Safe Spaces

All Grooming Gangs

Maajid Nawaz (a man I’m strangely familiar with even though I couldn’t tell you what he does for a living) has admonished his Muslim ‘sisters’ and pleaded with them in a ‘heartfelt’ campaign to remove their Muslim dress, and as an added bonus, dredged up the old Asian grooming gangs ‘scandal’ a coupla days later, reiterating how we as British Pakistanis should be discussing it not brushing it under the carpet. I don’t think we need reminding ever because the narrative around Asian grooming gangs is ongoing, it is the first thing bigots of all classes belch at us when we defend our right to exist free from harm.

I also find it dangerously problematic this man of Pakistani descent is contributing to a narrative which excuses the violence perpetrated by white men against Muslim women for their dress; Muslim women have been murdered, beaten so viciously they have lost their unborn children, spat at, sworn at, assaulted, all because of what they are wearing. Rather than support his Muslim sisters in their choices and seek to protect them by naming the problem –  violent white men with empire sized entitlement issues – he enables it, victimising them further. He wants white men to attack Muslim women in the street. He’s given them carte blanche when he, self-appointed mehram, is PLEADING with us to be good little Muslim girls and strip for the white people. If we dare to disobey this very public appeal then we’re, honestly, just asking for it, white supremacists are looking for any excuse. Maajid repeatedly underlines that Muslim women are attacked in the street because of Muslim men who flee terror situations in female attire. He doesn’t once mention the racist judgments white people make of anyone who is not lily white, of the sort of violence and arrogant misogyny white men subject Muslim looking women to.

I was wearing a dress cut to my knees with bare legs and my hair out when I was racially abused on a packed bus at 3am in a multicultural part of London. It does not matter how many hoops you jump, my beloved diaspora siblings, a dog born in a stable is still a dog to these mad Englishmen. Take your veil off, uncover your face, you arse even, men will still be men, racist cunts will still be racist cunts. I challenged a white male on Twitter recently, when he said he did not want Europe overrun by Asian grooming gangs yet didn’t think twice before he told me:

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That’s why I find this stab at the ol’ grooming gangs all the more grotesque. This insistence that Asian grooming gangs are somehow the biggest threat to society is deliberate. This regurgitation of information to the exclusion of all other facts is propaganda. What makes the victims of Asian grooming gangs more deserving of recognition and justice than the victims of Britain’s national treasures, parliamentarians, social services, the police, the football association, the church? I know for a fact no one cared about these young victims of sadistic brown men. It went on from 1997 to 2013 and the excuse given by the all-powerful authorities is they didn’t want to offend anybody. How awfully British in its delivery and the fact that it is complete and utter bullshit. When I was a domestic and sexual violence worker for women of all colour, religions etc. I would often inquire with the officers in charge of my cases why there was such a gap in provision for women of colour and they used the exact same excuse, that the perps would insist it was a part of their culture and the authorities didn’t want to offend. From my perspective, it was just lazy racism, when you are not motivated to care about people you do not consider human you’ll make up a thousand excuses for your negligence and no one will think to question it because it is in line with their lazy racism.

Fact: no one, not the cops, or the governing authorities, or even the average white man, gives a flying shit about white working class girls. You think of them as chavs and sluts and mock them for being gym slip mums in love with Albanian refugees. I’ve seen it, heard it, I’ve worked with these young victims. Nobody cared until it appeared the rug had FINALLY been pulled out from the elite paedosadist networks and we’d finally get justice for the many thousands of historic victims.

Every time well-meaning bros like Maajid and Adil Ray contribute to this metanarrative of predatory men of colour seeking out white women to spoil, they are confirming entrenched notions of sexual violence as a basic trait found in most if not all darkie savages to the detriment of all victims of white men.

Whenever I try to point this out I am targeted by white supremacists who just keep repeating the same old shit; “why don’t Muslims condemn it?” They condemned it in 2013 and again in 2014, read all about it here.

“Why are you denying there is a problem in the British Pakistani community?” If you’d ever actually listened to me you’d know I believe all men are capable of sexual violence in a patriarchal society that actively encourages harassment and subjugation of women, both east and west. In my opinion I wish they’d all drop dead but some of y’all find this contentious too.

“You don’t want to discuss it, just pretend it never happened.” Maajid, again with his impassioned pleas, has said we must talk about the grooming scandal and yet twice, I’ve tweeted at him to let him know he has an open invitation to discuss it with me, a British Pakistani, a cultural Muslim as opposed to firm believer, a survivor of male perpetrated violence from both Pakistanis and whites, a domestic and sexual violence worker with feminist leanings and first and foremost, a woman, and he hasn’t responded and most likely won’t. I do not fulfil their stereotypes, I provide a real account of life on rainy fascist island from the perspective of those women everyone seeks to silence. Or maybe he cannot speak to me because he is NOT my mehram and can only communicate via a third party. I find it cheeky af he uses his position as a ‘brother’ to convey certain patriarchal dynamics whilst being most unbrotherly like when he asks them to take their clothes off. Whatever his angle, it wasn’t as innocent as it would seem with his emotive culturally familiar language, it just makes it even more despicable.

When they do this, recycle ‘scandals’ like these, I cannot help but wonder what they are trying to cover up. It is sensationalised and it’s difficult not to get swept up by it, rage is renewed, the facts are distorted some more until it feels like it only just happened yesterday. How many thousands of victims of white grooming gangs are currently suffering unimaginable cruelty because we’re all focused on a particular kind of rapist? When they do come forward they get accused of only doing it for the money or attention, no one ever believes them. This should be an obvious double standard, plain for everyone to see.

Don’t be a racist collaborator, Maajid, it never ends well, & fucking well answer my tweets.

Legitimate Concerns of the White Working Class

A few days ago, I went to a restaurant with a friend and after the meal we stopped off at a supermarket for some essentials. My date said he’d pop in quickly whilst I smoked my cigarette. Stood at the entrance I noticed a heap on the floor to my right, a young lad maybe no more than 18 with ginger hair and circles under his eyes – malnourished was the word that immediately popped to mind. I dug around in the bottom of my bag for loose change and found £1.70 in coins which I handed to him. It was a particularly blustery evening and his sleeping bag seemed inadequate, the air felt cold and sharp with the coming rain. It wasn’t right that he would have to endure a night like this. I asked him if he had anywhere warm to go and he said he just needed another fiver before he could make that happen.

Now I know some homeless shelters are free. I get that. I understand sometimes it’s not safe for people to stay at these shelters because they are vulnerable and the needs of all service users must be considered. He may have been talking about a cheap hotel, it really didn’t make a difference to me, I pulled out a fiver and handed it over. I said, “I really don’t care where you spend it, honestly, just that you need it and I can give it” and he seemed panicked as though he desperately needed me to believe him when he said it was going towards shelter. I suddenly felt sheepish, in trying to reassure him I’d actually made him paranoid, no doubt because this a conversation he has several times a day, and has had to defend himself against these cruel judgments.

To make things less awkward I decided to go into the store and track my friend down. We met in the queue for the till, there being one customer before us and so I proceeded to tell him about what had just happened. I wasn’t talking loud enough for anyone else to hear, I thought, yet the cashier, an older woman perhaps in her 60s, with a tattoo on her neck that resembled a port wine stain in the shape of a badly drawn daisy, suddenly barked at me “how much did you give him?” My response was equally abrupt, “nothing” I said, confused as to why this woman was inserting herself into my private conversation given that she was still serving the customer in front of us and we most definitely did not invite the interruption. Nonetheless she proceeded to tell me what a mug I was for giving this kid some pocket change, rolling off a bunch of other times customers had given him money including a chap who’d won £120 on a scratch card and she said he’d only go and spend it on drugs.

“GOOD!” I exclaimed, much to her annoyance. “Do you know how cold it is out there? If I can help someone find something that will make the cold night air a bit more bearable, even if it is just drugs, then I’ve done my part. In an ideal world, that kid wouldn’t be on the streets, we’d look after him.”

She didn’t seem pleased at this and started rambling about how he gets into a jeep with some lads and makes at least £50-60 a day and people like me were just encouraging this deception and suddenly the older white man in front of me in the queue pipes up about Brexit and how “it’s a good job we’ve finally left the union” not looking up from his shopping once, brave white knight that he was. My friend and I looked at each other like, what the fuck is going on, we’ve somehow got ourselves embroiled in an argument with Bigots for a Bastard Britain. I knew what Bashful Brave White Man meant, Brexit meant Pakis Out and soon enough there would be no Pakis around to give poor white kids money on the streets, or that once the Pakis were gone, the poor white kids on the street would have jobs and wouldn’t need to beg or something racist, at least, I know this much from his nonsensical interjection and entitlement to my time and efforts. We didn’t validate his pointless contribution with a response, he paid for his groceries and fucked off.

Ratty Old White Lady, seemingly hesitant to accept she had no right to tell me what to do with my money, continued to whinge about nothing until I stopped her and said “there are billionaires in the world hoarding money, the kind of wealth you clearly have no clue about or else you wouldn’t spend your days begrudging a teenager pennies, comparatively speaking, but you won’t challenge them, because you’re twisted and you don’t feel like you’re living unless you’re suffering. They’re laughing at you, and so they should, you haven’t got the first clue” and with this we paid for our things and left the store.

My friend and I seethed all the way home, analysing every little thing that was said before I launched into a diatribe on the state of the white British working class. As a born and bred Britisher, there are, unfortunately, members of my family I could describe in the same way, those who’ve brought into the protestant work ethic and live to work, but suffering is crucial for it to be considered worthy. You can’t do something you enjoy or anything that requires little effort on your part, that’s cheating. My friend is white British middle class and said that he could never say what I had just said because it would sound completely different, my point being, “the white working class is keen to point out how hard they work for the right to call themselves decent hard working folk but I cannot think of any other demographic so lazy and immature in its thinking.”

As a daughter of immigrants, my grandfather was a foreman for British Steel, my father a car mechanic (his work unit in the grounds of a council estate) I am completely wedded to this statement and couldn’t be more justified. I am justified in its application because I have come to detest the double standards and bullshit emanating from the general direction of the supposedly native and legitimately concerned white working class the establishment overlords wheel out to excuse their racist and inhumane policies against other working class people on rainy fascist island. I wish I’d said to badly drawn port wine daisy tattoo lady she was the mug for working at Asda for her £50-60 a day when young homeless lad knew to appeal to those who have more. I wish I’d called Brexit Bigot out when I’d had the chance and told him to jog on.

Stop making excuses for horrible people, I reckon. Stop legitimising their hateful creed, there is nothing virtuous about doing a job that pays you peanuts whilst lining the fat cat’s pockets with your blood sweat and tears. You don’t get a medal for keeping in line, that’s a myth. Stop being such an insufferable serf. Wake the fuck up and acknowledge this life you have as being more precious than the value some narcissist with a trust fund places on it.

Stop being so damn white and undeservedly proud of monstrous attitudes.

Interview on the Headscarf ‘Ban’

We need to talk about the commentariat

I write this not for the Brexit ate my braahn baby crowd but for those of us who are willing to admit harsh truths in order to effect change. To know what it is we must do for the future we learn about the past and study trends so we can be better prepared for what’s coming. You don’t need an academic record in order to observe how the world is affected by narratives however, especially if you are burdened by unspoken rules placing you at various intersections of oppression, you experience them through social inequality. Speaking for myself I have been a keen observer of all things social and have been since I studied sociology at high school. It informs my interactions with the world. I never anticipated the backlash though, I had expected some resistance but not on the scale I received and not from the people I thought I could trust, the Guardian types keen on saving us all from ourselves.

When you learned about the Holocaust did you stop to wonder as I did, how so many were organised and in such a short period of time, carted off to their deaths without so much as a whimper from their white German neighbours? Did you marvel at the breathtaking ignorance of the allies who were allegedly unaware of the camps until it was almost over anyway? Perhaps now you know, given the ways in which truths are erased in our supposedly post truth world, and how narratives are framed, by those who claim to know better, those publications considered ‘leftie’ or socialist in some respects are squarely to blame, along with the perhaps deliberately embellished version of war we were taught on the national curriculum where Britain saved the world, and the Jews.

It could be true that some of us have a monumental chip on our shoulder, that we make excuses for our inadequacies or we might just be telling the truth. Recently the Guardian featured a story regarding the inhumane treatment a Dutch woman had received following Brexit when she applied for a British passport and was subsequently turned down because she had failed to include her original passport because *reasons*. There was outrage on social media not least because this mother of two was going to be ejected from the country minus her children, who did have British citizenship. How cruel the system was under Brexit, how devastatingly inhumane. Except this is the system and has been for as long as I can remember through my work with women who have no recourse to public funds. You won’t hear about them even if people like me blog about it. Where’s your outrage for women like Meena* and her toddler? She came over on a spousal visa from Pakistan and only just fell short of the then 2 year rule which stipulated residency in the country for at least two years under the supervision of a sponsor, in this case her husband, before she could make an application for indefinite leave to remain giving her full access to British benefits. He was violent. One day she made the decision to leave, because it was no longer safe enough, the violence was escalating and she feared for their lives. She’d endured his violent episodes but there was a limit. I’m only explaining this because she knew she had nowhere to go and so had suffered many months of abuse before she made the final break, potentially being faced with homelessness but that threshold had been crossed. Homelessness was preferable to certain death. Think about the hell she endured all on her own, without a clue. In fact she was one of the lucky ones and had a kind and thoughtful doctor, one who’d spotted the signs and knew of a culturally sensitive refuge that had a single room set aside for women with no recourse.

Subsidies for these women who, almost every time, fall through the net and get disappeared by the state or their abusive partners are practically non existent. There has never been adequate representation or provision for these women. When Meena traveled the two hours to the home office every time they said ‘jump’, baby in tow, she came back a sad shadow of her usual chatty self. I saw the state chip away at this personality, this woman who had every right to exist free from harm and to be supported in her darkest moments but instead she was yanked around like cattle to the slaughter. I can’t forget the way she cried as she prepared for the final hearing and was advised by her solicitor to bring all her valuables with her, if the home office denied her extenuating circumstances (despite the reams of evidence) she would be remanded immediately and sent to a detention centre. When we pleaded for the baby’s sake the home office, along with social services and even our own legal advisors said the state was obliged to provide for the little one and take her into care but Meena would still have to go. I was a temp and I left before her case was closed but I think about her even now and where she might be. When I read about privileged white women bemoaning airport queues, I think about Meena, and all the others the Guardian overlooked through indifference and probably racism, until Brexit provided the sacrificial king upon which to pin all of our woes.

Even more recently the Guardian published a lament from one Lindy West who left Twitter because it serves best the trolls, bots and dictators. I hear she wrote about the Nazism that Twitter is now famous for and also about all the ways she personally was sick of it and to be fair, this wasn’t regular trolling but a sustained campaign of abuse, harassment and stalking. I feel for her, absolutely, but I’m also a little pissed off. Anyone who knows what I and many other woc have been forced to endure the past few years will tell you the gigantic role journalists had in directing that abuse, harassment and stalking our way. When we protested the Guardian and New Statesmen ghouls for their hot takes on our lives they said we were bullying them and they as white middle class people with all the top jobs were being oppressed by us. What effect do you think that had on wider society? At a time when the far right mobilised in the wake of the killing of Lee Rigby these allegedly leftie papers were saying women of colour, queer people, trans people were bullying them and making false allegations of racism that were just unacceptable, oh, and intersectionality was just an elitist buzzword whilst poc had sinister undertones. You want to talk fake news?

Do you see where I’m going with this?

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This guy is an editor for the Guardian. When we called out the racism his girlfriend, who works for the New Statesman, was subjecting various people to, in her actions if not so much her words, this is how he responded.

His girlfriend later went on to ask:

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It is the middle class liberals and lefties citing Brexit as the root of all evil who have enabled the rise of fascism. Virtually every last one of them is white, plus a few tokens on hand to massage their egos. They did know, we tried to tell them a million times. They didn’t just do as they were told, they were the ones doing the telling. These are the facts we must remember.

It doesn’t matter what we think, as grandchildren of immigrants, and legitimate citizens of rainy fascist island, where our lives are scrutinised and twisted beyond our recognition. We are not permitted to defend ourselves or to react from a place of fear and vulnerability. When we react to these privileged white people’s assessments of our lives they double down instead of listening to us because they cannot believe we would have the audacity to talk back. We are bizarrely hostile, not understandably so. We should ask nicely, with our heads bowed and exult upon our colonial masters how special and superior they are, if we are to be given a voice, otherwise we simply do not exist.

 

READ NEXT: Part Two – Comments on the Commentariat

The Unabashed Racist Sexism of Twitter

Twitter has locked me out of my account today because of this tweet:

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They say it violates their rules and I have to delete it before they’ll reinstate me but I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to delete it because Twitter allows these people even after they make personal threats against me:

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I get emails informing me that personal threats to find/kill/rape me and racist/sexist bullying doesn’t violate anything to their mind so I’m not going to play this game where they want me to submit despite the many levels of hell I’ve endured.

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Twitter is a platform for entitled white men. They’ve used it to racially sexually harass me ever since I first joined. I stopped expecting their outrage on my behalf a long time ago, what I am perplexed by on this occasion is the insistence that I can make it all go away if I just delete what I said, to take it back, to erase it. No, I will not. That tweet was in response to a white male who wanted to take pictures of my ‘pretty Arab feet’ from which I might make more money than my ‘crappy self named blog’ who’d referred to me as a cunt and a whore and other racially motivated slurs yet managed to retain his account.

I had threatened to raise hell if Twitter took issue with my use of the phrase ‘kill all men’ as it did when it blocked a woman of colour for using it recently so Twitter chose to make an example over a different sentiment.

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I don’t want to use a platform that is so blatantly skewed towards entitled white men. Like fuck them. I do however want to hit them where it hurts. Solidarity can be costly, it can keep us from doing all the things we so enjoy, in support of our principles, but it’s one of the only good things we have right now. I urge you to log out, if not for me then yourself, because this medium is a means of white supremacist control. It was an ordeal ridding myself of my FB account some months ago now but it was the best decision I ever made, standing up to an enabler of racist/sexist abuse. They justify their behaviour because of our continued reliance on their services despite the ways in which they use and sell us out.

As @qqasim89 says in his letter to Twitter “Banning a few prominent “alt-right” users is simply not good enough because you are now doing half the job for them by banning the active resistance. Please reinstate @SamAmbreen_ and make it clear that defending yourself is not a crime” because if they do not do this and I comply with their unreasonable request they have disempowered me and reinforced the message that entitled white males are free to do as they wish with the rest of us and there isn’t a thing we can do about it. Is this our reality now?

(If we normally keep in touch via Twitter, leave me a message in the comments below instead, I will be here for the foreseeable)

Why the truth matters to me

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Growing up a stranger in the place of your birth is disorientating. Asides from the challenges one might encounter when starting at a new school, like making friends, children with foreign parents have to overcome additional obstacles in order to fit in. They must learn another language sometimes, as I did, but language is one of those things small children master within a surprisingly short period of time. Other barriers to assimilation are not so easy to tackle and there are so many, it’s no surprise people from ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately with poor mental health.

When you are told you are, but also feel, a member of the underclass, you either buy into the narrative – especially when you’ve not been taught to think critically – or you seek to distance yourself from the perceptions others have of your people. You buy into their hate or your own, in a bid to survive, but to survive well. Self-love just isn’t an option. I was conscious of the lies I needed to tell if I had any hope of accessing the world I wanted to belong to as early as age 6 when I decided I wanted to be called Sam. Even for one so young and innocent I had an inkling Sam was a name they just couldn’t mess with. It was English for a start. I didn’t have to spell it out every time, or have people poke fun at it, whether my peers or teachers (who should have known better). Even at this age I knew I had to change who I was if I was to have a fighting chance in life.

Racism wasn’t the only thing that informed the shaping of an identity that sat at odds with who I was inside. In fact as time went on, it became less of a conscious thing and something I normalised, and believed everyone did. Of course I now know this isn’t true, that many people are born into their identities and have the freedom to express them without the judgmental white gaze waiting for them to slip up.  Or the limitations of a violent home, living your days in fear of attack, never knowing where the next hit was coming from, desperately trying to cover up the evil truth from outsiders, in case they confirmed you did actually deserve the abuse you endured.

I was bubbly and outgoing, smart and organised, my mouth permanently fixed in a smile. I was part of the school council, a class monitor, a straight A student, a member of the quiz team and captain for rounders, netball and cricket. We were the champions of it all. None of the teachers would have guessed the situation at home was escalating, that we were living in fear and self-harming. My personality was split early on, through necessity; I had to be two different people in order to survive. Entering the big wide world as a teen on the run, I had to invent another persona to fit in with all these interesting new London types from all over Europe and beyond. When I left school, I left my world, my friends, my life behind. I had to learn how to speak in a way that didn’t set southerners off in a fit of giggles at my dulcet Brummie drawl. I had to be flexible if I was going to make it, whatever it would take. I lapped up my token status as the one who wasn’t like all the others, as though this was a reflection of my amazingness and not a divisive and racist microagression used by white people to remind you of your place (not so worthy but not so bad either, a reminder to keep doing what it is you’re doing for cookies), and keep you from questioning their problematic views.

Of course I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to be so amenable. I was on the run from a culture I had rejected because of the ways in which it made me a target and was desperate to adopt new ways to help me blend in. I became so many different things to so many people; I forgot who I was and what I wanted. I lived a life where I was manipulated by people who identified this willingness to please and then exploited it. I was used and abused, scapegoated. I was called a liar for keeping secrets I was too afraid to share. A gestalt therapist I accessed through my work noted that I smiled when I spoke of negative things and asked me to consider the incongruence between my words and my body language. I had become so jumbled up in my thoughts I began to dissociate whenever I was afraid. There was drug abuse, promiscuity, domestic abuse in my intimate relationships whilst I struggled to hold down a job as an advocate fighting for victims of domestic abuse. I was my own best example of bad practice though it did have the bonus of making me non-judgmental, however hopeless a situation might have seemed, I believed it was essential they had access to the same support. Cops for eg are less likely to want to help repeat victims, especially those who may have been warned off from being a witness previously (cos it’s all about them and paperwork, not an infectious social disease).

I couldn’t find my way out of my living hell. I couldn’t access the support to do so because then people would know my secret; that I was ugly and horrible, and undeserving of love and respect. That I should die. My adult relationships confirmed the self-hatred I had as a small child; nothing I did would ever change the fundamental flaw from within, my low social standing as the daughter of immigrants who never did escape the ghetto or the colonial mind-set (despite the straight As) and respect for hierarchy (within patriarchy). I was a slag before I had even kissed a boy, they must have known what I would grow into I reasoned.

A tragic incident in my personal life provided the catalyst for PTSD. All the feelings I’d ever suppressed bubbled to the surface and consumed me. I existed, and that’s all I can say for my consciousness over the period of a year except that I never want to go back there. With the right support, I was able to identify the pathways responsible for the ‘random’ panic attacks. I sorted the snapshots in my mind onto the correct collages and vowed to trace them back to the first triggers so that I could beat them. In order to do this, I have to be 100% honest with myself and everyone else or the carefully constructed administration of my mental health will fold in on itself.

A huge part of my recovery is about owning my genuine mistakes and experiencing them in a way that doesn’t cripple me with anxiety (the white commentariat can go to hell for the ways in which they hindered my progress, not forgetting the PoC who’ve perpetuated the lies about me).

Don’t lie to (or about) me; I will come at you with the rage of a woman who knows she is being gaslighted, because it triggers a collage of all the people who’ve knowingly put me in harm’s way, by minimising, denying and erasing my experience of things. I always feel a little crazy following a spat with people who lie because it hits me hard in a way you cannot appreciate. Sunny Hundal occupies the same brain space as the mosque teacher who molested me and continued to enjoy the kudos of being a holy man. Helen Lewis triggers the same feelings as the guy who molested me at 15 then said he’d heard I was a slag so thought he’d try his luck. That dude denies to this day that he ever put a finger on me.

If I say something and it seems dishonest to you, run your concerns by me, to my knowledge I am always telling the truth. I do however appreciate the arbitrary nature of most things so if you know better, do tell. I won’t lie and say it doesn’t help if you’re already a friend, coming at me with criticisms, however well intentioned, won’t end well if we’ve barely exchanged a RT, or even the bare minimum of support considering the shitehole the internet can be (and has been towards me).

OITNB and Islamophobia

It’s rare to find a piece of popular culture that isn’t hugely problematic in some way. The mainstream media caters for the mainstream, an audience that finds humour in human suffering. If this sounds a bit far-fetched, consider the ways in which comedians hit back at victims of abuse when we have asked them to stop giving rapists the green light with their rape ‘jokes’, those witty bantz where the punchline is like a blow to the stomach, knocking the wind from unsuspecting victims of abuse further victimised by those extracting joy from their pain and calling it comedy, and then some more, by defenders of free speech but only the sort of speech that maintains existing structures of power and control and hierarchy; hate speech most often espoused by the white middle class commentariat, framed as genuine concerns for the maintenance of society, for the betterment of us all, yet translates into violence against the most vulnerable; women of colour, trans people, Muslim people.. Those voices we never hear because they are so marginalised, the ones who cannot defend themselves against the charges made against them because the white middle class heteronormative media controls our perceptions on all.

This is why Orange is the New Black was such a resounding success. Women in prison as a genre is a sure fire way to pull in the viewing numbers; if you’re old enough to remember Prisoner Cell Block H (or have been watching Wentworth – a 21st century spin off based in the same Australian prison), this has been a winning formula in reaching a specific audience because they are so frequently overlooked; those working class women doing time for survival in a patriarchal world. There are the shoplifters; women criminalised for stealing food or nappies, serving disproportionate sentences when comparing with males because women are not supposed to commit crime and are therefore punished more harshly to serve as a deterrent, but there are also those women encumbered by their acts of resilience, those who finally snapped and stabbed their abuser to death. We may not have served time at her majesty’s convenience but we do know what it is to suffer a woman’s lot in life, and this exploration of hardship and injustice keeps us hooked.

It should be easy to maintain focus on the inequalities women face without resorting to microagressions; however I was disappointed to find that my latest fave is threatening to be just as problematic as the rest. Before I begin to take it apart I feel it is relevant I make a full disclosure about my beliefs because I am frequently told I have only reacted in this way because I am a Muslim.

I am not a Muslim. I was once but I ran away as fast as I could. It took many years for me to come to the conclusion that I could not blame every last Muslim for the horrendous ways in which God was used by some of them to control me. It is not God who demands murder and rape, rather humans using the authority of God to justify their abusive practices. God, in any religion, acts for peace. It is with this fair conclusion I judge the writers of OITNB for being so disingenuous in their not so subtle reinforcement of the mind-set that Muslims are there for the ridiculing.

SPOILER ALERT – The prison is infested with bedbugs, all soft furnishings and books must be incinerated to prevent the pests from spreading further. A small gathering discusses the books that were burned, the Catholic nun character is on hand to correct Morello when she states all of the books were gone. “Not true” she asserts “there was one book they were afraid to burn” which Sister Ingalls immediately follows with a dramatic sigh as though she was suggesting that even she, as a Catholic – with all their pomp and ceremony – thinks it ridiculous to consider it a sacred text exempt from the rules to which we must all adhere. Morello responds “I stand corrected – there is a bug infested Quran.”

If this was the first mention of the Quran and a bonfire in western history you may be forgiven for thinking I am seeking issues where there are none, but you’d have had to been living on the moon to deny the continuity of this theme, especially when it’s a bunch of Americans alluding to it. Not a week goes by without another story of some Yankee yahoo threatening to buy up all the Qurans and burn them, a flagrant attempt at fanning the flames of bigotry, because those sorts of people actively seek war and know which buttons to press. Burn a bunch of poppies and see the calm Christians and even secularists fired up for vengeance because burning a book or a paper flower isn’t the random inconsequential act antagonists profess it to be.

Later on in the show, Vause is seen reading the Quran and makes an unnecessary statement about how she is probably forbidden from touching/reading the Quran but she washed her hands and figures an omniscient God would appreciate this. Just a suggestion but perhaps the show’s producers could have asked a Muslim queer for the lowdown on what is and isn’t permissible? They could even look into the positive things Islam does and encourages in its followers, for eg, recognising that trans people have a right to state funded surgery because Allah has made it our duty to save all people and treat them to good health if it is within our power to do so. This doesn’t fit western narratives though.

Yes, the Quran is a sacred book to its followers. Yes, it is given the respect one affords to a sacred artefact, it is kept in a safe place and one must be ritually cleansed in order to touch it. This is a fact. Similar could be said for the Bhagavad Gita or even the bible. That’s the thing about religious texts; they are sacred to their followers. Just because that Catholic nun thought it preposterous the Quran was given special treatment doesn’t mean there aren’t evangelical Christians who’d justify killing you for disrespecting their holy bible. Again, it is people who are fundamental in their interpretations of religion and like there are some Christian fanatics murdering abortionists yet failing to see the incongruence between their beliefs and their actions there are Muslims who will use God to justify misogyny and violence. There are also atheists demanding the culling of religious sorts because they allegedly cause war and stuff without an awareness of how ironic their solution to dehumanisation and depravity is to mirror those things we protest in extremists.

This is the crux of my ill feelings towards the framing of social narratives in the 3rd season of OITNB. The Quran and its followers have not only been posited as these people who consider themselves above the laws governing everyone else but also as the worst offender. Consider the makeover given to Pennsatucky. Be reminded that she was actually a homophobic bible bashing snitch who was employed by prison staff to rat out inmates suspected of lesbian activity. Suddenly she’s a reformed ally and lover of all things LGBTQIA, supporting Boo in her butchness? Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that Pennsatucky isn’t so violently racist and sexually shaming as she once was, I just object to the fact she’s elevated to a human position where she is capable of empathy and being part of a system even if it means completely demolishing her belief system and replacing it with an idea of what an acceptable human should be; the two are too far removed from each other for it to be a natural process, especially when they’re driving home the message that Islam is the one to watch. Instead I believe this to be an intentional move in which the writers, or whoever, get their childish jabs in at something they don’t understand or care for, in a bid to improve their ratings, reaching out to the mainstream they’re appealing to by confirming prejudices, showing solidarity to those on the same side (because Muslim queers don’t exist and therefore won’t be offended because they wouldn’t have seen the show cos it so full of sin or something).

I loved OITNB for its portrayal on the diversity of women and sexuality. For every racist, sexist trope the show explored there was a positive character to speak out for that way of life but as time goes on the characters fall into lazy racial stereotyping; homophobic Latinas and white queers, as though queer women of colour do not exist in equal numbers. Trans women for eg found a beautiful representative in Laverne Cox, she gives as good as she gets (the transphobia doesn’t let up much, even in the 3rd season) making her a perfect role model for those seeking out idols. The same cannot be said for Muslim women, perhaps because in reality they’re immediately shipped off to Guantanamo without trial, whatever the offence.


Only four episodes in, but this new series is way worse so far. The points you mention seem symptomatic of it reaching out for some mainstream populism which is totally diluting what made it great. I find it quite bizarre that we’re supposed to want the prison stay open, and cheer when it survives due to privatisation! I don’t want the prison to stay open, I want a work strike which unites everyone against the authorities, or I want the place to burn.

Adam Ford

(Since writing this piece I have seen a little more of the 3rd season and it doesn’t get any better. Soso makes an entirely irrelevant reference to stoning women in Iran and various characters join in with antisemitic remarks, no doubt triggering for some considering the nature of the ‘jokes’, and later on we get a reference to a Somali pirate thrown in for good measure. The disparaging comments against Jews don’t let up either.)