What would our world be without arts? We all use different styles of artistic expression to give meaning to life, love, anger and resistance. Poetry is one of these significant examples. Mvslim brings you an interview with one of the youngest promises committed to spread word against Islamophobia. Introducing to you, the young poet, rapper and actor Usaama Minhas. He was champion of the 2018 Hammer & Tongue National Slam in the United Kingdom with his piece “See something, say something”, a political, yet humanistic, statement against the prejudices formed around people based on their looks.
The artistic journey
His parents came from Pakistan to the United Kingdom in search for a better life, where Usaama was born. He was influenced by the summer vacation trips between Pakistan and the U.S. when he was around the age of 13.
“Growing up, I was absorbing both of these kind of different experiences and places. After one of these trips to Pakistan I started to write poems and listen to a lot of hip hop. This made me fell in love with the music and the culture. I developed an affinity for rap music and hip hop culture and, very soon, my writing turned into raps. Soon after, I would start to produce and compose music and make my own beats.”
In 2010, the young artist finished his training at an acting school in New York and came back to London. Three years later, he released a self-produced album, but took a break from his music career in 2015 and mainly focused on poetry, a key period for Minhas.
Since then, he has won the titles in different competitions, the 2013 ‘Britain’s Got Bars’ Rap Battle Tournament, the 2017 ‘Hammer and Tongue Hackney’ Slam Champion, and recently released the ‘Forgot About Rap’ mixtape. His poems and songs work on a variety of themes, going from oppression, discrimination and politics, to women’s rights.
What is the inspiration behind “See something, say something”?
The opening line of the poem is a simulation of the announcements people in the U.K. hear every day in the Tube or in other public spaces: “Have you seen something strange or out of place? If you have a concern you’ve seen or heard that could identify a terrorist threat, why not report it?” For the poet “it was the irony and the fact that the message that they keep playing is so obviously racist and Islamophobic. One of the effects of hearing that type of message is that you become desensitized to the extent that you’re even unaware that it is problematic.”
One of the core issues the poem deals with is mistrust. Due to recent policies related to terrorism, there has been an increase of suspicion based on people’s appearance. Minhas’ poem is an open critic to the misconceptions the Arab and Muslim population, men and women, experience in public spaces. The beard, the hijab, the language and the skin color are based on stereotypes that have been, for many years, fabricated and feared in the West mainly. The consequences are ‘random’ detentions, insults, physical attacks and an unwelcoming feeling. Minhas’ emphasizes that “there should be a level of trust to feel at home, otherwise it does not feel like home”.
Nowadays, the policies of vigilance in public spaces have not only perpetuated the image of threat, danger and backwardness towards Muslims and Arabs, but it has portrayed them as normal measures and strategies to counter terrorism. Through his poem, Usaama intends to provoke and call the attention of the audience, to signal it not only as a biased policy, but also unfair and dangerous to the harmony of a society.
Recommendations to break stereotypes.
For Usaama Minhas, they key to a successful society, and generally in human relationships, is missing. Communication. “Fear is based on uncertainty. The government needs to stop criminalizing communities, as people who have never interacted with people from those communities would hold these misconceptions as the truth. Oppressed communities have their conversations. Listen first and speak in the parameters of their conversation. Humble yourself and listen. We need more voices from minorities in the media, the news, talk shows and in public spaces.”
Through his spoken word, the author channels the audience to question the state’s solutions against terrorism, the role of the media and the preconceptions individuals formulate or perpetuate. Let’s encourage ourselves and younger generations to express themselves and start dialogues through art. Their work could bring changes in their communities and, hopefully, 2019 can become a year full of more art and poetic expressions to “say something” against the hate discourses for all minorities around the world.