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 public 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.