We have the EDL [right-wing English Defence League] coming to a nearby town this weekend and I’m really torn about going to the counter-demonstration because we came very unstuck campaigning against the BNP in the elections. My young son and I managed to “intimidate” the BNP candidate into not attending the hustings at the local town hall, which was great, and very thrilling. Then we went home to our little council house on our own, and they got their own back. Stuff thrown at the door, things being shouted, car got scratched, neighbour got threatened in the playground for talking to us. That was when I was on my own. When I was at the town hall with all the police there (and my son), their candidate just sat there like the chump that he was, not going in.
It’s interesting, because now I’m in a different position, it’s really odd.
When I was non-Muslim, and going out in the street, and having people doing all that finger-jabbing: “If it was up to people like you, we’d all be speaking German”, I’m a bolshie old cow, I can take all that kind of stuff. But now I’m a Muslim.... It’s a very odd place to be. I’m not always sure which hat I’m wearing. Sometimes I’m really conscious of my Quaker background – I don’t know the theological equivalent for a Muslim. They’re not the bits that are highlighted by the Muslim community. They’re not the bits I hear. The culture is different.
When I was out in the street and campaigning, in the run-up to becoming Muslim, I can remember people used to do all that finger-jabbing: “The Muslims this and the Muslims that”, and I can remember saying: “Well, that’s rubbish because... blah blah blah”, countering it. I can remember coming away from some of those conversations feeling I really just wanted to say: “Well, I’m Muslim, now what are you going to say?” But now I am, that’s not an argument. It’s really odd.
I remember standing in the street in town with some really really unpleasant people, and saying: “But I am Muslim”. Because a lot of it is about racism, isn’t it? But I’m English, I’m middle class and I’m white, and I’m Muslim. But that kind of seems to have less credibility in Daily Mail readers’ eyes. I don’t know. It’s a complex one. It’s a funny place to be. I’m more intimidated, actually. I’m more wobbly about the EDL now that I’m Muslim than I was before. I get betwixt and between. I’m not part of The Muslim Community, because I haven’t married into some nice big Bengali family, and I don’t wear an Arab outfit, so I don’t get into that community either. But a lot of the English [non-Muslim] community have also turned their backs. I was really shocked by how nobody supported us with the BNP. They were all happy for us to go their anti-BNP meetings, but when it all turned around on us, people’s attitude was: “Well, you know, you’re alright, just don’t take any notice.” I thought: “That’s easy for you to say. This isn’t like when we were doing Stop The War stuff, where we would go home and shut the door. This is people nicking stuff off my washing line and damaging the car.” I’m surprised by how intimidated I am by it. It’s not how I see myself. There aren’t many of us Muslim peace activists about. There are in Muslim countries, of course, there are some wonderful people. But here on the streets, I don’t meet many. Never did through all the Stop The War stuff. Never met many who came to the fore. They were happy to come along to meetings, and to support, but they weren’t active.