Today, 9/11, is a watershed day for my Muslim friends. It’ll always be the day in history when they were forced to become politically engaged with world events, due to the actions of a few (so-called?) Muslims.
Fast forward 13 years to this summer, British Muslims took to the streets over the killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They campaigned for the boycotting of pro- Israeli brands such as Mc Donald’s, Starbucks, Nestle; I even heard of one family who were boycotting Asda. At the London rallies, I saw photos of children as young as 6 with their faces painted with the colours of the Palestinian flag. The death of Joan Rivers was greeted with joy after her comments on Gaza.
Are Muslims today too engaged in pro- Islamic causes? It seems it’s not enough to just believe in Islam and practice it, but its followers- all over the world, are political activists to boot. Now this is very different to me saying they are terrorists or jihadists so you can dismiss that thought straight away. I’m asking, isn’t enough to just be a Muslim but not carry out social justice in its name- like boycotting supermarkets or re-posting anti-Israel sentiment on the social networks?
The truth is, we’re all social activists these days, we’re all politicised- about something. Perhaps you didn’t care about Jennifer Lawrence and the nude photos being circulated of her. But after being told a dozen times by bloggers and opinion pieces that clicking on the photos was tantamount to sexual assault you probably did. Suddenly you care about the treatment of women- feminism. Likewise, you probably had no real opinion about the Israeli government’s actions towards Hamas- (“aren’t they a terrorist group?” “Hasn’t that whole crisis been going on forever?” you probably asked yourself). But after seeing photos of bloodied school children lying dead in the streets of Gaza, posted and re-posted you were probably outraged- just like the rest of the Muslim population and even if you aren’t Muslim.
And it’s not just feminists or Muslims. This summer many Christians changed their profile pictures to the Arabic symbol for the letter ‘n’, in solidarity with Christians being persecuted by IS in Iraq. Last year Facebook launched the rainbow emoticon in honour of gay pride. What about the ice bucket challenge in support of ALS? The makeup-less selfies for breast cancer awareness? Campaigning against FGM, rape, human trafficking, forced marriages? We’ve all at one point or another re-tweeted, posted, photographed ourselves or someone else in aid of a charitable cause, a political or social concern.
Social justice is becoming a part of the fabric of the society we live in; it’s becoming more and more familiar to us all. Because we live in an age where we are hyper aware of global events, political and social awareness are becoming as normal as checking Facebook (and is often facilitated by checking your social networks.) It’s part of our Brave New World, which includes the threat of terror, the social networks, the Internet. Can you even remember what life was like before those things dominated our headlines every day?! Yes it’s happened without us even realising.
I’m not saying I always agree with everything I hear coming from the British Muslim community but I understand why they are so impassioned about pro-Islamic causes. And really, is it any wonder when every time we turn on the news or sit down to watch a US cop drama, we are confronted with stories and storylines about militant Islamist groups and the war on terror- no one can deny that the media has jumped on all the furore and whipped up a frenzy. Of course that’s going to grab your attention and make you want to defend your religion and your identity.
Yes I’ve seen some really questionable comments from British Muslims- but I’ve also seen some really anti-other- people comments from all kinds of different groups too. Perhaps the question should be “how do we control ourselves on social media?” and how do we make it a constructive and positive space for social justice and campaigning.