The shadow of the War on Terror hangs heavy over Muslim communities in the West. Exploding into existence with George Bush’s Operation Enduring Freedom sixteen years ago, it now smolders with no end in sight, its wounds weeping the world over.
For Muslim youth growing up in Britain today, living as members of a permanently suspect community, marginalised in every sphere from society to employment and being the objects of ire for media and politicians alike, is the only world they have ever known.
But any straightforward narrative of Muslim life in Britain solely defined by the oppression facing Muslims can overlook their legacies of resistance, their proud history of speaking truth to power, and the way that their collective histories can inform action in the present.
From the outset, Muslims in Britain – especially the youth – threw themselves into challenging the War on Terror and its impacts. Mobilising around injustices inflicted in its name, Muslim youth animated and energised the anti-war movement.
From school children writing letters to political prisoners in Guantanamo, to Jumu’ah khutbahs reporting on the state of an ummah under pressure, this growing political consciousness connected generations.
Within mosques, colleges and communities, the collective organising potential of a Muslim civil society was harnessed – with Muslims building power far beyond the halls of Parliament and outside traditional channels of political representation, whilst drawing unapologetically upon Islam as their defining creed and motivation.
It is inevitable that such a movement would need to be kerbed to defend the state’s interests.
Prevent served that need.
But despite government measures to silence them, young Muslims have been the engine of change in Britain, giving voice and vitality to the struggles that have defined a generation. What lies ahead is never certain, but Muslims in Britain now face a critical junction.
A generation before us, strategies of state multiculturalism splintered and pacified antiracist Black and Asian organisations, dividing them up through funding for insular ethnic enterprises.
The promise of assimilation and political representation has corrupted many communities of past – the temptation to abandon underclass status for a turn in the seats of power has often proved overwhelming.
Whilst fighting our own oppression, Muslims will need to remain wary of attempts by the state to offer ‘easy outs’ that allow the cycle of oppression to continue on to another community, or marginalise the most vulnerable among us.
The struggle before us isn’t just about tackling Prevent, or turning the clock back to a simpler time pre-War on Terror, or even reclaiming the space to organise and practice our faith as Muslims in peace.
Rather, the true test can be found in whether we can bring forth the spirit of resistance that has compelled us to combat injustices against Muslims, remain firmly on the side of the oppressed, and continue to hold a mirror to the state in all that we do.
by Azfar Shuja
On November 18th CAGE are hosting exclusive spoken word event inspired by the truths from inside the wire that laid bare to the world the human voices that were caught up in the War on Terror. Fourteen years on, we invite you to listen to those same words and beyond in the hope that we do not just stand as witnesses but also work to empower and seek justice.
Register at https://cage.ngo/mirrortostate