Muslim and Isis have made it their mission to find us and kill us. We need more support and unity if we are to show Isis that their plan isn’t working. Right now, they’re killing us abroad in our countries of origin and making life here in our homes and neighbourhoods very difficult.
Jo, 35, Lancashire
I don’t think people’s perception of me as an individual has changed since the attacks in Paris, but then again this is a small town. There have been a few incidences in nearby towns where women wearing the niqab have had alcohol poured over them, and abuse thrown at them.
I wear the hijab, and my children are clearly of mixed race, but we haven’t noticed any direct impact on our daily lives. My husband and friends are more cautious about us going out in the evening, and my parents have advised me to cancel my plans to visit a friend in London.
It is true to say that Muslims are a target now. We’re easily identified by what we wear and our mannerisms, but we shouldn’t change because of how other people perceive us. And we shouldn’t have to. Everybody wants to live in peace and everybody deserves the chance to. I know problems of this magnitude are not easily solved, but it’s the small things that change things. By getting to know each other, we will discover that we’re all the same,and at the same time make some new friends.
The media has treated this subject with a degree of sensitivity. But the tabloids are constantly injecting fear regarding the Islamic State, and about how the refugee crisis is causing strain on the EU. If the media continues to channel negativity, I think there’ll definitely be an impact on the Muslim community.
Since the Paris attacks, people on social media have been brutally honest regarding what they think caused the atrocities and how just a few extremists do not represent the Muslim population as a whole. Hopefully, if enough people get their views across it might just broaden a few minds.
Fatima, 27, Luton
Luton is already a town torn between far-right extremism from Muslims and non-Muslims. These attacks have made the community very conscious of possible repercussions when traveling outside of the town. Though I am not a visible Muslim woman, the fear of being attacked stops me traveling into London to see friends.
I may not be a visible Muslim woman but Islam has definitely become attributed to ‘brown people’, even if they’re not Muslims. We saw this when a Sikh man was accused of being one of the attackers in last week’s attacks.
I try to avoid sitting by myself in empty train carriages to avoid being harassed or targeted. I certainly do not stand near the yellow line when I take the underground out of fear that someone may push me onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train. I’m having to take precautions at every single moment in my life, especially when in public, as I want to keep myself safe and away from harm.
Syrian refugees are being blamed, even though it turns out majority of the attackers thus far are French citizens and two of whom lived in Belgium. Then the Daily Mail’s publication of cartoons of Muslims as rats – a reference to the Syrian refugees – is exactly how the Jewish community was depicted in the 1930s. It is highly problematic and worrisome. I have avoided Facebook and Twitter simply because I think it is crucial to look after my mental health and sanity.
Sarah, 25, Manor House, London
A woman was so nice to me recently. She became a friend to me on the bus, reassured me, and told me not to pay attention to negative comments. It made me feel like no matter what, the British community has goodness. However my aunt has been abused and a friend of mine consistently brought up the Paris attacks asking for explanation and it made me feel uncomfortable.
I feel like I don’t really belong here in the UK. I’ve been very scared to go on the street alone, so much so that I’ve skipped a few meetings. I have anxiety and would like to go somewhere where Muslims are a majority so I can feel like I blend in.
In some ways, the media have been exceptionally good in showing that the attacks are not the fault of all Muslims and have been encouraging people to stand up for Muslims. But in other ways, important incidents were not properly reported such as the many racial attacks that happen – and it matters for us, so people know where we are coming from in terms of our worries. The media needs to be our voice too.
I wish people would just put humanity before anything else. We need to teach the ignorant how it’s meant to be.