A couple of days ago, a Muslim couple in Australia were the subject of a racially abusive tirade that served not only to hurt the couple in question but to also perpetuate the harmful vilification of Muslims. Luckily, a white woman decided to intervene and defend the couple. What a heart-warming story. Or perhaps not? In the aftermath of the event, several articles were written criticising the so called “White Saviour.”
Referring to the racist confrontation, Ashitha Nagesh, writing for the Independent, said “we’ve seen our parents go through it, and in a lot of cases our grandparents. We are strong people and we deserve the chance to speak out and defend ourselves.” These comments sounds reasonable and agreeable at first, but the truth is what we deserve is to not have to defend ourselves in the first place. Nagesh’s outlook harms the Muslim community in the sense that it seeks to disparage those who wish to come to our aid. While saviour complexes shouldn’t be encouraged, well-meaning solidarity should. And solidarity isn’t just agreeing that these attack aren’t okay; it’s making a concerted and active effort to stop these instances of oppression from occurring again. To do nothing is to side with the propagators of hatred.
I’d rather people speak over me, try to be a ‘saviour’ and protect me than simply be a bystander to racial abuse. Even if intervening is done in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons it at least shows that there are people that will stand up for you.
Islamophobia isn’t an esoteric topic of conversation to be quietly discussed in small liberal-minded discussion groups; it’s blatant, aggressive and should be deplored and denounced at all possible opportunities. To the perpetrators and victims of abuse, not standing up is equivalent to saying that you see nothing wrong with it. Silence may as well be endorsement.
An important side effect of the event here is that it has opened up the conversation on racism and Islamophobia and allowed people to have a moment of reflection about the everyday aggressions that they don’t have to face. It takes just one person to enable discourse on racism that otherwise wouldn’t be had. It gives us all the opportunity to say, boldly and emphatically, why Islamophobia should not be condoned. More importantly, it gives Muslims the opportunity to hear your condemnations.
When the man from the video reached out to the press, it was reported that his wife was so shaken up after the incident that she questioned whether it was worth staying in the country. Faith in our community can too easily yield to a climate of hate. We all hope that most people are decent human beings, but in doing so we fail to account for the vocal minority who aren’t afraid to let their voices be heard.
A lot is often made of how immigrants and ethnic minorities should integrate. But what many people don’t consider is how isolating it can sometimes be in these communities, especially when you’re faced with vitriolic demonisation. Islamophobia isn’t just oppressive, it’s dehumanising. It purports that we’re inherently evil because of our beliefs. Sitting idly by and hoping that Muslims can “take care of themselves” helps to reinforce the supposed rift in society between Muslims and non-Muslims. If Muslims are to integrate and be allowed to feel comfortable within their own country then don’t be a bystander to their alienation. Lend a helping hand. While we want to be free from abuse, we also want to be accepted. And we can’t accept ourselves on your behalf.
The woman on the train did what she thought was the right thing. She wasn’t worrying about the nuances between speaking up for people and speaking over people, she was shutting down a verbal assault. It can be uncomfortable to watch somebody speak on behalf of another person and possibly deny them a voice. But the loneliness that comes with both systematic and cultural racism and Islamophobia is far more uncomfortable.
While it is important that those facing racial oppression are given the platform to share their thoughts, it’s frightening to think that people might be too afraid of becoming the white defender and any of the connotations that might come along with that. By putting yourself out there, as this woman has, you obviously run the risk of being the subject of ridicule or criticism. But that shouldn’t be your worry. Your worry should be the Muslim couple on the train, your Muslim friend at college, or the Muslim family that live down the street from you.
It is more powerful when those with the relevant structural privileges stand up for the oppressed. So please do defend us. The battle against Islamophobia is a war of the minds. To be silent is to surrender.