LONDON: A number of famous British Muslims gathered in London on Monday to celebrate the launch of a campaign calling for the recognition in UK law of the UN-supported International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
The campaign’s launch, which was organized by the Aziz Foundation, took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and featured a diverse lineup of speakers, from politicians to creative personalities.
The UN General Assembly last year unanimously adopted a resolution designating March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The date marks the anniversary in 2019 of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 people.
And while Muslims make up five percent of Britain’s population, they are targeted in more than 40 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes, according to Home Office statistics.
Campaigners believe that enshrining the UN-supported day in law would send a strong message from the country’s government, which will lead to “transforming the public mood and creating a more equitable and inclusive society.”
Labour MP Naz Shah and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the House of Lords, highlighted the entrenchment of Islamophobia in the UK during speeches at the event.
Warsi said: “It’s found in our streets but it’s also found in the most respectable of settings. It’s found in editorial newsrooms, think tanks, corridors of powers and around the respectable tables of polite society.”
Shah and Warsi conceptualized Islamophobia as being “rooted in racism, and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Among others in government, they argue that adopting it as a working definition in the UK would broaden an understanding that Islamophobia is more than just an expression of religious prejudice, but also an extension of systemic discrimination.
The politicians’ comments were echoed by Prof. Ahmed Shaheed, a UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, who said that “you cannot challenge nor understand an issue until you name it.”
Shaheed discussed his efforts on building a global multi-stakeholder coalition to combat anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia. He criticized international governments for failing to condemn China and India’s targeting of their own Muslim communities.
British actor Adil Ray OBE was later joined on stage by one of the biggest names on YouTube.
Chunkz, who has amassed 13 million followers across social media platforms, said that he has never shied away from being a Muslim and hoped to instill pride in his younger fans who share a similar background.
The YouTube personality added that while he has had a positive experience working in the industry, many female Muslim entertainers, particularly those who wear the hijab, felt pressure to compromise their faith.
He told Arab News: “Propaganda is a real thing.
“[Social media can] show how normal we are, and I say normal with quotes because a lot of people have probably got wrong information about Muslims and Islam in general.
“I think just being ourselves in itself is a good representation of how we really are in real life.”
Mariah Idrissi, who in 2015 became the first Muslim hijab-wearing model, underlined the importance of positive on-screen Muslim representation.
She said: “Art is such a powerful medium to get messages across.
“We see the impact of film, music, and fashion on the world without needing to preach or defend our way of life. It makes the journey towards peace more influential and enjoyable for everyone.”