Recently, I got into an interesting debate about The Sun – and I mean the newspaper, not the big hot sphere of gas. This discussion was particularly concerned with the front page of the tabloid yesterday, which featured an image of a Muslim woman wearing a Union Flag as a hijab, and the headline, “United against IS.” Now, this bold move by The Sun has received a lot of controversy since its publishing, and I for one can see why.
It’s the warning implicit in the whole package – if you’re a British Muslim, be prepared to prove that you hate Islamic State as much as the rest of us do, or suffer the consequences. This pseudo show of solidarity, reads, to me, like a challenge to moderate Muslims in the UK, demanding that they stand and explicitly state that the jihadists in Iraq and Syria aren’t acting in their name, or risk being tarred with the same brush by the rest of us. It seems almost as though the paper was giving an ultimatum – either you’re an activist or you’re an extremist, and we’re as much at war with you as we are with Iraq.
This, surely, cannot possibly do anything but feed into the steadily-growing culture of Islamaphobia that is rife in this country. Any non-Muslim reading the paper on that day would have put it down believing that all British Muslims have an obligation to speak up and stand against IS, and that if they don’t, then they are complicit in the horrific acts being acted out by the terrorists abroad. The Sun claimed to be promoting unity with this spread, but how exactly they hoped to achieve it through such uncompromising means is beyond me.
The thing is, expecting British Muslims to stand up to the maniacs in Iraq who have bastardised their religion is all very well and good in the abstract. The reality is though, that these are people who are just the same as any others, who are just as – and arguably more – scared of Islamic State as non-Muslim Brits, who are struggling with prejudice from this country and oppression and hatred in the Middle East, who may have families in Iraq and Syria that could easily fall victim to IS attacks. They may even be people who are resentful of the attitude that seems to have been shown so blatantly in that Sun article, that Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise. And demanding resistance or dissent from these people is asking rather a lot. Yes, you could argue effortlessly that we all have a duty to speak up against atrocities of the sort that IS commit and yes of course, we should all be doing everything in our power to help put a stop to it, but realistically, how many people have the courage necessary to do so?
In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, those who belong to the Resistance are today called heroes, but they were a comparative few. Indeed, even in Nazi Germany, the majority of people – though many objected to Hitler’s actions – stayed silent while he carried them out. The simple matter is that it is hard to stand up to your enemies, no matter how undoubtably wrong or wicked they are.
Does this mean we shouldn’t try? Absolutely not, but what it does mean is that ham-fisted campaigns like those in The Sun are creating expectations which put a lot of pressure on people who hardly need it. Issuing a call-to-arms by deciding that silence is equal to consent and demanding some kind of uprising is the wrong way to go about encouraging vocal dissent. Instead, campaigns like #notinmyname on Twitter which begin within the Muslim community should be encouraged, because the fact of the matter is that you cannot bully or coerce people into resistance – they have to take it up on their own terms.
– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics