Back in April, Bahar Mustafa, the 28-year-old diversity and welfare officer of London's Goldsmiths Student Union, made headlines after she posted a Facebook event advertising a political meeting intended for ethnic minority women to discuss their experiences. It didn't take long for the media to pick up on comments she made on the group's wall, asking white guys not to come.
She wrote: "If you've been invited and you're a man and/or white PLEASE DON'T COME just cos I invited a bunch of people and hope you will be responsible enough to respect this is a BME Women and non-binary event only."
The event caused an uproar and led to a petition to get her pulled from her position. Minority groups organizing among themselves is of course nothing new, but in a combustible world of MRA Reddits, Daily Mail commenters, and straight up women-hating trolls, the supposed irony of a diversity officer appearing to exclude one group was all the fuel needed for a viral dumpster fire, with Mustafa at the center serving as a punching bag for the internet as well as the tabloid press.
Things went from bad to worse in May, when police launched an investigation into an alleged "race hate tweet" with the hashtag "#KillAllWhiteMen," which Mustafa denies using. By October she had been summoned to court on two charges of malicious communications thanks to the hashtag, but today police confirmed that they have dropped the charges against her. Mustafa spoke to VICE about her ordeal.
VICE: So, the charges against you for sending threatening or offensive messages have been dropped. How do you feel?
Bahar Mustafa: I'm really glad that they have been dropped, but at the same time I do feel quite cynical about why I had to be dragged through another media shit storm [thanks to the police's involvement, after the initial backlash following the BME meeting]. I can only think or assume that this is because there was never actually any evidence produced. It makes me think why charges were even made in the first place. Despite the fact that the police failed to present any evidence against me, I was dragged through the justice system, attacked in the press, and bombarded with hate mail and death or rape threats.
What has it been like to be the subject of a viral story? What other backlash did you receive?
I had my mum crying to me down the phone because several journalists from the press had turned up at our house. I had my sister panicking because the Daily Mail had published her and my parents' full name and age in the papers, opening them up to dangerous threats by Islamophobes and racists who were eager to attack us or send us "back to our own country." I also had to meet with BME students on campus who were deterred from organizing politically because they were terrified that they would be targeted next.
As well as the hate, did you receive much support?
Yeah—loads of unions recognized the right for oppressed groups to organize autonomously as a common practice and as integral to our movement—they came forward in solidarity. International feminist collectives, anti-racists, and Black and Ethnic minority groups sent me statements of support too and a demo was organized for outside of the courts to protest that I was summoned to the court on the 5th of November, which reached an expected attendance of over 800. I was really overwhelmed, it was incredible.
So how did the legal case come about? Did somebody just go to the police and report that you had tweeted #KillAllWhiteMen?
Yeah, I don't know who reported it but I know that it was a man because [the police] referred to them as "he." They had expressed fear or anxiety about a tweet that I had allegedly written.
What do you make of the fear of that hashtag?
It's to do with a lot of Islamophobia—that seems to be a popular narrative. And I think because my name is Bahar Mustafa, that whole rhetoric around left wing, militant, or radical activists talking about race. The extreme right-wing or fascist reaction to that is to say, "We have to arrest these people or there will be another case like Lee Rigby."
You said that you "allegedly" wrote the tweet. So do you deny that the #KillAllWhiteMen tweet even existed?
Yeah, that's the thing—I never actually tweeted it. But I don't condemn it, either. The reality is that #KillAllMuslims was trending for a while—there are tens of thousands of Muslims being killed in the Middle East and victimized in the UK. At the moment, young Muslims, especially male Muslims, are one of the most oppressed groups because of all the racial profiling that goes around terrorism. We exist in a world where black men and women in the States are being brutally attacked by white police officers, who are given the authority to literally get away with murder. The British government and USA are ordering the deaths of hundreds of thousands of brown civilians in the Middle East, all in the name of protecting the US from terrorism. Thousands of migrants and refugees are being killed by our racist borders. Two women a week are killed by their male partners in the UK, and one in four will be raped in their lifetime. That's the reality.
The other thing is, there hasn't been enough research into what a hashtag actually is in terms of language.
So what does it mean in terms of language?
Like when you say #FML, you aren't literally telling people to fuck your life. It's an expression of how somebody is feeling, not what they are telling people to do. It isn't a command. The #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag is something that a lot of people in the feminist community use to express frustration.
Bahar Mustafa answers her critics back in May.
What do you think the whole situation says about free speech?
It's interesting because a lot of people have been criticizing me and the platform I represent—which is the platform of a feminist woman of color. They made the assumption that I was against free speech and that all feminists were against free speech, like feminazis who are ready to ban everything from 4chan to nippleslip.com—and then all of the neckbeard weirdos would be really sad.
But it's not true. I am absolutely for free speech, and I think that these people who accuse me have a very misguided understanding of free speech. I don't condone anyone being in prison for what they said—whether it's a far-right extremist or a fascist. I do not have that power—I am not the state. People like me don't have that power, and I absolutely believe in free speech.
Read on Broadly: Can You Actually Go to Jail for Tweeting #KillAllWhiteMen?
No platforming, however, is a practice that the far left organizations and feminist movements have been practicing, for a while and it is something that I do believe in. I think that with no platforming, what we are saying is that when the fascists or the far-right are marching in the streets and trying to build their movement, we should have the right to go there and protest against their presence and defend our streets. It is an action, not something passive. It is deciding democratically as a collective what we want to spend our finite resources on. We have the right to say we don't want to listen to your bullshit.
Controversy-monger Katie Hopkins and conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos were among a few of your unlikely allies—I'm interested to know what your feelings were about them backing you.
Well, they are not my allies—I did not ask for their support, and I don't want it. They stand for everything I'm against. I was so embarrassed when Hopkins tweeted in support—I would never accept the support from an attention-seeking, classist idiot who thinks immigrants are less than vermin. I did enjoy watching the twats of the gamergate scandal squibble online over whether or not to offer support to a feminist-slash-social-justice-warrior because not to would mean that their entire free speech platform would come crashing down. To them, and many other right-wing pricks, free speech means the right to be as offensive as possible. For many of us, free speech means the right to bring the injustices of the state to the fore so that we can organize against it without fear or intimidation, prison, or death.
What was the legal process for being charged about a tweet like? I am sure a lot of people will be shaking behind their keyboards in fear because of something we may have said on Myspace circa 2007.
It was very bizarre. It's online, it's social media. I have seen some horrendous things happen online. The internet can be a horrible place full of misery and perversion, but I don't think that the state should deal with things that we don't like on the internet. We should have the power to go and protest against it ourselves. Like, if people want to go out and protest about something I said—fine, bring it.