Interview with Roxana Khan Williams from Anti-Fascist organisation Hope Not Hate

Interview with Roxana Khan Williams from Anti-Fascist organisation Hope Not Hate

[Written by Ella Field (she/her)]

  1. Little intro to you – what you do, what your passions are

My name is Roxana and I work for HOPE not hate as a Campaigns Officer and Support and Development officer for the cross-government advisory group on anti-Muslim hatred. That means I mostly work on issues purporting to Islamophobia in the UK, including hate crime monitoring, campaigning and advocacy work, but I am also part of the team that campaigns against the Uyghur Genocide. I am also a co-founder and trustee of an organic food growing project working with refugees called Common Ground based in Brighton. I have been thinking about how to succinctly articulate what my passions are without sounding really clichéd – but honestly, I just love people and I want to make my little part of the world a bit nicer (see it is really hard to do!). I want to use the privilege and opportunities that have been afforded to me to do my bit, and I guess that is my main driver. 

  1. What is hope not hate broadly? 

The HOPE not hate campaign was founded in 2004 to provide a positive antidote to the politics of hate and offer a more positive and engaged way of doing anti-fascism. We work both at a local and national level. We engage with communities to build resilience to attempts by the far-right to spread hate and division and campaign nationally to combat Islamophobia, racism and misinformation.

  1. How long have you been working for hope not hate? How did you get into working with them? How would you describe your role within Hope not Hate? 

I started working for them in March 2020. Starting a job during a pandemic is quite frankly very strange. During the lockdown districations were limited, which meant that I could throw myself into the job, but I have definitely missed the human contact which is so important when the work can be, at times, quite emotionally taxing. 

The question on how I got into working for them is an odd one, my partner sent my CV off to them without me knowing while I was writing my Master’s thesis. Next thing I know I am on my way to an interview (thanks David you big legend!). 

  1. What initially drew you to activism and specifically the Uyghur crisis?

My parents took me to my first march when I was about two years old to protest for nuclear disarmament so I was as close to being born with a placard in my hand as biologically possible.

The Uyghur crisis is something that has only properly been on my radar for the past year or two. The more I read on it and got to grips with what was happening in Occupied East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China), the more deafening the silence from the mainstream news outlets became. I could not believe the scale of atrocities that were happening and how little people knew about it. It was from then that I took it upon myself to at least start informing my network of people. 

ASPI released a report in early 2020 that exposed over 83 well known brands are complicit in the use of Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains. The scale of the abuses is so large that Uyghur forced labour is thought to have tainted up to 20% of the global cotton apparel industry. The Uyghurs and other Muslim minority communities are taken from the concentration camps and forcibly placed in factories across China. They are only occasionally allowed to leave and are subject to mass surveillance both in and out of the factories and camps. The Chinese government has denied any malpractice and instead claim that the 80,000 + Uyghurs in these factories are part of an employment programme. I first became aware of the scale of abuses around April/May. 

  1. What are the main ways you (and Hope not Hate) are informing people about the crisis and trying to change the situation?

As part of our awareness raising campaign, last year we wrote an open letter to the CEOs of various companies and brands that have been exposed as being complicit in the use of Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains. We managed to gain over 10,000 signatures and the campaign shone a light on the more ugly side of the fashion industry in particular. 

We have also created an information hub on our website that has a collection of really useful resources, from the history of the Uyghur genocide to how you can show allyship.

  1. What would your advice be to an individual wanting to get involved in standing up for the Ugyhurs?

Educate yourself: If we want meaningful and systemic change to take place within the fashion industry and its complicity in atrocities such as those against the Uyghurs, we must first arm ourselves with the knowledge and awareness to do so. Hope Not Hate have an excellent resource centre to get to grips with the Uyghur genocide. 

Talk about it: Many people haven’t even heard of the genocide in Xinjiang (and that’s because people have only just begun paying attention). Have a conversation with the people around you about what you have read, stay curious and open minded! Sharing content with your social networks can be a great way to start a conversation, we recommend following @uyghurcongress and @uyghurprojectig on Instagram as a good place to start

Buy consciously: If 1 in 5 cotton garments are tainted with Uyghur forced labour, then we must start thinking about where we are buying our clothes from. Look for GOTS or BCI certifications, better still, ask brands where they source their cotton from and let them know you are aware of the fashion industries complicity in the Uyghur forced labour.

Contact your MP: Email or write to your MP and pressure them to speak out on the human rights abuses faced by the Uyghurs as well as to lobby for changes in supply chains laws both nationally and internationally. Amnesty have provided a sample here

  1. How would you advise individuals to approach activism in a professional or personal sense? Particularly in reference to a world so overwhelming in the extent of its problems. 

This is a good question, although I am not sure I have the right answer. Activism is definitely a skill and if done badly it can just be noise into a void. What I would really recommend is to make sure you really do your research before you start sharing stuff on social media. That does not mean you have to be an expert, but do not just read an article and share it without critically engaging with it first. There is so much misinformation out there (and unfortunately on both sides of the political spectrum) so make sure you fact check! 

Another bit of advice; don’t think you can solve all the problems. You will just end up with burnout and you aren’t useful to anyone when you are burnt crispier than my christmas roast potatoes. Choose a topic or two that you are really interested in and focus on those.

  1. How do you perceive the impact of the pandemic on your work (and activism generally)? 

I have been reflecting on this a lot recently. The time that the pandemic and first lockdown forced upon many of us was really interesting. Of course there was the death of George Floyd and the momentum that the Black Lives Matter movement gained in the aftermath. I wonder what the response would have been had we not been in lockdown, would as many people have engaged with it, would it have gathered such worldwide recognition, would people have taken to the streets in such numbers had we not had that time? Perhaps it is a pointless counterfactual, but I know from the other end of the spectrum that the amount of spare time and time spent on the internet has definitely emboldened the far-right. Part of my work is monitoring online hate crimes and the pandemic has been manipulated by some on the internet to spread hate and misinformation about Muslim, Jewish and East Asain communities especially. 

  1. Does social media play a large role in your work? What other tools/mediums/platforms do you use to spread messages?

Social media plays a significant role in the work that I do, especially given the pandemic. I have spent so much time on Twitter I am pretty sure I only think in 160 character bursts. Social media gets a bad rep but it’s such a fantastic and useful tool to engage with people if you know how to use it. Tik Tok, the platform that Gen Z are really into, is one that I’m still yet to harness but I know of doctors and nurses who are using it to myth bust around vaccinations and tackle misinformation surrounding covid more generally – bloody amazing!

  1. How do you perceive the impact of social media and the internet on activism? Is the wider reach worth the sacrifices campaigns make for the modern format/audience?

People love clickbait and I think the trade off is nuance. Social media is not the place to have complicated and multilayered conversations and I have seen time and time again people shouting into the void (instagram comment section) expecting to change someone’s mind. The internet has made everything so much more accessible, and we have so much information at our fingertips. But the way that algorithms work has meant we have been confined to our little social bubbles, I know I have certainly been guilty of that in the past. 

We need to listen more, speak less, pass the mic and breathe. 

  1. What do you envisage for the future of hope not hate, of the Uyghur crisis, of activism generally and for you personally?

The Uyghur crisis is not going to end overnight, I do not know what will happen, but I am so glad the world is waking up to the atrocities that are taking place. History shows us we need a concerted international effort to confront and tackle genocide, and I hope that we as a global community can do that.

Overall I am positive. I feel so honoured to work for such an amazing organisation and remembering that there are so many fantastic people out there in the world doing incredible things makes my heart burst. 

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