The Silence of Others

The Silence of Others

Bharat Choudhary, 2016 Finalist

This project examines the aftermath of the war on terror and its disastrous psychological impact on young Muslims living in the West.

UK. London. 2010. Community members leave the East London Mosque after Eid prayers. Combined with the adjoining London Muslim Centre, it is one of the largest mosques in the United Kingdom.

UK. London. 2011. Iythar, an Egyptian-British fine artist, paints at her studio. 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”.

USA. Bridgeview, Illinois. 2010. Amina Demir [left] and her younger sister were in their car when a middle-aged Caucasian male in a car next to them shouted, ‘sand nigger’ and drove away. Amina followed his car,  noted the  license  plate  number  and reported him to the police. A local court later sentenced the man to 150 hours of community service.

France. Marseille. 2013. Drug dealers, while being interviewed on the 11th floor of a social housing building. Gun laws are extremely strict in France but there has been a phenomenal increase in the use of machine-guns by criminals because of the rise of drug- related gangs  and violence. On the right  side of the wall was once a door to a flat that  was later sealed by the police after an entire family was murdered there by a rival drug gang. In memory of the slain family, young men from the building chiseled their own names and heart shapes on the cement. The word at the bottom of the wall reads ‘Bisous’, meaning ‘Kisses’ in French.

UK. London. 2010. A young Muslim girl photographed during a fair.

UK. London. 2012. Azad Ali presents his show ‘Your Views on the News’ on Islam Channel. In 2009, Ali was suspended from his job as a Treasury civil servant after a newspaper reported that Ali, on his blog, had advocated the killing of British soldiers in Iraq. Ali was later cleared by a Civil Service investigation into the allegations leveled against him. Ali said, “It was a difficult time. But I never lost hope. I always tell my three kids to work hard, with all their honesty and integrity and not to be affected by failures.” Ali holds a number of key positions today including the chair  of the  Muslim  Safety Forum, leading its Counter Terrorism work-stream, in association with the UK Home Office, Police and Security Services.

USA. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 2011. Zaheer 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 the US airports”.

UK. Birmingham. 2011. Negar Yousafzai, a British Afghan, 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”.

UK. London. 2012. Muslim and non-Muslim members of a Sufi group perform a Zikr, a form of meditative chanting. The group said that in a Zikr, each member of the group tries to efface her self in the remembrance of Allah.

UK. Sheffield. 2011. Nasima Akhtar [right], and her Hindu friend, Chaitali, get ready for a house party. Nasima said, “Our affection for each other keeps our friendship alive and we are least bothered about the differences between in our religions”.

France. Marseille. 2014. A homeless couple embraces outside a social service institution that provides temporary accommodation to young Arabic men and women who do not have stable residence and resources. Men and women are provided separate accommodation and are not allowed to meet each other in their rooms.

UK. London. 2011. A Sheriff, a ghost train and its passengers during a community fair.

UK. London. 2010. A young girl has her hand marked with henna for an Eid party    at her house in Bricklane. Bricklane is a famous street in east London and is the heart of Bangladeshi Muslim community in England.

France. Marseille. 2013. Fadila Benchouia kisses her son goodnight after reading a bedtime story to him. Fadila separated from her husband two years ago after he started drinking heavily and turned abusive. As a single parent, Fadila receives a number of social security benefits, but she still works at two different jobs in order to earn enough for her son’s education and future.

USA. St. Joseph, Missouri. 2010. Deeba Safi prays at her house. Deeba and her husband, Ahmad, have been working with other Muslim families to establish the first Mosque in St. Joseph but have faced a lot of resistance from the local non-Muslims. [Update: The Mosque has been established and is now fully   functional]

UK. London. 2010. A man walks past a poster at the Global Peace and Unity event. The British government boycotted the biennial event claiming that many extremist groups were also participating and funding the event.

UK. Slough. 2011. Keleke Anyabwile [right], during her wedding to Khalid Burgess. Keleke’s father, Shaykh Hasan [not seen here] was once the second-in-command at the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an armed group that attempted coup d'état against the elected Government of Trinidad and Tobago in July 1990. Shaykh Hasan later sought asylum for his family in the UK.

UK. London. 2011. 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.

UK. London. 2011. A young man walks past a mural at Princelet street near Bricklane. The mural created by Stik, an English urban artist,  had  been  defaced  a number of times by the local Muslim residents but Stik was not discouraged and kept on renovating it.

UK. London. 2011. Rezia Halima Wahid [right] and her 3-year old  daughter, Noorie, at Rezia's studio. Rezia is a textile artist and creates hand-woven textiles. Rezia said, “Islam is a part of me, my existence, but my spirituality is something very personal. My identity as an artist is equally important and I want to be recognized for my work”.

France. Marseille. 2013. Sofia [left] and Fatima had to wait for more than an hour before Sofia's brother could finish his job and pick them up from a shopping mall. The northern districts of Marseille, where a majority of the city's Muslim population resides, are poorly connected by public transportation. The local residents believe that the government might not extend the Metro line to the distant northern districts so as to keep the poor Arab population away from the richer southern districts.

France. Marseille. 2014. Isa (standing) and his two daughters take a break during their first visit to the MuCem (Museum of European and    Mediterranean Civilizations).

France. Marseille. 2013. Wafaa Allal, 33, works as a part-time Arabic teacher conducting classes at the basement of an Islamic library. She is a single mother of a 7- year old daughter. Wafaa has a Master’s degree in Translation [Arabic, Spanish & English] and has been trying to get a job for the past 5 years. She received quite a few job offers from many private firms. But they all wanted her to work without her hijab, which she wasn’t ready for. Fed up with the situation, she no longer sends out job applications and now teaches at a low-paying Islamic library for just two days a week.

France. Marseille. 2013. Squatting in a social housing apartment, young men watch a soccer match on TV. About a third of Marseille’s population lives below the poverty line, earning less than 850 Euros ($1150) per month. In the poor suburbs of Marseille, inhabited mainly by North African Muslims, youth unemployment is as high as 50 percent. Such young men are easy recruits for the drug dealers and violent gangs. The dealers/gangs provide these unemployed men with alcohol, drugs, television and money.

France. Marseille. 2013. Moonrise, as seen from Les Eglantiers, one of the many social housing buildings in the northern 13th arrondissement of Marseille. These buildings were constructed in late 60s and early 70s to accommodate immigrant communities, especially Maghrebis, in France. While they did succeed, to an extent, in providing low- income families with a shelter, this system has also led to the creation of several ghettos. In these ghettos, marginalized population suffers from neglect, massive unemployment, drugs and crime, away from the rich gentrified Marseille.

France. Marseille. 2014. In front of an old social housing building at quartier Busserine in the 14th arrondissement. The neighborhood, labeled as a Sensitive Urban Zone, is one of the fourteen sites for the Marseille Urban Renovation project where a few decrepit social housing buildings are being replaced with new ones.

UK. London. 2010. From left, Minhaj, Ashiq, Shofique and Abid pictured just before they left London to attend a gathering on ‘Islam and Young Muslims’ at Birmingham, UK.

UK. London. 2011. 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 could live  a  better life by following the examples of ancient Islamic leaders [left].

USA. Chicago, Illinois. 2010. Kaiser Aslam sketches the Chicago city skyline at the Ohio Street beach, as his art sheets fly around. Kaiser said, “It's not easy. There are a lot of temptations in this society but it’s my faith in Allah, and his blessings that shield me from all wrongdoings”.

Photographer's Statement: 

With “The Silence of ‘Others’” I have been documenting the aftermath of the “War on Terror” and its disastrous psychosocial impact on the lives of young Muslims in the West. Since 2009, this work has been recording the socio-political consequences of the ‘War on Terror’ and how this conflict has strongly influenced the internal sense of self of young Muslims. Now, for the final chapter of this project, I plan to return to America to further document how the ‘War on Terror’has fueled the disaffection of young American Muslims by generating several social, political and legal issues. This new chapter intends to document how this ‘War’ has defaced the identities of Muslims and forever blemished their cultural positioning and social  relationships.

The ‘War on Terror’ has left us in a world where all Muslims today are being viewed as “Fundamentalists” and “Terrorists.” The media frames violence as a conflict between binary oppositions, such as “good versus evil.” In the “War on Terror,”terrorists are always the evil “Others,” and the “Other” is often viewed in general as the bearded or veiled Muslim. These assumptions have led to blatant prejudice, stereotyping and hostility towards Islamic culture. The “War on Terror” and its propaganda have nurtured a widespread perception that the religion of Islam is principally flawed and that Muslims are inherently primitive, irrational, intolerant and violent. It has given birth to a perpetual climate of paranoia and xenophobia.  And to make  matters worse, a resentful minority  section  of  Muslim  youth  has  slowly  begun  to  heed  the  international  pied pipers of violent jiha’. Amidst this 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. My project, therefore, intends to reveal how the everyday lives of young Muslims in America have been severely impaired in the aftermath of the “War on Terror” --  how the “War on Terror” has led to the creation of serious issues, incliuding dominant political and  media biases,  uninformed public discourses, widespread Islamophobia  and  discrimination  against  Muslims  –  which  are  influencing the  thoughts  and  actions  of  young  American Muslims.

Islamophobic rhetoric is already being amplified in the 2016 presidential race. When an audience member asked, “When can we get rid of Muslims?”,Donald Trump replied, “We are going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” Ben Carson appeared on Meet The Press and said that Islam was inconsistent with the American Constitution and that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” The recent arrest and handcuffing of 14-year old high school freshman Ahmed Mohamed – because his school and the local  police believed that a clock ingeniously built by Ahmed was a hoax bomb – is far from the worst instance. But it explicitly illustrates what the “War on Terror” has left us with.

I am not a Muslim and my work is not about taking sides or justifying violence of any kind. But I believe that if we seriously wish to defeat extremism in the West, then we first have to acknowledge the aftermath of the “War on Terror” and listen to those who have been unjustifiably affected by it. Because victory against extremism will not come by killing or capturing all existing or potential terrorists. But it will come when extremist ideologies are shamed, when violence is seen to have failed and when young Muslims come to find more promising paths to the respect and opportunities they desire and deserve. And for America, the greatest victory would be when its Muslim citizens  themselves  turn against extremists in their midst and when they all stand up to challenge the oft-repeated claim that America is responsible for all the bloodshed in the Islamic world. And the road to such a victory cannot be built by scrutinizing religious scriptures or by propping the dated ‘clash of civilizations’ theory. It can only be built when we accept that the “War on Terror” has led to unreasonable and disastrous consequences for the Muslim community in the West. We will have to make conscious efforts to understand the perspective of the Muslim community. And my project aims to strengthen such efforts by sharing the largely unheard voices and views of young American Muslims. By listening to these voices, we can understand what is impeding the full-fledged integration of young Muslims into American society. In the absence of this necessary conversation, we can never identify the real systemic causes behind the alienation of young Muslims in the West. My work is not just a document about the aftermath of the “War on Terror” – with it, I also hope to provide an answer to how young Muslims can be dissuaded from following a radically violent approach. It can suggest how the American Muslim youth can be encouraged to achieve its personal and collective goals, and how each one of us can be a part of the solution.

Bharat Choudhary
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Bharat Choudhary is an independent photographer based in Geneva, Switzerland. He learnt photography under the mentorship of Magnum photographer Raghu Rai and his son, Nitin Rai. He graduated with a Masters in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri, USA, in 2010. He has been a recipient of the Ford Foundation International Fellowship, Alexia Foundation Professional Grant, Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography and is a two-time finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant. His work has been published widely and recognized by a number of awards and exhibitions.