This afternoon, I was tagged in one of those ‘anniversary” posts on Facebook. You know, the ones where Facebook posts photos of you and your friend together, with the heading “friends on Facebook for (insert number) years.” This particular friendship was celebrating it’s first anniversary as a Facebook friendship, and it came about in some pretty unusual circumstances.
Towards the end of 2014, my local area became pretty passionately divided about the prospect of a mosque being built in an industrial cul-de-sac. This divide became the source of numerous debates on social media, some of which were incredibly nasty. As the admins of the community pages became frustrated with the constant bickering, pages were created specifically for the issue: ‘Stop the Mosque’, ‘Support the Mosque’, even ‘Debate the Mosque’ pages popped up.
Not being known for keeping quiet on these issues, I frequently found myself involved in debates on the issues. My youngest was only a baby at the time, and many a night feed was passed with me desperately attempting to combat irrational hate and stereotypes with rational, factual argument. Some of the concerns were genuine- worries about infrastructure and traffic, for example – but at the same time, too many were nothing more than poorly disguised hatred. It saddened me, seeing so much ill-informed hate in my multicultural area.
Not long after my online career as a “leftard Muslim apologist” started, another frequent poster approached me, and we began to chat. And soon after, I found myself chatting with other people, of various different faiths and backgrounds, all of whom shared my opinions on the matter. Soon, there was a little group of us, discussing all sorts of things. It was sometimes serious, often frivolous discussion, and it was exactly what I needed. Our little group quickly went from a bunch of people who argued on the internet, to a group of friends who met up for coffee while our kids played.
So, to the bigots far and wide, who tried to force their hatred and intolerance on my little local area, THANK YOU. Without your fearmongering and abuse, I would have missed out on so many opportunities. I might never have met these women, who I now count as my friends, and who treat me like family. Women, who provide me with hours of laughter, who never judge me when I ask a stupid question, and who openly and honestly answer my often random questions.
Over the last 18 months, I have been invited to events that I otherwise would probably not have even thought of attending. I have connected with various members of local political and religious groups, spoken with activists, helped serve food to people in need. I rode a camel at the Eid festival. I shared Iftar with a friend and her family. Bigots, your hateful rhetoric indirectly influenced my life in more positive ways that I can begin to count.
The initial DA for a multi-purpose community centre has been approved now, and the various Facebook pages devoted to it are reasonably quiet now. It’s pretty rare these days to see the kind of debates that were raging just a few months ago. The friendships I have gained, however, continue to grow. I sincerely hope these are the kind of friendships that last the duration, it certainly feels like they might be.
Bigots, at this stage you have not succeeded in denying the rights to religious freedom to members of our local community. I guess, from your perspective, this is a huge setback. I however, am extremely grateful to have been a part of so many interesting debates with you. Regardless of whether I agreed with your viewpoint or not, I cannot deny that I learnt a lot from it. And of course, I am grateful for my beautiful friends. So again, I thank you.