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GOWHAR GEELANI | 5 APRIL, 2015

Islamophobia Spikes Toxic Levels in UK

UK’s infamous media


LONDON: Whose Britain is this?

And does blending in Britain’s society mean disappearing and abandoning one’s own identity?

After the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, the pundits say, there has been a considerable rise in ‘Islamaphobia’ in entire Europe, Britain being no exception.

British Muslims are facing a dilemma. And so are the natives.

In a country of roughly 64 million the perceived rise of religious radicalism, especially among young British Muslims, has become one of the debated issues just before the 2015 UK Elections. It however remains unclear whether this can become an election issue as well.

Most important issues are of course about the country’s economy, education, taxation, defence, survival of the United Kingdom as one entity after Scottish referendum, future relations with the European Union, the kind of world power Britain aspires to be besides host of domestic issues like spending cuts, jobs and housing, etc.

These are the burning questions in today’s United Kingdom. And they have perhaps become more relevant at a time when, according to a recent BBC poll, about 49 per cent British citizens favour less immigration and 21 per cent want it completely stopped.

PLAY: 'MULTITUDE'

This Catch-22 situation of British society is beautifully portrayed in the low-budget play titled ‘Multitude’, directed by John Hollingworth. Though at times the arguments are shrill it gets the intended message through.

The play deals with Britain’s touchy relationship with Islam. It sheds light on the oft-ignored facets of the Muslim experience in Britain.

This low-budget play is set in the city of Bradford — which the playwright refers to as an “interesting sound clash of East and West; a place full of contradictions.”

‘Multitude’ has been in the works for four years, but its subject remains pretty relevant in contemporary Britain.

The first scene is of a City Centre.

It is Friday. And Amir, a man wearing a skull cap, is leading prayers in the City Park. Recitation of Surah ‘Al-Fatihah’ goes on in the background.

Kash, a man in his forties, is a liberal British Muslim. He smokes his cigarette while having a conversation with his girlfriend Natalie, who at a later stage converts to Islam. Both are presenting their differing viewpoints on anti-war protesters gathered at the Town Hall.

At a time when the British nation questions immigration policies and military interference in the Middle East, Kash’s family faces its own unique internal crisis, conflict of faith, sense of belonging, and relationship with the United Kingdom.

With the rightwing radical United Kingdom Independence Party, also known as UKIP, gaining some sort of acceptance in the UK the debate on immigration from Eastern Europe and other parts of the globe has intensified at various levels.

Charismatic Nigel Farage led UKIP was founded in 1993 to campaign for the country’s withdrawal from the European Union. The party is captivating British politics as never before. The party favours tougher immigration laws.

Meanwhile, the city of Bradford is in a sort of turmoil on the eve of a Conservative Party Conference. Bradford is one of the country’s multicultural cities and awaits a visit from the Prime Minister.

Kash is dismissive of the Muslim protesters, ridiculing them by saying ‘they’re using the car park as toilet’. But he also sees the protest demonstrations as a chance to get some profile, ‘some momentum to stand for Bradford West’.

Kash is unaware of the brewing conflict within his own family as his 18-year old daughter Qadira is uncertain about the choices she’d make in her life.

She comes into some kind of contact with Rukhsana, leader of an Islamist cell. After a very heated conversation Qadira finally expresses her readiness.

As Rukhsana asks Qadira whether she was prepared to live without her Dad, Kash, the latter gives her consent. Rukhsana then informs Qadira that ‘they’ll text you, then’. She wants to know who’ll text her but is told that ‘whoever it is’ and that ‘that’s how it works’.

Lyn, Natalie’s mother, is dressed smartly and has iPhone headphones in her ears. Natalie is eager to speak to her Mom. Something has changed drastically in Natalie’s personal life.

Lyn is lost in her own world. She is also upset about the protest camp and complains that such protests make ‘Bradford look ungovernable’.

Natalie apologises to her mother for not attending her anniversary. She also wants her mom to be with her on ‘that important moment’.

‘Just— be there for me, will you’? ‘Eleven o’clock. I’ll text you’.

Natalie has decided to revert to Islam.

Though the estimates vary as to the actual number of British converts to Islam in the United Kingdom it is safe to consider, according to ‘Narratives of Conversion to Islam in Britain: Female Perspectives’, that there are around 100,000 British converts, calculated as per the date extrapolated from the 2001 census.

‘Islamaphobia’ is already fuelling some kind of toxicity. There has been a dramatic social change in British society. In such circumstances how would Lyn react to Natalie’s conversion?

In the play ‘Multitude’ a character Julian satirically makes calls for renaming Bradford as ‘Bradistan’. He plays Director of Conference Planning.

Meanwhile, Natalie starts wearing a hijab now. Natalie, Lyn, Amir and Kash are all inside the mosque. Everyone’s shoes are off. Lyn’s world turns upside down. She doesn’t know how to reconcile with the fact that her daughter Natalie is now a Muslim.

Natalie testifies that ‘there is no true God, but Allah. And that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the messenger of Allah’. Imam Amir says ‘Masha’ Allah’.

Lyn reluctantly watches all this happen and is on tenterhooks. She wants to leave. But Natalie has something more to testify, this time in Arabic. She is in a state of shock.

However, Natalie wants a small family get-together. Qadira keeps slurping her drink while others are engaged in a heated conversation.

Natalie tells Kash about her feeling, the feeling of ‘fitra’. After embracing Islam, she feels like a ‘new-born, washed clean. No sin. No guilt.’

Kash and Natalie are not on the same page so far as the protest camp is concerned.

Lyn’s concern is that there is a growing number of army which is ‘shunning our lifestyle’. She is worried over the immigration from Pakistan, Mirpur and Kashmir and the prevailing condition of Bradford. She thinks that it is people like her ‘who keep the flag going’. In a fit of anger she also thinks of Natalie, her own daughter, as a new poster girl for Islamic radicalism in Britain.

The radical Muslims are being described as ‘Fifth Column’ by some politicians in Britain, arguing that they are on a mission of dethroning the British state.

Going a step further Lyn also questions Kash’s loyalty to Britain.

In the meantime Qadira receives a text from an unknown radical. There is conflict at all corners in the family.

Natalie’s conversion becomes the talk of the town. She also faces problems and harassment at her workplace for reverting to Islam and wearing hijab.

Anyway, Natalie joins the Bradford protesters in solidarity. As the protesters are saying their prayers they are being charged by the police. Natalie gets injured, her top covered in blood and her forehead cut.

She complains how the police mishandled the entire situation and describes to Kash how a 25-year old was kicking one 80-year old lady in the belly as if she was a football.

Kash, on his part, blames his girlfriend for being at the wrong place at the wrong time and also asks her ‘why didn’t you get out of there’?

Qadira enters with the rucksack. She undoes the bag and unrolls the thickly weaved Union flag. After bringing in the petrol can she tries to light a match. She struggles and shakes, but gathers herself. She succeeds and holds the lit match over the flag and then something drastic happens.

Qadira lands in hospital in a terrible condition. Kash, her father, says his prayers for Qadira’s safety amongst grey plastic chairs and discarded garbage.

Natalie and Kash again enter into a conversation. Kash tells Natalie about the circumstances in which he found Qadira. ‘I didn’t recognise her at first. It was the scarf she was wearing. It was her mum’s…..’ He also thinks that Natalie could have stopped Qadira from joining the radicals.

And in the end the Prime Minister is about to make an important statement in the Parliament, tabling a motion to support the Americans. Lyn arrives to inform Kash and Natalie that the PM wants both of them to stand behind him in solidarity.

They don’t go.

Qadira is discharged from the hospital. Qadira can barely sit. Natalie, without wearing ahijab, holds a tub of ice cream with a spoon to feed her. They’re watching the television, Natalie has the remote control and she keeps on changing the channels with an aim to entertain Qadira.

And we hear the sound of the call to prayers, Athan.

Bandaged Qadira who can barely walk starts to pray. Natalie joins in. Kash after watching Qadira and Natalie pray smiles. He begins to pray as well. The three of them are side by side and finish saying their prayers at different times.

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