When the TELL MAMA project, founded on tackling anti-Muslim bigotry, invited the human rights campaigner, invited Peter Tatchell, to be one of a number of patrons for the national project, we got a surprise.
We expected some push back. But what we did not expect was a malicious smear campaign against me that suggested I was trying to reform or change Islam.
Anonymous spin leaflets circulating to this effect, detracted from the real facts. Those are that intolerance, bigotry and prejudice should not be allowed to fester by taking the easy route of saying it has nothing to do with us.
I was born in Uganda to a proud Muslim family who taught me the values of humanity, decency and moral courage and to accept those who were different because of their common humanity to me.
It was my English headmistress who brought out my moral values and Islam that shaped my desire to shape the world for good. The care and tenderness I received whilst growing up was a mix from my parents and my black African friends.
I lived and mixed with Africans, Asians, Europeans and faiths of all kinds, yet my family were kicked out of Africa because of their race and cultural identity, as thousands of Ugandan Asians were. My family came to the UK as refugees before moving to Kenya to live out a decade where I spent my childhood with different and vibrant communities of Somali, Arab and Indian origin.
However, I also saw what happened to people who were assumed or reported to be gay. I saw the vicious beatings and inhumane degradation of such people just because someone accused them of being gay. Those street incidents shaped me – someone could be beaten to within an inch of their life just because they loved or wanted to have sex with another person of the same gender. When you see that, it lives with you for the rest of your life.
This is why I have always had a problem with the fragmentation of communities in the UK. The pigeonholing of people into communities as though we do not have intersectionality and multiple identities is in part, why there is some level of bigotry within Muslim and LGBTI communities.
I think now is the time to discuss some of the difficult issues of anti-Muslim bigotry within some sections of the LGBTI communities and homophobic bigotry within some sections of Muslim communities.
At TELL MAMA we have seen social media accounts from LGBTI people full of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Some of the rhetoric used is deeply unsettling and deeply anti-Muslim in nature. And we have found homophobic statements and comments from some social media users and within Muslim communities.
Just the other day, we were copied into a tweet targeted at two members of the House of Lords suggesting the tweeter was unhappy about support for TELL MAMA. A quick look at the timeline of this individual showed a Twitter message where he viewed homosexuality as a ‘mental illness’.
Another of our patrons is Imaan, a UK LGBTI Muslim organization. They have highlighted to us that the people they work with suffer both Islamophobia and homophobia. Some of the Islamophobia comes from people within LGBTI communities, and they are exposed to homophobia within some sections of Muslim communities.
Such bigotry and intolerance does not only drive a wedge between both communities, it provides the far right with fuel as they foolishly try to paint themselves as LGBTI activists. This is why I am committed to stand against all forms of intolerance and bigotry, wherever it is found. And it’s why it is time for us to concentrate on educational work on tackling Islamophobia and homophobia in both communities.
We also need joint campaigns, visible and committed campaigns that pull no punches. ‘Brand Britain’ is respected globally as a country based on human rights, the freedom to worship and live life without fear – a Britain that respects and protects the rights of all.
Ask someone from Bangalore to Kazakhstan and this is the image of our country. And yet, we who live within it, need to have to courage to stand up for these core values that protect all of our rights.
We understand there will be those who do not agree on issues, yet this should not stop both communities working together against bigotry, hate and intolerance which both communities have suffered. It is time for the bigotry to stop and for us to work together on this small island and within the shared spaces we use every day.
Fiyaz Mughal is founder and director of Faith Matters and director of TELL MAMA.