FIGHTING ISLAMOPHOBIA: SAMPLE STRATEGIES

HOW TO RESPOND TO ISLAMOPHOBIA?

A good counter strategy when attacks get personal is to follow the example of a known TV personality, incidentally known for her own bigoted statements against ordinary Muslims and Islam. In August 2015 when Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was verbally abused by none other than Donald Trump, mocking her and questioning her professionalism on national TV and social media, Kelly who ran the second- highest-rated program in cable news in America stayed silent for almost a week only speaking up on her show “The Kelly File” where she said:

“I’ve decided not to respond . . .

Mr. Trump is an interesting man who has captured the attention of the electorate. That’s why he’s leading in the polls. Trump, who is the front-runner, will not apologize, and I certainly will not apologize for doing good journalism. So I’ll continue doing my job without fear or favor. And Mr. Trump, I expect, will continue with what has been a successful campaign thus far.”

She then added, “This is a tough business, and it’s time now to move forward. And now, let’s get back to the news”. Ms. Kelly was praised for the way she handled the issue.

Clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, who counsels on bullying, was quoted in the local press saying:

“Research and experience in this field overwhelmingly maintains that you do not engage the bullying because fundamentally the bully is looking for that reinforcement for their tactics” he says.

Put another way, if you’re the victim of bullying, ignore the bully and don’t react. Soon enough, they will get tired of the lack of response and move to another target. (Source: Megyn Kelly’s Response to Donald Trump Is a Master Class in Handling Haters by Korin Miller, 12 August 2015, Yahoo News).

This says plenty about the best course of action when dogs bark: you leave them alone. You don’t bark back. Escalation is exactly what they want and therefore it should definitely not be given to them. Evidently, Ms. Kelly was right. Shortly thereafter, Trump shifted his nihilistic views towards the Mexicans, women and ordinary Muslims. The rest, is rather unfortunate history.

WHAT TO DO WHEN AN ISLAMOPHOBE IS INVITED TO SPEAK AT A UNIVERSITY GATHERING OR FORUM?

When invited to speak at universities and other events –

Islamophobes, atheists, bigots and war hawks do not always have to be boycotted but every effort should be made to stand up to them by challenging them to a pubic debate or at the very least, hold up a critical sign during their speech or write a rebuttal of their claims and distribute it at the event.

This is the beauty of “freedom of speech”. It works both ways! Heckling or boycotting them advances nothing for Muslims. They will always find another venue to help grow their following, if all we do is heckle and call for the boycotting their events. Instead, these events should be seen as opportunities for well-informed Muslims to reach out and speak up with a united voice against myths and false statements smearing Islam and ordinary Muslims.

HOW SHOULD YOUNG ANGRY MUSLIMS RESPOND TO ISLAMOPHOBIA?

Disgruntled youth and individuals who are angry should be advised to vent their frustrations by forming local or regional lobby group(s), peacefully protesting or writing op-eds letters to their local and regional newspapers, local district member of parliament or its equivalent and do everything possible to ensure each and every one of our voices are readily heard through civic engagement. If you are a constituent, set an example by writing letters to your representative. Sign a petition. If you are not a constituent, get registered as one.

Put simply, let your opinion be heard and let this be seen by your children.

Muslim youth and teenagers should also be encouraged to speak out “every time a white, middle-aged, Christian fundamentalist goes on an anti-abortion killing spree and the same bastards who demand that I bow and scrape to them over the Paris attacks don’t immediately condemn people of their own ilk. Sue me.” (Source: Moderate Muslim: Where Are All The Moderate White Christians Denouncing Planned Parenthood Shooting? By James Schlarmann, November 28, 2015, The Political Garbage Chute)

An exemplar example however was set by Tarek El-Messidi, 35, an American Muslim leader from Knoxville, Tennessee. Through his organisation Celebrate Mercy, which teaches about Muhammad [PBUH], he used social media to urge Muslims to send condolence letters to the family of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed along with three others in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The effort drew 7,700 letters from 115 countries, El-Messidi said . . . After this year’s killings in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, of three young American Muslims who had been focused on public service, El-Messidi helped create the “Feed Their Legacy” effort, which organized canned food drives in honor of the victims among mosques in 30 states. He said about 200,000 meals were provided for the poor . . . “The narrative is being defined for us, and we’re being de ned by these extremist acts and the poll numbers show that,” El-Messidi said.

“I personally do feel like condemning is an unfortunate necessity right now because our community is misunderstood. But I think that’s partially the Muslims’ fault because we’re not changing the narrative.

Condemning is just a Band-Aid solution. It feels like putting a Band-Aid over a tumor”. (Source: US Muslims struggle with how they should condemn extremism by Rachel Zoll, 6 December 2015, Associated Press)

For those of us who are both tech-savvy and equally editorially driven, consider writing for and developing a platform similar to Muslim Matters, a unique collaboration between bloggers and Muslim scholars bringing key issues affecting Muslims to the fore.

On a niche-scale but quickly attracting a strong following, MuslimGirl.net, which was established by 23-year-old Al-Khatahtbeh along with seven volunteer editors and more than 30 contributing writers, as the first mainstream media network by and for Muslim women.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh kicks off her speeches with a request to her audience: take out your phone and search “Muslim women” on Google Images . . . The experiment yields myriad images of faceless figures covered head to toe in black veils. Only the women’s eyes are visible – if they’re shown at all. Al-Khatahtbeh, who wears a hijab, says the pictures boggle folks in the crowd . . . “I always ask them: Do these Muslim women look like the Muslim women you know in real life? Do they look like me? Do they look like your friends? And the audience always says ‘no’ – it looks nothing like us,” Al-Khatahtbeh said in an interview . . . Fed up with that and other inaccurate portrayals of Islam, she launched news and lifestyle website MuslimGirl. The portal, which encourages Muslim women to speak up and covers topics ranging from Donald Trump’s proposed [nefarious and counterproductive] Muslim ban to modest workout outfits, logged 100 million hits in 2015. (Source: Meet The Rising Media Star Shattering Stereotypes About Muslims, Daniela Sirtori-Cortina, 17 October 2016, Forbes Magazine)

Granted, while we can’t solve terrorism with hashtags, memes, gifs and tweets, some online messages can define how society views Islam and ordinary Muslims, especially if it is liked, shared, reposted, and retweeted by world renowned politicians and celebrities or in some cases, an ordinary citizen:

In December 2015, when a self-professed Muslim attacked three passengers on the London Underground using what was described in the press as a 3-inch knife, he was quickly overpowered by the police and a non-Muslim passerby shouted “you ain’t no muslim bruv”, which quickly became a hashtag “#youaintnomuslimbruv” generating 100,000 tweets, going viral within hours and much more since. The passerby added, “He is angry terrorist organisations such as ISIS claim to represent Islam”.

After his comments came to symbolise London’s defiance in the face of terror attacks, [former] UK Prime Minister David Cameron praised the phrase as having “said it all better than I ever could” . . . Others, particularly proud Londoners, praised the hashtag itself – with Russ Burt saying: “#YouAintNoMuslimBruv – one man does more for community cohesion with one sentence than any government initiative.” (Source: Man who shouted ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv’ was upset by people who make generalisations about Muslims by Samuel Osborne, 13 December 2015, The Independent)

THERE IS NO POINT PAYING TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO ISLAMOPHOBIA ONLINE.

The Columbia Journalism Review documented the “widespread” posting of such anti-Muslim memes over the last year, as well as the use of hashtags like #banislam, #killmuslims, #attackamosque, #bansharia and #islamisterror. Facebook and Twitter have become platforms where people who “actively believe in the extermination of Muslims . . . are not afraid to state their views in public,” according to the CJR report published last month. (Source: Let’s Talk About All That Anti- Muslim Garbage In Your Newsfeeds, Christopher Mathias, 6th October, 2016, The Huffington Post)

 Almost 7,000 “Islamophobic” tweets were sent, in English, every day in July worldwide, data seen by the BBC suggests. (Source: Islamophobic tweets ‘peaked in July’, Catrin Nye, 18 August 2016, BBC News)

HOW BEST TO FIGHT ISLAMOPHOBIA ONLINE?

For those who have to put up with cruel social media trolls, there is a lesson worth learning from Australian Muslim Susan Carland who has been named one of 500 most in influential Muslims in the world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.

Tired of receiving hate-filled messages on social media, Ms. Carland and her husband, Waleed Aly vowed to donate $1 to charity for every hate-filled tweet she receives since her previous attempts to engage, block or simply ignore them did not seem to be going anywhere.

She added, “I felt I should be actively generating good in the world for every ugly verbal bullet sent my way”, pledging to donate the proceeds to “UNICEF, as so often they were assisting children who were in horrific situations that were the direct outcome of hate – war, poverty due to greed, injustice, violence. These children seemed like the natural recipients for the antidote to hate”, she said. (Source: Koran guided me in how to turn tweets from trolls into a force for good, 13 November 2015, Susan Carland, Sydney Morning Herald)

BUT THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET.

At its very basic level, the power of the internet should not be underestimated. After all, it was the uproar on Twitter and Facebook that forced global media platforms to look into the shootings of three Muslim students at UNC-Chapel Hill in February 2015, which in turn led to widespread condemnation of mainstream media.

While the news of the shootings by Craig Stephen Hicks, an anti-theist who frequently posted anti-religious messages on social media, was ignored for 17-long hours by all leading print, TV and online news sites – they were all forced to not only report the news albeit late but a number of news platforms like the Independent and Huffington Post subsequently published articles examining why there was an apparent double standard when it comes to reporting news events where Muslims were the victims and an atheist a perpetrator.

It is also through hashtag activism in early 2017 that brought the abhorring issue of police brutality in French society to the forefront, almost as if the country only recently discovered the banal cruelty of police brutality especially towards poor, minorities and blacks, something that has existed for decades:

Theo Luhaka, 22 had attempted to intervene when a friend of his was the victim of a violent identity check. The police not only subjected him to racists insults but physically assaulted him and pushed a baton at least 10cm into his rectum, a horrendous YouTube video secretly recorded the event from a distance documenting the irrefutable terror.

This quickly brought back memories of the 2005 banielue riots when: Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who had done nothing wrong, were chased by police officers, hid in an electrical substation and were electrocuted. An unprecedented wave of unrest shook France for three weeks. (Source: When will France admit that police racism is systemic?, Rokhaya Diallo, March 2017, The Guardian)

 Therefore, do not discount the power of social media and technology given its penetrating reach whatever one’s social or economic strata.

THE KEY STRATEGY IS TO FOCUS ON SOCIAL MEDIA THEN?

No, there is a world beyond online social media therefore our keyboard warriors need to sometimes briefly step away from their laptops and press for real, tangible solutions to combat racism and division, especially since an online post alone, is not likely to change the discrimination tactics facing ordinary Muslim communities today.

In essence, logging into social media sites – posting, liking and forwarding messages and video clips is nowhere nearly enough. A lot more needs to be done – in a coordinated, organised fashion by ordinary Muslims around the world.

 

GLOBAL BRANDBUILDING FOR MUSLIMS AND ISLAM

APART FROM DAWAH, HOW CAN ORDINARY MUSLIMS HELP BUILD A GLOBAL BRAND FOR ISLAM AND ORDINARY MUSLIMS?

From regularly volunteering at a local nursing home, helping to deliver food to homeless families or teaching a young person to read to helping out at local charities such as soup kitchens, food bank, homeless shelter and contributing towards clothes and food distribution or something as simple as shoveling neighbours’ driveways or giving blood at least once in your lifetime, if not more, there are many ways to illustrate what it truly means to be a Muslim.

The point is, we Muslims have to make it difficult for others to stereotype or distrust people they actually know. At present, most of us are regrettably little more than sitting ducks.

In an incredible speech that did not receive as much coverage as it rightfully deserved, the Canadian Imam who delivered a powerful eulogy for the six Muslim victims of a deluded white supremacist killing outside a Quebec (Canada) mosque in late January 2017 said:

Our Prophet was persecuted, thrown out of his town. He was alone. Eight years after that he came back to this town with 10,000 people. Less than two years after that, when he did the last pilgrimage in life, he was accompanied with 120,000 people. From where did these 120,000 people come from in a period of 10 years? It was the same people who were his enemies. The people who wanted to kill him. The people who were persecuting him and his companions and his sympathizers . . . He transformed his enemies into friends and followers. We don’t have enemies. I repeat we do not have enemies. We have some people who don’t know us. It should be easier to explain to these people who do not know us, it is easier to let them know who we are. (Source: Translated and adapted version of the eulogy, which Imam Hassan Guillet delivered for the Québec mosque shooting victims)

Given such, it may be worthwhile exploring some out-of-the-box approach to being a visible Muslim today: Hundreds of American Muslims around the country joined forces to put their faith into action . . . At least 23 teams from mosques, Muslim student clubs, and faith-based non-profits signed up to serve in soup kitchens across the country for the first National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day. In total, the volunteers cooked and distributed more than 3,000 meals throughout the day in New York, Florida, Alabama, and seven other states, according to the Muslim Soup Kitchen Project (MSKP), the New York-based organization that coordinated the national event . . . 200 volunteers signed up as cooks, drivers, and soup kitchen servers. They helped out at 8 local shelters and at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York’s Farm. (Source: American Muslims Join Forces For National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day by Carol Kuruvilla, 4 May 2016, Huffington Post)

Another example is one of how Muslims bandied together in December 2015 when American Muslims responded to the attack in San Bernardino with philanthropy. The fundraising campaign, Muslims United for San Bernardino Families, cited a Qur’anic verse and Hadith. It collected more than US$200,000 within seven days – the equivalent of US$1,000 an hour . . . In July 2015, after an American Muslim with a history of mental illness murdered five victims in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the local Muslim community raised US$20,000 for their families . . . On July 4th, as Americans celebrated their country’s birth- day at barbeques, parks and beaches, American Muslims led by the Islamic Society of Central Jersey – observing a Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset – will gather at one of the state’s largest mosques to prepare 600 meals for the poor and homeless. (Source: American Muslims Show Humanitarian Islam, Engy Abdelkader, 28 June 2016, Huffington Post)

 As yet another example: when several African American churches burned to the ground last summer [in 2015] in the wake of the tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, news outlets noted that a Muslim organization raised more than US$100,070 to help the congregations rebuild – a higher sum than several Christian organizations accumulated in the same time period.

The lead organizer for the effort? Faatimah Knight, a Zaytuna graduate, America’s First Accredited Muslim College.(Source: What It’s Like To Attend America’s First Accredited Muslim College by Jack Jenkins, 18 April 2016, Think Progress)

Or contemplate local efforts in Michigan, with perhaps the largest Muslim community, led by the Michigan Muslim Community Council. When the water supply in Flint, Michigan, was found to be toxic, the state’s Muslims worked with members of other religions to aid distressed citizens while state and local officials failed. The American Muslim response to the water crises in Flint – including more than US$300,000 and 1,000,000 bottles of water in donations – made local, national and international news (Source: American Muslims Show Humanitarian Islam, Engy Abdelkader, 28 June 2016, Huffington Post) although the mainstream news media rarely captures the civil engagement of Muslims.

“They were very helpful,” says Lee Anne Walters, a Flint woman who blew the whistle on the contamination. “It was great seeing every- one come together”. (Source: Albert Hunt: U.S. Muslims are terror victims too, Albert Hunt, 21 June 2016, Bloomberg View)

On the healthcare front and joining at least 25 free clinics nation- wide run primarily by Muslim volunteers, according to the American Muslim Health Professionals’ task force on health a affordability: The American Muslim Community Center in Orlando, Florida, has converted an old doctor’s office into a free clinic for uninsured families and people in need . . . “Our goal is to serve humanity – no strings attached. Everyone is welcome,” Atif Fareed, AMCC chairman, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We have over 40 physicians who come to our mosque, and we have 11 of them signed up to volunteer here. So we are very, very blessed.” . . . The facility, which will only be open on Fridays for the time-being, will offer general health care to anyone who lives in Central Florida who is uninsured and lives below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. This equates to individuals who make $23,760 or families that make $48,600 or less a year . . . Free health care facilities run by Muslim Americans have been sprouting up all over the nation, such as in Jacksonville, Florida; Muscoy, California; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just to name a few. (Source: This Muslim-Run Clinic Offers Free Health Care To Those In Need, Elyse Wanshel, 18 January 2017, Huffington Post)

Over in the UK, London Muslim students regularly run huge home- less drives providing medical checks, food and haircuts, as well as litter picking in the streets of the capital. Islamic Relief Scotland’s Winter Warm campaign distributed over 350 bags containing hats, scarves and gloves this year alone in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh over the Christmas period in 2016. The East London mosque, in conjunction with Muslim Aid meanwhile distributed 10 tonnes of food to London’s homeless over the December holiday season, collectively playing their role in the local society they live in.

Such effort also has other multi-fold benefits. While we as parents allocate a great deal of time encouraging our children to learn about Islam, we can model random acts of kindness for our children by committing acts of goodness in their presence.

The idea of getting to know your neighbours, donating to charity, participating in beach cleanups, opening a door for strangers, helping an elderly on the street or public transport remind children of the importance, sense of peace and happiness that lies in doing good. There can be no better way of laying the foundation of fighting helplessness and evil via Islam than through our own positive actions.

SHOULD CHARITY BE GIVEN IN STEALTH OR IN PUBLIC?

While Muslims are taught charity given in stealth has more value in Islam, for as long as the intention is not the shameless display of wealth, it is indeed high time for ordinary Muslims to start looking at the bigger picture. Put crudely, there is a somewhat limited point having a mosque in a Western society when Muslims have zero visibility in the local community.

In terms of media coverage and in reaction to the negative coverage of Muslims, many outlets seem to feel a need to overcompensate. Whenever a Muslim is doing something normal or “good” for society, it is as if journalists are stunned. Hannah Allam, a journalist at McClatchy, summed up this issue in a tweet last year: Anti-Muslim hostility has led to a well-meaning but sad genre of corrective journalism that says “Look at this Muslim doing a normal thing!”, 12:10 AM – 30 Nov 2016 (Source: What Covering Hate As A Muslim Journalist Taught Me About The Media, Rowaida Abdelaziz, 23 January 2017, The Huffington Post)

The key therefore is to strike a balance by avoiding a shameless display of wealth and thus the need to dispense of the so-called “corrective journalism” about ordinary Muslims, charity and Islam

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