Lowkey

Returning from ‘the Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, Lowkey describes an interaction with a border officer feigning friendliness. The rapper, who had been at the camps to assist as a translator on a pro bono basis, is being quizzed on his views alongside his friends, leading to a series of reflections on the covert and overt forms of violence that exist within this moment. This chapter focuses on how in the seeming normal world that all of us occupy, there exists a shadowy underworld of profiling and algorithm-based assessments that turn our innocuous activities into ones that are pathologised as being potentially dangerous. Lowkey writes of his rap music in particular, and how it has been used by Prevent at times, and at other times been barred from mainstream airplay. What is always clear is that it is not the form that is the issue, but rather the messenger and his message. Lowkey’s reflections in this chapter remind us that there is a disparity in the power and control those who resist have from those who exert control from inside a system of structural racism – but that ultimately there are ways of holding on to your own ethics, while challenging that very structure.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Saffa Mir

This chapter charts Saffa Mir’s journey experiencing racism from her schooling until her employment within the legal sector. Through this period she becomes an activist fighting racism and prejudice, but questions at what point she realised that her call for freedom and liberty for all would be met with resistance from those who said they also wanted freedom and liberty for all, but which didn’t include those who looked like her. During her university education she would sit in her counter-terrorism lecture not daring to be outspoken for fear of being reported to Prevent. A fear which is a reality for many around the UK, a fear which led to her co-founding Preventing Prevent at Manchester, a campaign to resist its implementation. A fear which awakened her as an activist and to take a stand against this discriminatory piece of legislation. During her term as vice-president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies she would lead on the nation-wide campaigning on Students Not Suspects and Islamophobia Awareness Month in the hope of ensuring young people of colour, especially Muslims, had the language, the tools and the capacity to build coalitions to campaign against the securitisation of the academy. Mir’s chapter presents how, despite being a subject of racist profiling policies, she was able to actively resist against the policies that profiled and racialised communities of colour.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Abstract only
Resisting racism in times of national security
Editor: Asim Qureshi

In times of national security, scholars and activists who hail from the communities under suspicion attempt to draw readers and listeners to the complexity of the world we inhabit. For those who campaigned against the SUS law in the 1980s, when young Black men were being routinely stopped in the streets, the wave of counter-terrorism legislation and policy that exists today will be very familiar. Similarly, recent discussions about the impact of drill music in the culture of young Black men has drawn questions around the ways in which they should be securitised, with senior police calling for the use of terrorism legislation against them. In this environment, when those who study and have lived alongside the communities who are at the scrutiny of the state raise questions about the government, military and police policy, they are often shut down as terrorist-sympathisers, or apologists for gang culture. In such environments, there is an expectation on scholars and activists to condemn what society at large fears. This volume is about how that expectation has emerged alongside the normalisation of racism, and how these writers choose to subvert the expectations raised on them, as part of their commitment to anti-racism.

Yassir Morsi

The rendering of the ‘Muslim’ is crucial to the narrative of the War on Terror. In this chapter, Yassir Morisi explores through an auto-ethnography the relationship between Muslim and ‘Muslim’. The latter figure, in scare quotes, is for Brian Klug a figment, a fantasy and a myth. It represents the Orientalist tale of a callous Other of mindless worship and violence. But how, in the War on Terror narrative, can we separate the two figures easily and how can Muslims refuse to speak in response to the ‘Muslim’? How when everyday Muslims are caught in what Edward Said calls the dehumanising ‘web of racism’; a matrix of language holding in everyday Muslims; a nexus of knowledge and power creating the ‘Muslim’ and simultaneously obliterating the Muslim’s voice? Furthermore, despite being the focal point of racialised discussions about Islam, the threatening ‘Muslim’ is always deferred and is spectral in nature, befitting a post-racial colour blindness. Much like the figure of the ghost, its dual presence and absence protects the War on Terror narrative from charges of racism, and hence, shaped by the political forces of the War on Terror, Morsi contends that the Muslim becomes a complex (im)possible (suspended) subject in a post-9/11 world where (self-)knowledge remains tentative, contingent and situated within a discussion about the threatening status of our Otherness.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Abstract only
‘You know nothing, Jon Snow’
Asim Qureshi

Reflecting on his own personal experiences in being asked to condemn terrorists, Asim Qureshi begins the volume by detailing the psychological and physiological trauma that accompanies these moments. These personal reflections are placed in a wider context of a culture of condemnation – where routinely Muslims and Black gangs are expected to condemn the violence some choose to associate with their communities. The Introduction seeks to enter into a conversation between all of the contributed chapters to identify a few key themes that speak to their collective experience. While the chapters largely focus on the contemporary experiences of the authors, a number of them explicitly reference how the history of colonisation and empire is directly relevant to current discourses, particularly in relation to the ubiquity of ‘Whiteness’ as a system of violence and power. The underlying racism of society has been transformed into a form of ‘public safety racism’ as the authors evidence how communities are placed within a threat matrix. This matrix brings with it an expectation for those very communities to condemn their own, the central concern of all the contributors – who feel caged by this expectation. The chapters highlight how those who hail from these communities at times engage in acts of performance in order to pander to demands of those who expect condemnation – a form of betrayal through public performance – but what these scholars and activists demonstrate through their lived experience is a genuine praxis of resistance.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan

In June 2017 Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan had a poem go viral online, ‘This Is Not a Humanising Poem’. Accruing two million views in a few days, the poem seemed to resonate with people far and wide. It was a condemnation of the culture in which Muslims are asked to ‘prove their humanity’ by distancing themselves from ‘terrorism’. The poem was written a day after the London Bridge attack, as an attempt to resist the gazes upon her body and the multiple emotions raised – she asked whether her refusal to write a humanising poem meant she was radical – ‘Is this radical? Am I radical? ‘cos there is nowhere else left to exist now.’ This chapter outlines some of the thought process that went into the poem, and the trappings of performing it too, as, ironically, since then, whilst she has received invitations to appear, perform and talk on many stages both nationally and internationally, people have often reproduced and reduced her work and thoughts in a way that means she often struggles to navigate a line between palatability and honesty. The chapter homes in on a few key moments subsequent to the initial poem that highlight the way racism functions to trap us.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Cyrus McGoldrick

This chapter takes a personal and historical account of Cyrus McGoldrick’s evolution on the issue of condemning Muslim violence. He looks back at ten years of appearances in American and international media, and how his confidence and strategy shifted as he studied Muslim history and as history was made around him. Breaking onto the scene as a newly reverted hip hop artist, he was such a novelty that the media treated him gently, not even analysing his lyrics. As he began organising New York’s Muslim communities against government surveillance and war, the media came to treat him with increased interest and suspicion. His advocacy for Muslim political prisoners was construed as showing sympathy for terrorism, turning him into an open enemy. The last decade of McGoldrick’s life has been focused on learning, practising and teaching. As he has tried to maintain his community work, and study, he expresses an understanding of the lived and narrative weaknesses underpinning the political naivety of Muslims in the Western world. Rather than respond reflexively or even defensively to the pressure to condemn Muslim violence in the world, might it be possible to take the opportunity to convey our message with clarity and confidence? In the end, after all, it is Allah who condemns.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Aamer Rahman

Based on an interview between comedian Aamer Rahman and Asim Qureshi, Rahman thinks through what it means to be a comedian in an environment that has very fixed expectations on the narrative the industry is comfortable with. For him, his art has never been about making people laugh for the sake of being funny, but rather as a tool that sits at the heart of this political activism. Through the interview, Rahman reflects on the multitude of influences that have developed his thinking, from his religion to Black comedians like Dave Chapelle and his influences from within the world of music. The final contribution to the volume is a call against representation politics devoid of any ethical position, that the representation by and of people of colour should never be a mere performance but must use its platform to subvert society’s expectations. By being politically overt, Rahman has centred the needs of his own communities above any desire for public approval and adoration – demonstrating a lived praxis of resistance.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Shereen Fernandez and Azeezat Johnson

In recent years, there have been calls to work against the ‘neo-liberal’ university in the UK, especially as metric systems such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and more recently the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are introduced. With REF in particular, there is a need to demonstrate the impact academics have made with their research, which could include advising and sharing our research with governmental bodies. Being part of the neo-liberal university means that research is only deemed ‘impactful’ if it engages with the very structures which are creating and perpetuating the harmful policies scholars are trying to dismantle. For example, work on the Prevent duty may very well require scholars to engage with the Home Office to demonstrate they are trying to implement ‘change’. However, scholars of colour are aware that their bodies as visible Muslim women in these spaces can be harmful and so we often question who their research is really for. This chapter calls for a politics of refusal as a way to address how universities create uneven spaces of knowledge production and for a fundamental rethink of what it means to refuse the current conditions for engaging in ‘impactful’ work. Although the starting point is the university, the chapter seeks to demonstrate that a politics of refusal is also necessary beyond the university space, especially in these turbulent and violent times.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Sadia Habib

Sadia Habib critically reflects on what it means to be the ‘go-to Muslim’, the one that well-meaning friends and not-so-well-meaning acquaintances approach whenever something happens locally, nationally or globally that the media narrate or describe as Muslim related, thinking that their go-to Muslim will be able to provide some insight or knowledge about the issue. Being the go-to Muslim means that she inevitably feels a sense of discomfort about the burden of being made to feel that she must respond to queries that mostly she doesn’t know the answers to. The chapter explores the burden of being a representative of an identity that others assign upon you, as well as the range of conflicted emotions Muslims must go through when put in a difficult, awkward and frustrating position of being the go-to Muslim. What would happen if the roles were reversed just for one week? What types of questions might be asked of those who come to her with queries they just don’t have the answer to? Rather than concentrating on those who are overtly racist, this chapter focuses its attention of White liberal allies, the ones who believe they are beyond racism, and yet somehow manage to perpetuate it in their daily interactions with people of colour.

in I Refuse to Condemn