british-iraqi citizen amrou al-kadhi explains why monday's anti-trump protest was moving, important and necessary

After Monday's anti-Trump protest in London, a photograph of gender-queer drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi holding a sign reading “the only thing I terrorize is the runway” went viral, reposted by everyone from The Sun to Sarah Mower. Here Amrou explains...

by Amrou Al-Kadhi
01 February 2017, 9:05am

"When my mother was pregnant with me and my twin brother, my parents fled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, giving us a chance at a better life in the UK. Watching Theresa May stay silent over Trump's Fascist immigration policies, I've been forced to consider my status as a British-Iraqi immigrant. As I'm a gay, gender-queer drag performer, my life in Iraq would have been under constant threat had my parents not been welcomed here. I might have been one of the many Iraqi refugees currently moving to America for safety - and being denied entry.

Theresa May's apologism over Trump's Fascist policies was a deep, personal blow for me. I've felt so fortunate to be able to live, study, and work in the UK; as a queer person, this has been essential to my safety and self-expression. But May's silence left me feeling genuinely scared. In her pathetic response that "The United States is responsible for the United States' policy on refugees," and in her unashamed willingness to sleep with the enemy, she has made the UK complicit in racism. And this arouses great fear in British Middle-Eastern citizens.

This isn't the first time I've felt unnerved. In the wake of Brexit, for instance, a white man on the tube screamed at me to get out of "his country." I was also detained at an airport for suspicions of terrorism, at the age of 13, and subject to four hours of humiliating interrogation. And as a professional performer in London, I've been asked to audition for over 20 terrorist roles on TV and film. Paranoia has thus formed a daily part of my life in Britain, in constant anticipation of an act of prejudice or racial profiling.

But Monday's March, organised by Owen Jones, was intensely significant. It is one of the first times I've felt valued by fellow British citizens.

On Monday I made a statement about my queer Arab identity, critiquing how society is so quick to affiliate me with terrorism. I put on an empowering top by subversive menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner (who champions queer ethnic masculinity), and held a sign that read, "The only thing I terrorize is the runway" (and no, I don't mean the airport runway). And the outpouring of love and support, both at the march and subsequently, has made me feel I belong here.

For that is what the protest was about. It was a statement that our current government is not a reflection of who we are as a society, and that the lives of Arabs and Muslims are of equal value in this country.

Enduring the systemic issues of racism in the West is lonely for Arab people, but the march declared that we're going to share the labour of tackling xenophobia - as one collective body. And I feel hopeful.

Perhaps it's a sign that groups of opposition will stop their futile infighting? In the past couple of years, the left have reached an internal crisis, attacking its very foundation like a confused hungry Pacman. At a recent Labour conference, for instance, I was shouted down for expressing some doubt about Corbyn's silence during Brexit - apparently this made me "A Blairite apologist for the Iraq War" (even though I'm from Baghdad and had family there during the UK invasion). Our hyper-aware climate of political correctness has created a minefield where anything you say can be twisted to imply you're the enemy.

But as with the Women's March, the protest was a promising indication that these internal conflicts will stop. Rather than waste our energies on the well-intentioned comrades among us, let's put away our little differences, and harness our collective rage against the Fascist machine.

So where do we go from here? The next chapter in global politics is not going to be easy. But as I'm feeling glass half full today, perhaps the silver lining to Trump's barbarism is its utter visibility. For too long, systemic prejudices have been swept under the carpet. Now the enemy is out in plain sight for all of us to see. We have a clear target to oppose. Let's ensure that Monday's energy snowballs forward into the years to come, and let's collectively dismantle white supremacy, once and for all.

And in the spirit of Monday's March, we now have a critical responsibility to champion Arab and Muslim people in our culture. This might start to shed associations of us all as extremists. Let's applaud Aziz Ansari, whose hit Netflix show Master of None is a searing critique of identity stereotypes, and Desiree Akhavan, whose film Appropriate Behaviour reveals the underrepresented particularities of being a queer, intersectional Iranian in New York. And what about Iraqi-visionary Zaha Hadid? Or Iranian Oscar nominee - now forbidden from attending - Asghar Farhadi? And Lebanese-American Dr Michael DeBakey, a pioneer in cardiac surgery?

We add intangible value to the very fabric of the Western world - just make sure, like on Monday, you continue to make the effort to see it."


Text Amrou Al-Kadhi

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