The Silence of 'Others': Life in an Islamo-phobic Society
2011 professional award of excellence
Amidst the growing hatred and violence in the name of Islam, many Muslims in Western countries are finding it difficult to dissociate themselves from extremism and are battling socially demonizing debates. These debates have consequences for Muslim social identities and are being internalized. As a photo essay, this project intends to reveal what many young Muslims are silently enduring; their frustration, depression and confusion as they continue to live in an Islamo-phobic society.
Today, Muslims world over are being viewed as ‘Fundamentalists’ and ‘Terrorists.’ Violent conflicts are often reported in terms of binary oppositions such as ‘good versus evil’. Terrorists are often the evil ‘Others,’ and the 'Other' is often viewed as the bearded or veiled Muslim in general. These assumptions have led to a bias, misunderstanding, stereotyping and hostility towards Islamic culture. This negative image tends to put in question an entire religion, portraying it as principally alien and attributing to its followers an inherent set of negative traits, such as irrationality, intolerance and violence. My project aims to depict the impact of such ill-informed opinions on young Muslims. It intends to portray how various socio-political discourses are constructing young Muslim minds and how their external world is influencing their internal sense of self.
I began researching and photographing this project almost a year ago. I started in the American Midwest and I am now in the United Kingdom. I have met young Muslims who have experienced physical or verbal assaults and many more who are silently struggling with a psychosocial crisis. Using in-depth interviewing I have also sought to better understand their perceptions. But the project hasn't yet reached to its logical conclusion. In order to further transform this project into an advocacy tool for inter-religious peace and understanding, I need to document the issue and its impact more deeply. The proposed project thus intends to engage more closely with the community. It will invest time with Muslim families in their homes and on the streets, explore their socio-emotional fabric and bring forth an in-depth understanding of the young Muslim community. In images, it will capture activities, behaviors, emotions, personal spaces and external interactions of young Muslims and unravel how each situation can reveal their lived struggle. It will reflect the specific and individual details of the experience of being a young Muslim in the West. Cutting through the clutter of taken-for-granted assumptions and conventional wisdom, the project will highlight subjective experiences and present insights into Muslim youth’s motivations and actions.
An Alexia grant will provide me with the much-needed funds and time required to sincerely carry out my project. Numerous groups and individuals from cities like Birmingham, Bradford and Sheffield have expressed their desire to participate and share their lives through the project. London will be my starting point, but with the grant, I would be able travel to other cities in United Kingdom and expand the geographical reach of my project.
I am not a Muslim and The Silence Of ‘Others’ is not about taking sides. It is about understanding people, their minds and hearts. Many research organizations, like the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies in America, have highlighted that in order to set things right, it is first important to understand the problem from the perspective of a Muslim mind. In the larger debate of what is wrong or right, the vital missing piece among the many voices weighing in on these questions is the actual views of everyday young Muslims. I therefore, want this project to strategically democratize the debate and help share the perspective of young Muslims. What makes this project highly relevant is the sincere hope that it would provide both Muslims and non-Muslims with an opportunity to understand each other. Muslims, through the project, will articulate their feelings and share how prejudiced behaviors are killing their dreams, leaving them scarred and scared. To non-Muslims, the project will reveal what is impeding the full-fledged integration of young Muslims in the Western society. It can suggest what can be done to prevent them from adopting an isolationist or radical approach and how they can be helped to aim for their personal and collective goals.
But most importantly, the project will guide us to understand ourselves and encourage the dormant humanness in us to make this world a better place to live.
Bharat Choudhary is a freelance photographer living in London. He received an MA in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri in 2010 and worked for the Columbia Missourian. He was awarded a Ford Foundation International Fellowship for his graduate education. He won first place in the International Picture Story category in the 2009 College Photographer of the Year competition.
Iythar, an Egyptian-British fine artist, paints at her studio at east London, UK. One of her paintings [top-left] is titled, 'The Way Sarkozy Intended It'. She said, “It is an interpretation of the burqa ban in France. It shows how the ban takes away the voice and identity of Muslim women, leaving them speechless and incomplete”. July 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Negar Yousafzai, 27, a British Afghan, at her home in Birmingham, UK. Negar is an educated and well informed young woman. Here she asks, “Who wants to hear the social or political opinions of a veiled woman like me. They only want to see pictures of oppressed Afghan women”. November 2, 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Muslims, along with members of Neturei-Karta, an organization of Orthodox Jews, protest outside the Israeli Embassy in London to mark the third anniversary of Israel's attack on Gaza. As an organization, Neturei-Karta refuses to recognize the existence or authority of the ‘State of Israel’ and make a point of publicly demonstrating their position based on their interpretation of the Torah and their idea of authentic unadulterated Judaism. December 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Muslim men's tunic shirts in a shop at an underground business center. Many Muslim scholars advise men to be as modest in their appearance as women. They suggest that men should not wear their shirts tucked in their pants and it should be loose fitting enough to conceal all parts of the body. October 2011, London, UK. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Naz Akhtar [right] blows bubbles while his mother Nasima Akhtar [center] watches with her close friend Chaitali [left], at their residence in Sheffield, UK. Chaitali is a Hindu. Nasima says ‘Chaitali might not be a Muslim but she is not less than a sister to me. April 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Aseem Hasnain at his apartment in Chapel Hill, NC., USA. He said, “I am not only a Muslim but many other things too. To categorize someone primarily in a religious template is a very statist and dangerous practice. Let me be a multiplicity of persons, an intersection of identities.” Hasnain is pursuing his PhD in Sociology at the University of North Carolina. December 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Zaheer Abbas, 35, at his apartment in Chapel Hill, NC., USA. Abbas said, “I’m philosophically agnostic and politically an anarchist. So I guess that makes me a ‘bad’ Muslim and a ‘bad’ liberal. My wife jokingly calls me ‘Papa Bear’, but every time we fly back to the US from India, she insists that I shave my full beard so that we don’t have to wait too long at security checks at US airports.” Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Nasima Akhtar [right] and her friend, Chaitali, get ready for a house party at Sheffield, on April 29, 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Eid Fair at the Fryant Country Park, Outer London, UK, on August 30, 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation
Members of a role-play team after their act at a local community event at London, UK. The play was a fictional narration of the many problems that the present day young Muslims face [right] and how they can live a better life by following the examples of ancient Islamic leaders [left]. June 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation