How it feels to be a Muslim in the first week of the #MuslimBan
You don't know what it's like to be a Muslim.
It's different to when I was a kid. You'd sometimes get called a Paki and a wog and occasionally told that you smell of curry, but none of the insults were really about religion. And for me, it was more kids being dickheads rather than anything hugely sinister. But I'll be honest, I never thought I'd look back at that time as the good old days.
It's massively worse now. Significant chunks of the population who've never met you, and perhaps never known a Muslim, think you're a threat - either to their immediate safety or their way of life. And there's stuff you just accept as normal, like allowing for extra time at airport security, or answering questions from your kids about Muslims being evil.
A particular aspect of being Muslim these days is especially soul-destroying. It's when you first hear about a terrorist attack or an explosion. Your first, second and third reactions are shock, sadness and concern for those affected. Your fourth is a horribly selfish and guilt-laden: Please don't let it be 'Muslims'.
That's because you know that people who are just as angry and upset as you will immediately look in your direction and scowl; that nefarious organisations will zealously use the tragedy to push their agendas and fuel hatred against you. That elderly Asian women will be abused on the bus, and mosques will be fire-bombed.
It doesn't matter that ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or whatever these murderous c*nt-collectives choose to call themselves, see Muslims in the West as just as much the enemy as anyone else. The fact that they judge integrated Muslims to be on the same road to hell as the 'Infidels' doesn't matter to people who just want to hate us regardless.
Being seen as the enemy starts to become normal. Demands that you apologise for the actions of people whom you have nothing in common with are as predictable as they are frustrating. Those who demand you show remorse don't want to listen to you anyway. You get used to no one really being on your side, and that can be upsetting if you think about it too much.
But Donald Trump's Executive Order on 'extreme vetting' - or the 'Muslim Ban' as we all know it to be - has been a strange tipping point, and honestly, it has taken a lot of Muslims by surprise. Trump's cruel and fascist behaviour may be shocking, but it wasn't a shock. We expected it, and didn't entertain the thought that he was bluffing.
What has been a revelation has been the reaction from the general public both here and in the States. I can honestly say I didn't think I'd see the day when people were holding up placards reading 'I love Muslims' or 'First they came for the Muslims and we said not this time motherfucker'. Certainly not in such huge numbers.
In these darkest of times, when Islamophobia is becoming state legislation in the most powerful nation in the world, the strength of feeling against it has been so heartwarming and needed. On a personal level, it has made me feel quite emotional. People who are not directly affected are saying, no - do not treat my Muslim brothers and sisters like this.
Of course there are still people crowing in your face and telling you that they're 'winning'. That you and anyone who has your back is ultimately powerless. Say anything against Trump and his barbarous actions, and you're greeted with a throng of anonymous accounts telling you that you're a 'butthurt' snowflake who needs to get a life, or worse.
Indeed, this piece will go out on social media, and will get a predictable response. We'll be told to stick to what we're good at. You will see praise for Donald Trump for 'doing what others haven't got the balls to do'.
But this goes beyond that. It is no longer a right or left issue - it's about right and wrong. The question isn't why we're getting involved, but how can we not? How can we possibly ignore and tacitly accept the shameful demonisation and banning of a whole people? If we do nothing and let it happen without comment, what does that say about us?
The owner of the company I work for told me I had to write something about this, and that we can't just ignore it; the CEO and my editor encouraged me and asked how I'm feeling about it all. I am so truly grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to make such a bad job of making my feelings known. But not everyone has that luxury.
Sometimes all we can do is just say it: say that what's happening is wrong and that we don't, can't and won't stand for it. Whether that is via social media posts, placards at marches, or emails to our local MP, the pang of conscience compels us to do it. It may seem futile but it's not. The simple act of saying something is wrong is really, really powerful.
We watch documentaries about 1930s Germany, and learn about who did what and when. We silently tell ourselves that if we were there, we wouldn't stand for it. That we'd take the side of the persecuted Jew and not the fascist Nazi. We are now at such a pivotal and desperate moment that our actions will define us. The world is watching, and history will judge us.
If you think for one second that that is an overstatement, remember this: the President of the United States is most closely advised and controlled by known extremists - actual white supremacists who want to destroy the established world order and create holy war. This is Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist, calling for a Christian militia to defend two millennia of dominance:
Imagine if a Muslim had uttered those words - they would quite rightly be condemned as dangerous and fanatical - not given the President's ear. This is a desperate situation we currently face. We can't stand by and let such people shape our future without a fight. We can't allow 'resistance fatigue' to set in or give up - it's what they're counting on.
Don't let anyone tell you it doesn't matter, and that what you're doing is pointless. When the most powerful man in the world is obsessing over crowd sizes and television audiences for a full fortnight, the suggestion that mass marches around the world have no effect is clearly bollocks. It's the start of making a change and it is a statement of who we are.
If anyone bombards you with what-about-isms and where-were-you-whens, tell them to get right royally fucked - it's never too late to start giving a shit. Just because they're so addled with bitterness and hatred that their hearts are closed, it doesn't mean you have to be apathetic to what's going on - in fact it makes you as an individual even more important.
Most of all, when you're told that no one cares, tell them this: I care. People separated from the loved ones at airports care. A five-year-old girl wearing handcuffs in America in 2017 cares. Hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world care - many will be shocked by your empathy for them. Every utterance, every word, every step on a march tells them that you care.
You don't know what it's like to be a Muslim. But the fact that you care anyway and won't tolerate how we're treated makes you a diamond. In my eyes at least. And believe me, from the bottom of my heart, it matters so much. Thank you.