London scene figures from Muslim and Middle Eastern backgrounds tell us why we must stand together against persecution

Last weekend, in a terrifying and discriminatory move against liberalism, multiculturalism, and general 21st century morals, Donald Trump introduced what has been dubbed the #MUSLIMBAN by news outlets and social media networks.

Any citizens from the Muslim majority countries of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Somalia have been barred from entering the US for ninety days. Dual nationals are included in this ban.


Muslims with legally obtained Green Cards, and full rights residencies in the US, were detained at airports across the country over the weekend, with some being held in handcuffs for almost 24 hours. This was 100% illegal, and exhibited fascist prejudice in its most extreme form.

Since then, a petition against Trump visiting the UK has reached over a million signatures, and a protest attended by tens of thousands including Shappi Khorsandi, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, was held outside 10 Downing Street.

As London and the world react to the potentially generation-defining actions of the world’s most dangerous new power, we hear from scene figures of Muslim and Middle-Eastern backgrounds, to get their take on this jaw-dropping sequence of events.

Performer and Writer

What does Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban represent?

So many barbaric ideologies, but what I hate is the hierarchy it sets up where the West is seen as the “progressive” alternative to the regressive Middle-East, the so called “home of extremism”. It’s pure hypocrisy, as the Muslim Ban is extremism at its purest. It clouds the reality that Arabs and Muslims are also progressive too – in fact, the ones I know are the most forward thinking people there are. I think we culturally need to start celebrating Arab and Muslim people in the West who do progressive work (Desiree Akhavan, Aziz Ansari, Zaha Hadid, Dr Michael DeBakey, Asghar Farhadi), and start representing them properly in film and TV to dissuade from all the reductive assumptions that have allowed Islamophobia to grow.

What did being raised Muslim mean to you?

I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t brought me some pain, because growing up gay and gender-queer in a conservative Muslim climate was not easy. However, the Muslim household I grew up in was full of love, generosity, patience and kindness, and in terms of the behaviour from my Muslim family, everything they do is from love, not from hate (which cannot be said for the behaviour of white supremacists). The idea of Muslims being seen as extremists devastates me, when Muslims are some of the most docile people I know.

Have you ever experienced persecution?

Besides the daily emotional labour of being Arab and Queer – yes. As a Middle-Eastern performer in the UK, I’ve been called in to audition for over 20 terrorists, which has done very damaging things to my self worth. Also, I was detained at the age of 13 in an American airport for suspected links to terrorism for four hours. It was one of the most humiliating ordeals of my life, and following it, I remember feeling ashamed to be Arab for a long time.

Why is it important for us to stand up and fight against this?

2016 can be summed up by isolationism and in-fighting. The Left attacked itself, queer communities became too self-critical, and the political vacuum has allowed Fascism to spread like a virus. Now is a time for us to show that an issue affecting one human affects us all, and collective action must be taken. No more separatism.

Amir Ashour
Activist, Founder of iraqueer.org

Have you or anyone you know been affected by Trump’s ban? What impact has this had?

Both me and many others I know have been directly impacted by this decision. Running IraQueer means all the international advocacy efforts are done in New York by talking to governments and UN agencies. Limiting our access to the international community will be a major blow to our work in leading the queer movement in Iraq, especially because any idea of leading advocacy efforts inside Iraq are next to impossible. In addition to that, the US has been one of the major world powers that advocates for human rights of LGBT+ individuals and played crucial roles in many countries including Iraq, which means the global queer movement will be facing some set backs should these measures continue being enforced. I also know many students and human rights activists who are not able to go to school and attend conference and trainings that are crucial for their work.

Since Brexit and Trump came into power, have you experienced any persecution or prejudice?

I have not faced any difficulties because of Brexit. Maybe mainly because it’s still not fully enforced. But the current Muslim ban is a clear discrimination against us. Even though I personally don’t identify as Muslim, me and everyone who has Iraqi heritage are now labeled as a source of terrorism which is not only unacceptable, but also hypocritical since most of the terrorism in Iraq has started because of the efforts of US/UK leaders who wanted to “liberated” Iraq while I personally have spent my entire adult life fighting for human rights for all kinds of groups. Who’s the terrorist here?

What can we do to challenge Trump and the Muslim ban?

We have to organise, resist, and fight back. I have so much anger and disappointment right now, and that will be my drive as long as those legalized terrorists are in power. I will love Americans more, I will love Muslims more, I will fight and stand up for refugees, I will be extreme in my dedication for human rights. We must all come together. We all need to leave our small differences aside and work together. Trump and similar extremists are not only a threat towards a certain group. They will come for more groups, and we must stop them in the beginning before they gain more power.

The Nightbus

What does Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban represent?

I think that’s the point really – it doesn’t represent anyone or any train of thought because nobody will freely admit the prejudice they carry towards the unknown. We’re all too familiar with the ‘I’m not racist but…’ brigade, and here is an example of that being complicit in the banning of entire populations in the name of safety. From an external perspective, it conjurs exactly what you’d expect – intolerance, racist points of view, hatred, bigotry and so forth. The tenets of leftist action. Am I shocked? No. Brown people have been persecuted for the same reasons in my lifetime from that fateful day in September 2001, Muslim or not. This is just another string to the bow of oppression. Only difference is that the perpetrator pissed off some white people too.

What does being Muslim mean to you?

I am Muslim for a number of reasons, one of which is the political and social impact of being. It came with reluctance, as I had never really connected with my faith in the way expected of most boys raised as such, and I was happy to wholly reject it and take up my role as a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside) in the West.

But the past year or so has taught me how important it is to be visible and heard, as a queer person and also as a Muslim. Other Muslims will obviously tell me I’m a non-believer because my actions and lifestyle sits so opposing to their interpretation of their faith, but I’m happy to bear the brunt of such questioning when ultimately through being visible, the future may not look so dim for others.

Have you ever experienced persecution?

Fuck no. My life is cushty and sheltered. I choose to be visible and vocal but I could just sit back and do nothing about it too. The real victims are those who have no voice or platform, or are forced to scream to be noticed because of the system which controls them. I can’t ever imagine living through that and even in light of Trump and Brexit, I still never will because it will never get that bad.

Why is it important for us to stand up and fight against this?

I honestly don’t know. Outside of the London microcosm, people deal with these news stories by escaping to Walford and Weatherfield. The vast majority of people don’t want to engage with resistance and protest since activism is demonised by the media and seen as pitiful and anarchic. I think EVERYONE should be involved, particularly this magazine’s readership, because you are next. It’s not a threat. It’s a promise. You will be ostracised and othered and stripped of your rights until the world is homogenous and we all comply. As for how you get involved, you don’t need a picket or a megaphone; it can be as simple as writing an email to your MP to raise concerns for the State visit, or donating to international advocacy groups providing legal support in the 7 affected countries. Every single thing, no matter how small or how insignificant a step it appears, will make a difference. And for those of you unconcerned because of the string of homophobic attacks carried out in East London by Muslims in the past few years, I give you this:

Homophobia is a western concept. It was devised through Abrahamic scripture, sure, but the message was spread through colonialism as an addendum to whitewashing of entire countries and people (along with knives and forks and all that good old British stuff). Therefore, the perceived homophobia in pockets of Muslim communities descends from the very same fathers of the society you feel so at home in. I implore you to look beyond the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric, engage with a better understanding of what true oppression and marginalisation is, and see where and how you can help.