Written by Azi Ahmed

In The News

It Was (Never) Acceptable in the 80s…

Race crime has reportedly risen 57 per cent since Brexit won the EU Referendum. Are we really back to the ‘curry breath’ and ‘Paki’ insults of her childhood, asks Azi Ahmed.

torn EU flag
The country went through a referendum. I woke up and it’s like it’s 1981. Am I dead, in a coma, or having a childhood flashback? Maybe I’ll figure it out and then I can find my way home.

It’s been a while but events and headlines in the last few days have brought back some vivid childhood memories. Growing up in Oldham in the 1980s I was called “curry breath” and “Paki” and chased down the street by skinhead National Front members. Why? I was a dark, skinny Muslim girl and that was standard bullying behaviour towards someone who was a bit different ‘back in the day’.

Thankfully that behaviour largely became passé and uncool in the 1990s and 00s. This was possibly down to a stronger economy (yeah I know, but still…), a re-energised culture and a finger-snapping new self-image a la Cool Britannia – all born out of a new political climate. We were in work, making money, feeling good when we looked in the mirror. Perhaps that made us more inclined to link arms with our neighbours than throw stones.

Come 2016, what has happened to the self-love and love thy neighbour? Post Brexit, and the muddled, frightening, dangerous Leave and Remain mindsets that were born in the run up to it; we are uncertain and angry. We’re not keen on what we see in the mirror or around us and have started self-harming and lashing out.

“We’re back to ‘curry breath’. But this time it’s ‘curry breath’ with guns and knives.”

Or maybe this feeling has been bubbling for a while and Brexit tapped into something and brought it to the surface? I ran as prospective candidate for Rochdale in the last General Election and I was shocked by the violence I saw on the streets. People spat at me, insulted me and set their dogs on me as I walked around just trying to do my job – getting to know local communities. I thought their behaviour was because ‘politician’ was a dirty word. I thought, in this day and age, it can’t be because I’m a Muslim woman. I was wrong.

The ‘Little Britain’ of my childhood is back. Of course, not every Caucasian Brit feels or acts this way. But how do you know those who will and those who won’t? You don’t. So we treat everyone with caution and fear.

Post-Brexit reports show race hate crimes spiked once the ‘out’ vote won. A new report that MP Jo Cox was working on before she died shows that street race crime against Muslim women has trebled in recent times. We’re back to “curry breath”. But this time it’s “curry breath” with guns and knives.

Come on, Britain, we’re better than this. We might be scared and we might have been egged on and stirred up by those with narrow-minded views and fear in their hearts, but we are so much better than this. We’ve been there, done that and outgrown it once already.

To quote Jo Cox: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Let’s work together again to get through Brexit. Let’s not go back to the 80s. It wasn’t cool then; it isn’t cool now.


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Written by Azi Ahmed

Azi Ahmed is the author of Worlds Apart: Muslim Girl with the SAS. For more information visit www.aziahmed.com.