On March 11th, the opening night of the Women of the World festival, renowned writer, poet, educator and activist, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan was invited to speak on the launch of her new book, Tangled in Terror: Uprooting Islamophobia. This is the latest work in the Pluto Press series, Outspoken,- a collection which features many young activist writers.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, already renowned for her previous anthology Postcolonial Banter, as well as her fantastic contributions to A Fly Girl’s Guide to University, meant this event was eagerly anticipated.
The night was hosted by the poet and cultural producer, Muneera Pilgrim, who directed the conversation through interesting facets and enlightening questions. By popular demand, Pilgrim also performed some of her own spoken word poetry from her anthology The Day She'll Proclaim Her Chronicles during the event, including her poems ‘Divine Light’ and ‘Dear Body’.
The entirety of the discussion between these two inspirational Muslim women was also translated into ASL for accessibility purposes. The atmosphere of the audience throughout the night was engaging and mobilising and many took up the opportunity to ask intriguing questions at the end. All round the evening was packed with fruitful, eye-opening conversations, solidarity, love and laughter.
The night began with Manzoor-Khan reciting a few opening passages from her book. In this excerpt she eloquently discusses reductive definitions of Islamophobia:
Islamophobia does not exist because of the lack of laws against it, or the lack of Muslim MPs and peers. Nor does it exist because people do not know enough about Muslim contributions to the nation, or because Muslims have not spent enough time proving ‘what Islam really says’. Instead Islamophobia persists despite these things, precisely because such solutions keep the conversation about Islamophobia away from addressing its root historical and structural causes. - Tangled in Terror p.1
Manzoor-Khan emphasised how she didn’t want this book to be about “proving” that Islamophobia exists. It is more interested in how we can disrupt these limiting narratives and uproot Islamophobia altogether.
She made an important point in differentiating how Islamophobia is often marketed as a case of racist individuals, rather than the larger systemic, institutional problem it is in reality. By instead centring the conversation on how Islamophobia is built upon a longstanding legacy of colonial history, she delves straight into the core of the issue.
The discussion naturally moved onto the intersection between Islamophobia and anti-blackness. Manzoor-Khan made the crucial assertion that ‘Islamophobia is just another manifestation of white supremacist colonialism’ and argued how the uprooting of one form of racism is key to enacting revolutionary change within all liberation movements.
‘I think in the mainstream, racism is discussed as an outcome of the fact that races exist, when in fact it’s the other way round, right? It’s that race was constructed in order to justify racism. Why? Because racism has many really great, beneficial impacts if you are a state seeking to dispossess others.’
Another topic Manzoor-Khan touched upon was secularism as she pointed out the irony - ‘I think often you can only have a conversation about Islamophobia in this country, if you can show yourself to be suitably distanced from Islam. And I really didn’t want to do that. I refuse to do that’. Manzoor-Khan is clearly proud of her Muslim identity and religious beliefs as it plays a central part to her activism.
One area, particularly relevant to Women’s History Month, was the topic of feminism, specifically steering away from the idea of “white feminism” and instead looking at intersectionality.
“Muslim women experience a really specific kind of violence that is so underspoken about and underappreciated. It is really important to me to just let those voices flow through the book.” - Manzoor-Khan
Rather than every question having to be about “how does it feel to experience the gendered version of Islamophobia?” Manzoor-Khan likes to ask instead “what does it feel like to exist in Islamophobic conditions and you just so happen to be experiencing them in a gendered way, which so do men, right?” Here she’s acknowledging that Muslim women have authority to speak on Islamophobia as a whole, in a non-gender specific way.
This also raises a crucial point about how topics of gender/race can become pigeonholed into academia (books/modules), but seldom ‘flow through the book’ consistently like Manzoor-Khan puts it, of which she tries to embody in her work.
Pilgrim asked about the process of writing the book, which Manzoor-Khan noted was long and arduous. She explained how it involved the breaking down of several laws, which have been constructed in a intentionally difficult and jargon-heavy way to make it difficult for the majority of the population to understand the mechanisms of Islamophobic oppression.
Manzoor-Khan managed to draw from an abundance of areas, such as borders, prisons, arms dealers, and governments, delivering impeccable insight and condensing these complexities into a digestible ten chapter book. The way she achieved this impressive feat was by situating them in real lived experiences.
As part of her research, Manzoor-Khan interviewed numerous people and listened to their personal stories directly. She acknowledged how personal testimonies leave behind a far more memorable and emotional impact than merely listing legislative documents.
Manzoor-Khan also acknowledged that as a ‘normative’ Pakistani Muslim: ‘there are things I might have missed, had I not tried to bring in other people’s voices’ and so she tried to amplify a diverse range of people within the Muslim community.
One theme that was revisited multiple times throughout the evening was the idea of love and writing the book with that in mind. This notion really stood out to me during the whole event and it certainly was a feeling that radiated throughout the room, touching many in the audience.
The event ended with a lovely book-signing, where many got the opportunity to meet the inspiring Manzoor-Khan first-hand and stand in awe of her wisdom, kindness and humility, myself included.
Tangled in Terror is available for purchase now.
Find a previous in-depth review of Manzoor-Khan's Post-Colonial Banter here.
The WOW Foundation was created by Jude Kelly CBE in 2018 to run the global movement that is
WOW - Women of the World Festivals. The Festivals began in the UK in 2010, launched by Kelly at
the Southbank Centre London, where she was Artistic Director, to celebrate women and girls, taking a
frank look at what prevents them from achieving their potential, raising awareness globally of the
issues they face, and discussing solutions together. You can find out about the work they do here.
Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor