The EU Parliament in Brussels is one of the most monocultural places on this very multicultural continent. This is ironic for a union that prides itself on tolerance and projects an image of itself around the world as a beacon of moderation and inclusivity. There are currently just three Muslim MEPs - and they are all about to exit the parliament permanently after Brexit.
This exclusion has led to dangerous levels of political apathy, fear and even anger amongst young Muslims, including in my native Britain. Two years after the Finsbury Park attack and just weeks after the Christchurch attacks, I have lost count of the number of Muslim friends who are as occupied with security as they are with worship this Ramadan. Over the next month, Mosques will be at capacity each night for food and prayers, creating a visible target for the Far Right.
Despite Britain’s Muslims being on the receiving end of more hate crime than any other community, mosques receive a small fraction of the total security funding for places of worship. This state of affairs is mirrored by the experiences of my fellow Muslims across the continent.
There is an absolute failure on the part of the political elites, as well as civil society leaders, to understand their fellow citizens who happen to be Muslims. Elements of the press also have a lot to answer for. Much of the media is so uniform that the demographic odds are stacked against Muslims. This means that inevitably Muslims are talked about rather than doing the talking.
This is true even in the case of Muslim spokespeople. The selection process for these roles is based on who is best at selling his or her skills in an elitist environment. This inevitably has a sample bias; only Muslims with the right media and communications skills, and who frame things in similar terms to the dominant culture, get the work. This creates a feedback loop where the definition of “good Muslims” becomes narrower and more exclusive, and the “bad Muslim” net becomes bigger and bigger.
This creates the ironic and absurd situation where politicians and leaders call for more integration using media that demonstrate just how difficult - or even impossible - that integration can be.
Up until recently, this environment has only left two options open to young European Muslims. The first is withdrawal, retreating further into their own cultural and ideological ghettos. This allows their own culture and roots to be respected and reflected, but comes at the cost of being separate from mainstream society. This effectively hands over the prime real estate of politics and media to those who may only tangentially - if at all - represent them.
The other option is surrender: for all those Muslims in public life to adopt the values and norms of the dominant culture, in what is effectively domestic colonialism. A Muslim shell is still permitted. For instance, woman can still have their Burkinis as long as they pose for Sports Illustrated. Men can keep their beards too, so long as they are oiled and groomed like the hipsters from London’s Shoreditch or Berlin’s Kreuzkölln.
In recent years, though, a third way has emerged. Being a Millennial European Muslim, I struggled with both of the other options. I found the need for Muslims like me to carve out a niche for ourselves where we can give a voice to our community that is positive, engaging and unapologetic. Along with a childhood friend, we founded The Muslim Vibe. And we are not alone; Brussels-based Mvslim.com and Paris-based Oumma.com are doing similar things. These platforms are run by staff who are representative of its own audience, giving them an authenticity and immediacy that stands out.
These media projects allow young Muslims across the continent to control our own narrative. We don’t need to sensationalise to get traffic, since we have been established these outlets as labours of love, not primarily as a profit machine. We have grown up on the receiving end of dramatic, one dimensional caricatures of issues that are all too real for us. We want to tell the whole story.
Since our aim has never been to compete with established media, we have found ourselves becoming their trusted partner for projects, and even a reliable source for stories that other outlets would simply miss.
In a world where anti-Islam extremists (including those of Muslim heritage) continue to outplay, outmanoeuvre and ultimately out-communicate the people they claim to know so much about, there is no other choice. As Europe continues its struggle to remain a beacon of free, impartial thought in a world gone mad, the continent’s young Muslims must do their bit for the cause.
Unfiltered opinion, news and views can change lives. Just ask Joram van Klaveren, a former member of Geert Wilders’ far-right party, the Party for Freedom (PVV), who while researching an anti-Islam book using primary sources (like the Quran), ended up embracing the faith he was previously employed to libel.
It’s a shame Klaveren is not a candidate in this month’s EU elections since so many of his old white supremacist colleagues are poised for victory.
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