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I used to lie about being Muslim. I would pretend that I was any other minority. It depended on the friend group I was trying to impress. Sometimes I masked myself as a Mexican girl. Other times I decided that my father was Arab, while my mother was White. I’m mixed! I would say. I lied about being Muslim so I did not have to face other people’s Islamophobia. I used to think any form of racism or prejudice was better than explaining to people about Islam. As I got older, I stopped lying. Now I realized, the only thing I have never lied about in my life was when I felt attacked. I never did have to lie about my past discrimination. I wanted others to feel it as I felt it, vicious and by surprise.
An eighteen year old Muslim girl in Birmingham was recently fined for lying about being attacked. Miss Choudhury claimed that she was shoved and punched because of her hijab. After further police investigation, it was revealed that Choudhury had lied about the incident. She was never physically attacked as far as the police could tell. The police department fined her ninety pounds and sent her off.
I read through some of the comments on the Daily Mail article. Many suggested that the fine was not enough, that ninety pounds for a lie this heavy could not make sense. Other commentators reveled in this one instance of fabrication, taking this as proof that Islamophobia is either entirely made up or consistently being blown out of proportion.
Maybe the incident was a lie. No one physically ever assaulted Miss Choudhury in this instance. However, even if the physical altercation in this case never happened, that does not alter the fact that the possible threat of violence was and still is very real for Muslim women.
Choudhury stated that she felt “shocked and really scared that someone could attack you for no reason. [She doesn’t] feel safe at all now.” These these are existent sentiments expressed by Muslims worldwide. This sense of not feeling safe is something Muslims have learned to acknowledge as commonplace: that anyone around you could have a sleeping hatred that would awaken at any moment. Choudhury’s story is one that we have heard too often.
While hate crimes are said to be taken very seriously, they are often treated as nothing but simple misdemeanours. We’ve seen many cases over the last few months of Muslims – and Sikhs assumed to be Muslims – being attacked, but we hear little about the consequences of those attacks.
Many commenters seemed to believe Miss Choudhury’s lie was not taken seriously enough and that the lie itself should have been seen as inciting racial hatred. The resentment at the lie feeds into a larger narrative of Muslims who deceive. The Islamophobic industry has picked up and misused the term taqiyyah to suggest that Muslims are encouraged to lie. It is often presented that we have a secret hidden agenda. That Muslims lie about faith for the purposes of worldwide domination.
If in fact the attack never occurred, then it is troubling that someone would want to capitalize on the vicious and at times deadly attacks others have endured, presumably for her fifteen minutes of fame. Miss Choudhury’s lie could affect the response to real attacks on Muslim women, which could now be cast into doubt as an attempt to play the victim, with people pointing back to this case. This one instance could suffocate the truths of other Muslim women.
There is no need to suggest that Islamophobia is not real. Racialized people everywhere have experienced hate. Instead of trying to point to the boy who cried wolf, we should try to understand how it feels like to experience hate, to know that there are forces bigger than yourself acting against you. That nothing you can do as an individual can offset that hate.
Islamophobia is alive and well. It is twisted and intense and takes on many, many forms. This one instance of fabrication cannot take away from the reality: that being Muslim in this world can feel like too much when your identity is synonymous with enemy. But we carry on, we pick up, and we move.