Truth is; if someone would have asked me if I considered myself European a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t know how to respond. However I distinctly remember the morning Brexit results were released, I remember feeling a part of me had been lost. As a ‘remain’ voter what I didn’t account for was how leaving the European Union would affect my identity and how I was treated by others.
As a British Indian Muslim woman living in England, I can’t remember a time when aspects of my identity haven’t been topical. Sometimes I feel like a living oxymoron. Many times I have been corrected by people who assume that I mean Pakistan when explaining my parents were born and raised in India. And I don’t wear a headscarf, which has sparked countless conversations over the authenticity of my religion.
These experiences are not unique to me, and in fact are quite trivial compared to what other Muslims have experienced given the nature of political events today. Post Brexit, it has been reported that British Muslim have faced abuse, insults and attacks. The Muslim Council of Britain reported a hundred anti-Muslim hate crimes during the weekend after the referendum alone. Brexit debates hardly mention the EU as a “Muslim” issue and there is no overt mention of the words “Islam”, however there is no doubt that the EU is an important issue for Muslims in Britain.
Muslim children and young people are among the voices that have been absent in Brexit discussions and are particularly important given the reported backlash against Muslim adults after the referendum. My Master’s dissertation conducted focus groups with Muslim children to find out their views on the media’s portrayal of Islam. Muslim children showed a great deal of awareness and understanding (and possibly fear), over how Muslims are represented in the media and the repercussions they may experience. Some children revealed concerns of religious bullying as a result. A clear message that came across from the findings is that children’s voices are key to promoting their rights and security for the future; a lesson of great importance for Brexit discussions.
Working in the children’s rights sector, the voice and interests of children are of most important to me during the Brexit process. I am particularly interested in assessing how Brexit will affect our responsibilities in addressing emerging safeguarding issues such as islamophobia, forced marriages and FGM. Specialist charities such as FORWARD rely on their European connections to campaign and encourage communities to take action in ending FGM. Being part of a European network has been crucial in raising the profile of FGM. How will the Brexit process affect charities like this?
Whatever the direction the country takes after Britain officially leaves the EU, we need to consider, seriously, the implications on children and young people. And whether Brexit discussions is encouraging fear and intimidation towards some sections of society.