My speech for Srebrenica Memorial Day
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak at this important event which marks Srebrenica Memorial Day.
In July 1995, Srebrenica experienced a genocide on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered; women were raped; children were slain in front of their parents; and bodies were pushed into mass graves using bulldozers. The scale of the crimes exceed comprehension.
My journey with Srebrenica goes back almost to the very beginning. While Yugoslavia was disintegrating, I was involved in organising demonstrations in my home city of Manchester against the persecution of Europe’s Muslims.
I remember clearly the first coaches that came to Manchester carrying Bosnian Muslims fleeing the war. I was involved in helping them settle down, find houses, doctors, schools, all of the everyday things people need to survive. Many who arrived were separated from their families.
I also remember helping efforts to reunite a young man who was engaged to marry a woman who had already arrived here in the UK months before him. When he finally arrived to join her, he had nothing, and so the community chipped in to pay for their wedding. The couple went on to have children who grew up in Manchester and went to university.
Seeing the Bosnian community flourish in Manchester and across the UK demonstrates the strength of humanity. Despite experiencing such atrocities, they were able to start a new life here in the UK and provide their children with a better future.
The events of Srebrenica have always stayed with me and are part of the reason I dedicate so much of my work to challenging hate and division in society. From establishing the Greater Manchester Muslim-Jewish Forum, to helping found Stand Up to Racism, and to speaking out about the persecution of minorities across the world. I have always remained dedicated to calling out Islamophobia and persecution wherever it arises.
It is a tragedy that to this day, minority groups around the world are still being persecuted, with those in positions of influence repeating racist tropes that fuel fear and division in our communities. From the UK to across the globe, Islamophobic rhetoric is being used to spread lies about Muslim communities and to blame them for the spread of Coronavirus. The Government’s own figures show how hate crimes against Muslims are the highest year after year.
After the Holocaust, we said never again. Yet what happened in Srebrenica and what is currently happening in Xinjiang, China against Uyghur Muslims, proves that words are not enough. They must be met with action.
As we mark 26 years since this harrowing tragedy, we must all reaffirm our commitment to challenging hate, wherever and whenever it arises, and take action to prevent events like Srebrenica from ever happening again.