Sarah Khan, London
I come from a long line of proud Yorkshiremen. I was raised on a diet of no-nonsense, plain speaking and hard work. My father regularly made sure to tell us that we had the right to play cricket for Yorkshire (never mind I was born in Berkshire and a woman). As I grow older and raise my own children those same values permeate into my own parenting style and I realised it’s virtually impossible to divorce yourself from your cultural roots. Even if I pronounce my vowels in a long fashion rather than with the shorter northern version and I’ve lived my life firmly in the south, I know that Yorkshire values run in my veins.
So while the murder of MP Jo Cox this week was shocking due to its brutal and unexpected nature, the senseless loss of a woman very much in the prime of her life had a personal resonance for me. I know my father was a native of Leeds and knew Batley and the surrounding areas well. While he is no longer here to voice his opinion, I know he would have had absolutely no affiliation with the murderer who yesterday gave his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.
He would have had no affiliation because in 1971 he did the very thing which Britain First and other far right groups fear the most, he became a Muslim. And I, as his daughter, have been born a Muslim and my children are being raised Muslim too. So I suppose for some we are living proof of the ‘invasion of Islam, of the conquering nature of this faith’. My mother, a native of Birmingham, joined him in converting her religion so many years ago. Three generations of English Muslims, turning their back on their heritage and joining the ranks of the medieval terrorists – according the rhetoric of the far right. A Facebook video this week showed Jayda Fransen delivering a speech in Dewsbury, a few miles from Batley, telling a crowd Muslims like me were going to Hell for following the religion of the devil.
The tag line for Britain First’s website and literature is ‘Taking Britain Back’. But the stark reality is that Britain cannot be taken back from me, and other English Muslims like myself. I am nothing but English. I have no other nationality or ethnicity and like many English people I’m not fluent in any language other than English. So when such people talk about traitors, they mean people exactly like me and my family.
I’d like to think that such obvious bigotry should just be ignored. In failing to give such views airtime or space in my thoughts, they will remain on the fringes of what is acceptable and eventually wither into obscurity. Surely? Yet recent events show that exactly the opposite is happening. First, a leaflet for the London Mayoral Election showing all the campaigning parties landed on my doorstep, happily gaining entry into my personal sphere. The entry from Britain First outlined how no more mosques would be built in a BF London. This sent a shiver down my spine and I knew that had a race of people been selected and not a specific religion then more outcry would be heard. I noted how they had worded it so carefully that it was just within the limits of not being hate speech, but the meaning was clear. My kind wasn’t welcome or wanted. Well, I wasn’t going to vote for them anyway and Britain is proud of its freedom of speech and worship, I rationalised to myself.
Then Britain First staged a protest very publically at Sadiq Khan’s victory, their representative Paul Golding turning his back on the new Mayor. Not good sport old chap I thought as my fellow Brits laughed it off with humour and derision in a truly British fashion. This was followed by last weekend’s military style training camp for Britain First. Again we laughed on Twitter at their bumbling Dad’s Army style antics. But Jo Cox’s murder this week shows that the time has come to stop laughing and to realise that such hate is deep and pervasive and a clear threat to the fabric of British society. It seeks to divide neighbour from neighbour and, as we have seen, can lead the mentally fragile and vulnerable to extreme acts to express their hate.
So I think that it’s time everyone started putting Britain First. In my own personal life I have long being doing so. I’m proud to be British, I love the heritage and values of my country. I love that I can be a Muslim and worship with full freedom and the protection of the law. I regularly take a pledge of loyalty to my country. The exact words are “I solemnly promise that I shall always keep myself ready to serve my faith, my nation and my country and shall always adhere to truth and shall always be prepared to make every sacrifice for the perpetuation of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat”.
This is a pledge I take in my mosque, as part of my faith. I take it because I am a Muslim, not because I am English. English law required no such pledge from me but my faith does require loyalty to my nation and my country. There is no clash between my faith and my country. This pledge is also taken in loyalty to my Khalifah. Again, there is no clash between loyalty to Khilafat and Britain. I know this is true because this Ahmadiyya Khilafat has been based in London for more than thirty years and has been a beacon of harmony and peace.
So, I’ve been putting Britain First for my entire life, I regularly take this pledge of loyalty at every monthly meeting of my faith. Thousands of others make the same pledge across the UK. I hope and pray that this hate rhetoric will stop. I pray that such a senseless murder will give us all pause for reflection that as a society there should be no room for hate. The motto of my community is ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’, I pray Britain adopts this value into its heart, as I know many British people do. Because I know that I am not a traitor, far from it, I’m a proud English woman and the hate of a few will cause me to cling to my nation even more in a time of fear and danger for people just like me. So let’s stop laughing at Britain First and let’s condemn them as the dangerous threat to our national fabric which they truly represent.