Prejudice must be clearly called out

When discriminatory things are said about Muslims at the highest levels, people must respond by raising their voices, says Shelina Janmohamed

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, grabs a suitcase as he arrives to his family's home in Irving, Texas. Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his school after a teacher thought a homemade clock he built was a bomb. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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There’s a growing disparity in the way Muslims are brazenly talked about as less than human on the global stage, and how their protests at being dehumanised are then shut down. And it needs to be called out.

US Republican candidate Ben Carson casually said that a Muslim should not be elected president. He then saw a spike in his fund raising.

His competitor Donald Trump didn’t even bat an eyelid when during a campaign rally an audience member declared: “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.”

The man then added: “When can we get rid of them?”

In Europe, Slovakia said – without shame – that it would only take Christian refugees from those fleeing the Syrian civil war. But it denied this was discriminatory.

When people are fleeing from some of the worst horrors of recent times, but are denied safety even when others are granted it, the only conclusion can be that they are seen as less than human.

In the US, a Muslim child is arrested for building a functioning clock.

Pulled out of class, Ahmed Mohammed was not even allowed to call his parents. He said: “I felt like I was a criminal, I felt like I was a terrorist…just because of my race.”

In the UK, a teenager is questioned by police for using the word “eco-terrorist” in class.

When Muslims legitimately protest against such mind- boggling zealousness, their right to protest and oppose is shut down, either by processes of authority or by the tenor of prevailing discussions.

Legitimised by those at the top, the attitudes trickle down: Muslims are terrorists so expect this kind of treatment, stop playing the victim, you should be condemning terrorism not apologising for it, if you want to live in “our” country then you should expect this dehumanising treatment.

Abuse and hatred become increasingly acceptable, increasingly par for the course, while protest or even just simply trying to live as human beings free of discrimination are shut down.

This growing discrimination is not just directed against Muslims.

We’ve seen this heightened over the past year against black people in the US, about who gets to speak and whose voices are shut down.

What is required is calling out such discrimination in both word and action. Some of the responses to Ahmed’s clock incident were extremely heartening, for example. But we need more than just token words.

What frightens me is that these horrific dehumanising attitudes are being given a free pass at the highest global level, and milked for political capital.

Where are the global leaders categorically and forcefully prosecuting such hatred? And where is the utopian equality that our world is supposed to offer its citizens?

That’s even before we get to actual respectful, compassionate and equal treatment.

To start with we need a share of the dialogue but instead, the powerful voices that are already privileged grow stronger and those already suffering discrimination are shut down. Equality seems further away than ever.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk