It’s been a while since we talked. How have you been?
I actually was wondering if you can give me some advice. One of my friends on Facebook is convinced that Syrian refugees and Muslims in general are prone to be terrorists, and even though she claims to not be racist, she thinks they all believe in extremist ideology. She has never met a Muslim before, or anyone of middle Eastern descent. Every time we talk about it, she ends the conversation with “that’s just my opinion”. I was wondering if you had any tips on how to reason with people who are so entrenched in fear and getting them to see a different side to things, or what your experience has been in dealing with certain people.
I also feel like if she actually talked to someone who was Muslim she might have a new perspective. I’ve told her about the few Muslim people I know and that they are good people, but whenever I bring up the possibility of having one of them talk to her, she thinks that they’re just going to yell at her. I was wondering if speaking to her would be something you would be willing to do, or if you know someone who would be willing to do so. I think she has this idea so ingrained in her mind that her seeing what she’s not expecting may help out a lot.
If not, I will appreciate any advice you have.
Thanks for listening!
I respect and admire the person who sent me this message, but the truth is that I feel helpless when it comes to Facebook comments too. It’s not the first time I’ve received a message like this— another friend who uses social media to promote healthy lifestyle living sent me a private message with a screenshot of something on his newsfeed. “How do I respond to this?” he wrote. It was a post about how Muslims were inherently deceptive people. Another friend confided in me with horror that a former director of refugee aid was a leading voice against Muslim refugees on her Facebook feed.
What these conversations tell me is that non-Muslims are looking for ways to be better allies and stand against Islamophobia. It’s everyone’s personal choice as to how to stand for their own principles. Not every has the time or energy to engage with people online, but others do. Some people would rather make connections with people in real life. And, this process is a trial and error. It takes constant reflection to figure out how to stand for your beliefs as you deal with the practical realities of your own life.
Since last November’s media storm around Syrian refugees highlighted and underscored fear of Muslims, I’ve been thinking about how to talk about Islamophobia, what I could even add to the discussion. On the one hand, Islamophobic comments and beliefs are an affront to my intelligence— they are just so obviously wrong. Engaging with racist ideas zaps your energy after a while, too.
On the other hand, a lot of people actually believe this stuff, so ignoring it is not an option. At least 30 governors across America stood up to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their home state (making heroes out of tiny states like Rhode Island, who rose up in the occasion to open their doors for resettlement) last November. Three young people were killed in a hate crime over a “parking spot” last year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And this week, a group called “Heart of Texas” is organizing an armed rally in front of the Islamic Dawah Center in downtown Houston, encouraging everyone to bring their guns to “Stop the Islamization of Texas.”
WATCH: Omar El-Halwagi’s TEDx Abilene Christian University talk “When Faced With Islamophobia, Will You Be An Ally?”
It would be easy to dismiss Heart of Texas as a silly fringe group, except they have 73,000 likes on Facebook. Their social media feeds are filled with posts about Texas secession, zealous trigger-happy gun comments, and transphobic bathroom commentary.
There’s going to be a counter-rally against Islamophobia happening across the street from the Heart of Texas rally. Tell your friends and, if you can, show up to network with other like-minded people. If you can’t make it for whatever reason, show your support by sharing the flyer below.