Welcome to the Living History Museum of Hearts and Minds. Exhibit 091101 has successfully completed the Muslim Realignment Programme and will deliver a series of seminars about how to catch the seeds of dissent before they turn into radical extremism.
‘DO NOT TOUCH. FRAGILE EXHIBIT.’
In a haunting scenario echoing The Handmaid’s Tale or Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, a Muslim woman has been forced to become a museum attraction. Through a series of seminars, exhibit 091101, informs visitors about the treatment of Muslims amidst the rise of Islamophobia, UK state violence, and the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy.
The most disturbing thing about Hafsah Aneela Bashir’s spoken word piece, Cuts of the Cloth, is that it is entirely believable. Many of the seminars discuss how appallingly Muslims are being treated in today’s society, where Islamophobia is on the increase. These case studies are tinged with racism: being labelled as ‘letterboxes’ by Boris Johnson, to being detained by customs officials on a Greek Island, seven months pregnant, and forced to undress to prove her baby isn’t a bomb. ‘I am a British citizen’, she protests. ‘I have a British passport. I have lived in Britain my whole life’. Her tales expose the shocking racism endured by Muslims, with people tarnishing an entire religion as a result of a handful of extremists. Her baby was tarnished with this brush before he was even born.
Bashir deftly mixes these tales with teachings of the true, peaceful Islamic religion, which reveals the hypocrisy surrounding many people’s misconceptions of Islam. She questions why a white man can commit a mass shooting and be called a ‘lone wolf’, not a terrorist. She questions how Britain and the US’s war on Afghanistan isn’t classed as terrorism, since it has been revealed that there were no weapons of mass destruction. These are thought-provoking questions that highlight the racist ideology behind the ‘War on Terror’.
In Bashir’s dystopian future, a primary school teacher is sacked, without any legal representation, for teaching her class debating skills. Because they are Muslim, they are interrogated for radicalist views. Her husband is imprisoned and extradited and her children taken away by Prevent for showing signs of dissent, asking too many questions in school. She is then forced into being a museum exhibit.
‘Guilty until proven innocent.’
It is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that these events can happen. They are entirely believable results of the racism and Islamophobia we see in today’s society. What is shocking is that politicians and media actually promote these views. They are normalising this hatred, and using it for their political agendas. Theresa May calls Muslims ‘queue jumpers’ and Trump tried to ban Muslims entering America.
Bashir’s show, co-created and directed by Nikki Mailer, exposes the toxicity of such views by creating a disturbing future designed to make us question our own ideologies. We are all made from the same cloth. We are all human. Why can’t we be more accepting of others’ religions, race and cultures?
Commissioned by HOME, Manchester as part of its annual Push Festival, Cuts of the Cloth deserves to tour. It is a profoundly powerful, thought-provoking piece about the rise, and possible consequences, of Islamophobia. In the times we live in, its important message cannot be understated.