“Do you think the allegations made by the Conservative MP Nus Ghani about Islamophobia will encourage change?” I was asked this question when I was interviewed last week by Coco Khan from the Guardian last week. My simple answer was ‘no’. Sadly, despite the clear racism and clear prejudices that this incident highlighted, the media attention was not really about Islamophobia. It was about the problems within the Conservative Party. To my surprise, despite this kind of article about the experiences of Islamophobia female politicians experienced was being written, I doubted this will raise the issues of rising number of racist incidents.
I ultimately think that, until there is real structural change in all our institutions, especially in politics, sadly very little will change when it comes to all sorts of racism. The fact that I am the first Muslim woman elected councillor in Merton, and one of the first Muslim women in the London Assembly may be a personal achievement, but it’s a sad reflection in what is wrong in our society and why something has to change.
I remember growing up in Enfield walking past NF graffiti on the way to school, and seeing posters about immigration that I didn’t understand. I was fairly protected as a child from any racism or was never aware of it. Until 11 September. That 11 September. Everything changed. The memory of this event had been buried for a while until I did a video for Black History Month. I was asked if I had ever experienced Islamophobia – and the memory burned my chest as I relived that moment. It was filmed, and put on social media, it went viral. But nothing changed.
Official religious hate crime statistics released by the Home Office for the year 2018-2019 saw 47% of all religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales having targeted Muslims. And this is only what was officially reported. Sadly, I am one of the many that just hasn’t bothered to report the amount of hate crime I have experienced, for example the number of times I’ve been shouted at to “go home” or having eggs thrown at our door or having Paki scratched on our car. Because when we report it, nothing changes.
Recently we heard of horrific racist, homophobic and misogynist texts in a Met Police WhatsApp group. It’s why Muslims and many other minorities just don’t feel they will be listened to or helped. It is frustrating because my work with the Sutton Fairness Commission has led me to meet some amazing officers who do great work – but these reports just make their work harder and means trust breaks down, so that again, nothing changes.
But I want to see change. It is why I focus so much of my time on diversity issues as a London Assembly Member. I have started working with the London Gypsy and Travellers group. The more I work with them, the more I learn. It is clear that there has been a clear systematic approach to slowly remove this entire community from London, to ridicule their traditions and even redefine their identity. According to research by Birmingham University, Muslims are the UK’s second ‘least liked’ group, after Gypsy and Irish Travellers: 25.9% of the British public feel negatively towards Muslims (with 9.9% feeling ‘very negative’). This compares with 8.5% for Jewish people, 6.4% for black people, and 8.4% for white people. Only Gypsy and Irish Travellers are viewed more negatively by the British public, with 44.6% of people viewing this group negatively. Something has to change.
For me that change can come from many areas - education is the key, but so is representation. Our political system is broken, and is increasing becoming less transparent and untrustworthy. We have politicians who are elected in safe seats, who never have to change or encourage change. We have a Parliament that does not reflect the diversity of the country in terms of race, gender, economy, education and so many other areas. If you are a white male Etonian, you will have a greater chance of being the next PM than me. That’s a fact. And it’s not fair. So if we want more female Muslim politicians, something needs to change.
This Saturday I will be speaking at the Make Votes Matter rally in Parliament Square in protest of the Government’s antidemocratic Elections Bill. If we are to have truly progressive change in our society, we need truly progressive change across all our institutions. Our political system must finally allow all voices to be heard. Together we must ensure that minority groups have a say and that politicians start listening, because, after all, something has to change.
Join Hina at the Make Votes Matter rally on Saturday 5 February from midday in Parliament Square. Learn more here