Dear white van driver,
A letter to you, because you’ve made me upset. Who are you?
Well, you are the creepy man who pulled your van right next to my car and decided to let me know how you felt about my hijab. Luckily for me, I was actually listening to (you won’t like this bit for sure) some Quran recitation, so I couldn’t hear you very well at first, but then when I did, I realised you were asking me “what the f*** is on your head?”
I’ll tell you. It’s called a khimar commonly known as a hijab, which I wear as an observing Muslim woman. I’d love to tell you more about it, but I don’t think you’re actually interested. But, if you really, really want to know, one of the local mosque’s here will be more than happy to explain things to you and entertain any further questions. The Mosque also very kindly holds regular open days for anyone interested to learn. Please do attend, but please leave your beautiful vocabulary at home that day. Here’s hoping you don’t see this as a foreigner making demands.
Secondly, this letter is to the 20 something year old, grey tracksuit wearing challenged-in-the-employment department (oops, I really didn’t want to stereotype) young man. You very confidently and brazenly verbally assaulted a mother with her 3 year old trying to juggle her shopping into the car. What was it that you said to your equally mirrored girlfriend? “Look at that Paki? Look, she can drive too!” And then when I looked directly at you, you said to me “Oh, you understand what I’m saying, Paki?” I wanted to say something back, I really did. But I was 3 weeks postnatal and was too tired to bother with a person who felt it was ok to say things to me like that in a public area where others could hear him.
Where do I start with you? Maybe a short history and geography lesson for you? You see, not every brown skinned person is from the same country! Thanks to your forefathers. South East Asia is a very large area – look up a map from the British Empire, you’ll find how the region was strategically used and divided for the very British financial, political and power gain. And how you equate my “Paki” origin to my ability to drive, I will never understand, however I suspect this is your funny understanding of world news. Let me help you a little. Saudi Arabia isn’t in Pakistan and further more; let me direct you to a library, where you will find Britain helped found the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Thirdly, this letter goes out to the cowardice gentleman (or rather just the coward) who greeted me, my 3 year old and my 3 month old baby with “F****** terrorist taking over our country with their scarf and mosques.” Yes, I was walking to the mosque, as were dozens of other Muslims. Mostly men. Why didn’t you direct your bitter speech at any of those men, why me? Maybe you thought I’m vulnerable. Maybe you don’t like my hijab. Maybe it’s not actually about me, and you didn’t think twice about how you should air your frustrations.
For you, I think a bit of education in foreign policy won’t go amiss. Here’s how, listen up! You imputed, I am taking over your country with my hijab and my mosque.
Secondly, from what I understand, taking over a country requires a bit more work. For reference purposes, please look up the British Raj, who used their conniving super power to take over a country almost as big as Europe. Rule over it for over 200 years, change the language, change the whole legal set up, create disharmony amongst the natives, make them know they’re inferior and then leave the country in pieces, making them still think they owe the empire something. Kind of why I’m in “your country” actually.
I’d like to sympathise with the fact that some people are just ignorant and unaware of others but I sit at home and wonder how similar an Eton educated politician and a tracksuit wearing unseasoned traveller who hasn’t trekked far off the A47 can say the same things. Not a coincidence! How is an ignorant person so enlightened about the status quo and up to date with the latest political discourse and uses the same themed vocabulary as the likes of May and Cameron?
The way I see it is, that, these people are projecting what they hear; what they hear from the government and the media. This is not me stereotyping. The current political and media narrative of “swarm of immigrants and Muslims taking over Britain” (or the whole West) is being echoed unashamedly by some in public or by some just under the breath and some are just thinking it.
Am I being a drama queen about this? Maybe? But you would be too, if you were heavily pregnant, or with your toddler and new born. Was I scared? Yes! But I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I should bother.
I think I’m more saddened by all this than scared. I hear and read about Muslims being asked to integrate by politicians, the media, and community leaders. But I’m unsure what this integration means. What am I required to do?
I ask, where do you want me to fit in? I’m trying to be a good citizen, a good mother, and a responsible adult. With my Bangladeshi origin, my London upbringing, my Muslim identity, and extremely hobbit-like lifestyle, I think I’m super integrated already. I like Harry Potter (read all 7 in less than 2 months), I love chips, I don’t smile on the train and you’ll find I know a tiny bit more about “your” country’s historical shenanigans and current world brown-nosing, giving me a head start in British-ness.
I’d love to think that things would change if power changed from right to left in this country, but I know very well that this isn’t party based xenophobia but has actually become a mainstream view-point across parties. Europe wide actually. Nothing new here, my slight reading obsession has enlightened me about the Inquisition, the recent history of Fascism and Europe’s stance on “the other”. I have (reluctantly) accepted I am the other, which is somehow now legitimately worthy of disgust and alienation. And this is why I’m sad.
Yours truly (not that you want me to be),
Mother of two, homemaker, Muslim woman.