Aleesha Khaliq explains what it means to be a political Muslim woman in a racist, misogynist, abusive online world.
Why is my identity consistently used against me in political discourse online?
The abuse that
It took me four years, but enough is enough, and I have finally taken the decision to report online hate crime to the police.
In 2015, I took the decision to make a Twitter account to post, view, and share political material and, most importantly, to give my opinions. I had previously used Twitter in my younger and more innocent teenage years where I’d keep up with news on my favourite celebrities, like One Direction. However, I suddenly had a spark of interest in politics when I turned 17.
The first few months of my political presence on Twitter were slow. I shared my opinions, got into healthy debates and disagreements with people, and enjoyed gaining more knowledge about global affairs as I was nowhere near as astute and knowledgeable as I am now, though I still have so much to learn.
You can send me as much Islamophobic, racist, or misogynistic abuse as you want, but it’s not going to change the fact that you’re bothered over my existence.
Today, I have 33,400 followers on Twitter. I still don’t know how I managed that or what it is that attracts people to my profile, though I’m incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to talk about subjects that are important to me.
I now interact with and have famous politicians and political commentators following me which the 17-year-old me would never have expected. It is an incredible feeling to have your favourite commentators acknowledging your opinions. I deeply cherish the fact that I’ve been given a platform to educate, inform, and talk to people about topics that are important to me.
But, with the positives come the negatives.
Torrents of Abuse
Recently, I’ve increasingly been subject to torrents of abuse, harassment, and dogpiling. At this point, it’s totally normal to me. It’s expected. The thick-skin and strong mind has developed, and I mainly shrug off the online hate crime. However, there is something deeply serious and worrying about the extent to which one young brown Muslim is abused. The severity of it, and the impact it has on so many young, aspiring minority activists is extensive.
“Osama Bin Laden’s daughter”
“Dirty backwards terrorist scum”
“Go dig your clit out of the garbage bin”
“You’re a Muslim so you belong in a shithole third world country”
“You belong in Syria, get out of the UK”
“You’re not British, and never will be. Nothing more than a third world squatter”
These are only a few of the hundreds of examples.
One that particularly stands out is an account praising the New Zealand terrorist who killed 50 Muslims telling me that “invaders got repelled”.
I could go on, and on, but I presume the point has been made.
I receive tweets like this routinely for simply tweeting my political opinion, and denouncing bigotry, but another thing that being a BAME Muslim woman brings is misogyny.
It’s no surprise that I display my picture on my profile, that’s what any average user does, and it’s where people proudly display their unique beauty, but with that comes consequences for so many women in politics, like me. From negative remarks on my eyebrows to my nose, or to anything that’s first visible to a Twitter user who has immediately decided that they don’t like me , it has resulted in my appearance getting attacked too.
Very frequently, I’m asked how I deal with such abuse. I’m not too sure there’s a guide to follow. There are days when it doesn’t bother me, where I’m numb to what I’m being sent, and there are days where I burst into tears because I’ve been sent a death threat. There are days where I turn down offers to further myself in politics out of fear for my safety. But not for much longer. I’m very fortunate as I have so much support online.
But this is also part of something so much bigger.
What happens when other aspiring, BAME people view the abuse I receive?
The Bigots Can’t Stop Us
It’s something we desperately need to talk about. The treatment of young, BAME people on social media is abhorrent. I have had other young and impressionable activists message me with the same concerns – that despite what they tweet, their religion and ethnicity is brought into any form of discussion which has resulted in many of them giving up tweeting their views. In other situations, I have had minorities tell me that they’d never be able to do what I do or pursue a career in politics.
Last year, the largest study of online attacks conducted by researchers for Amnesty International and Element AI found that women of colour were most likely to be mentioned in abusive tweets. It further found that black women were almost twice as likely as their white counterparts to be targeted. Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, received the most abuse of any British woman, with 30,000 abusive tweets sent to her in one year. That’s more than our Prime Minister, or any of her cabinet members. Think about that for a second.
There is something deeply serious and worrying about the extent to which one young brown Muslim is abused.
In addition, Prevent, the Government’s counter-extremism programme released horrifying statistics for 2018: the number of people referred to Prevent over far-right extremism concerns have increased by 36%, whilst referrals for fears of Islamist extremism decreased by 14%. These statistics are terrifying and, from the far-right abuse that I’ve seen increase over the years in my Twitter interactions, I grow increasingly worried for other BAME people who want to get involved in politics.
There are many factors as to why this happens, but we desperately need to create a country where young, minority citizens in British society aren’t afraid of stating their political opinions due to racism or other forms of abuse.
We need to have open discourse about the treatment of minorities online, and not treat it as some sort of taboo subject to be ignored or left for another time. We need to challenge racism when we see it, and support those being abused.
To other young minority individuals who are aspiring to get involved in politics, even if they don’t mean to have a career in it, my advice is to be unapologetically you. Be fearless, tweet your opinions and create the platform that you deserve. Abuse is inevitable, but you shouldn’t let it hold you back.
As I usually say to the bigots: “You can send me as much Islamophobic, racist, or misogynistic abuse as you want, but it’s not going to change the fact that you’re bothered over my existence as a British-Pakistani Muslim woman, and there’s nothing you can do about it”.
The bigots hate to see minorities increasingly getting involved in politics, so you should get involved.