• Yassmin Abdel-Magied has been awarded the Young Voltaire Award by Liberty Victoria. (SBS )Source: SBS
For Muslims this news is not unusual, it's depressingly routine. It confirms the sad state of affairs we live with daily.
By
Sarah Malik

12 Apr 2018 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2018 - 10:42 AM

COMMENT

Being brown and Muslim and a woman is kind of hard, in case you didn't get the memo.

ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied was reportedly refused entry into the US for a New York PEN America writing forum, ironically titled: “The M Word: No country for young Muslim women”.  

She reportedly did not have the right visa to enter, but had made similar trips in the past without issue. 

But for Muslims this news is not unusual, it's depressingly routine. It confirms the sad state of affairs we live with daily.

Last year, the US Supreme Court green-lighted a law barring travellers from eight Muslim majority countries entry into the US - legislation that would operate in President Trump's own words as a "Muslim ban".

A actual Muslim ban that results in actual Muslims getting banned and turned away. Surprise. 

For a long time we've danced around the racism, the jarring Hollywood stereotypes, and the coded and veiled language about 'values',  but what's scary is that it's not even coded anymore - it's explicit and real. 

This is our lives, guys.

My social media has always been filled with stories of interrogations and turn backs at airports on minor administrative points, a hijabi friend who was spat on at Sydney's Central city tunnel, fears at work because a Dawkins-loving white dude thinks it's funny to harass the only brown woman in the room trying to make her way in the world by circulating anti-Muslim political videos.

Yassmin is like a one-woman metaphor for the way young non-white Muslims feel like in Australia. 

I have constant conversations with friends on the challenges of navigating a brown, visibly Muslim female body in worlds that constantly punish, exclude, evaluate and project various fears and fantasies onto that body.

Yassmin is like a one-woman metaphor for the way young non-white Muslims feel like in Australia. They also feel like they are knocking on a door to a world that refuses them entry. They also feel like they are being punished for not doing anything, but just existing. 

And no matter where you go you can't escape. Born in Sudan, forced to flee Australia after a vitriolic media campaign, living in London and now turned away from the US.  

For second generation Muslim migrant kids in the west this is our lived experience. We don't belong to our parent's countries, we exist in the margins of our own, and wherever you go the confusion follows you your whole life.  

When your very existence is problematic, anything you do or say is "controversial", "polarising" and "activist". To point out imbalances somehow makes you "lack balance" or "angry". Nowhere is there a critique of the status quo that masks as neutrality.

A lot of young Muslims I talk to are kind of resigned to their estrangement and dislocation

A lot of young Muslims I talk to are kind of resigned to their estrangement and dislocation from the mainstream culture. They don't expect fair treatment from the press. They don't expect fairness in their encounters with police or security or at the airport.

They are content to make their own spaces reflecting their own hybrid identities. This can also be a fertile place for art - places like the Bankstown poetry slam, in Sydney's western suburbs, or books by writers such as Michael Mohammed Ahmad, author of 'The Lebs' - a coming of age story of a young Muslim man navigating adolescence with daily screenings through metal detectors at western Sydney's Punchbowl Boys' High. 

It means Australian society kind of operates in parallel worlds - the acceptable visible world of power and subterranean world of the suburbs and minorities - worlds we are never privy to because we don't make the space for them. 

Regardless of where you are on the religion spectrum, Islamophobia operates as a kind of racism, because it's triggered by racial signifiers.

The guys at the airport didn't care about Yassmin's beliefs or her level of practice or the nuances of her personal understanding of her faith. Neither do Islamophobes. The visible identifiers, the Arab name, the brown-ness, the hijab is enough.

No appeasement or conformity or assuaging of fear can ever be enough because power constructs the hoops you have to jump through, and the hoops seem to always shape-shift.  

Perhaps most problematically, Yassmin's treatment is a signal from the wider society especially to young women, to keep your head below the parapet, there is no reprieve, it's all too hard. 

For women, queer people and racial minorities within these communities the dislocation is magnified. High profile women in the media experience unprecedented misogyny in forms of cyber trolling.

For the high-profile Muslim women I know, the abuse is other-level. They get death threats in the mail, have extra security at their places of work, are hospitalised for panic and anxiety and are forced to aggressively monitor their social media presence.

For them there is also an added burden - when you're not being profiled at the airport for your suspicious hijab or negotiating harassment and discrimination in a society - you experience surveillance and policing in conservative communities not always happy with the exercise of female authority and power.

These women face roasting by their own conservative communities for being too moderate or not wearing hijab or not wearing it properly or just being female and fabulous.  So much of this is also borne from powerlessness redirected as aggression against the few who do make gains in the wider culture, where recognition and opportunities are seen as scarce. 

It's a pretty Sisyphean endeavour. Dealing with the lady-haters. The Islamophobes. The Muslim haters. The actual US government.

Yassmin handles it with style and swagger, but it's a weight she shouldn't have to bear. 

 

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