The west has seen a disquieting growth in anti-Muslim sentiment in recent years. Stoked by politicians catering to the corresponding rise in nationalism across Europe and the United States, Islamophobic acts are at its worst directly after a terrorist attack in the west.
Following the terror attacks in Paris late last year, for example, there was an "unprecedented" spike in violent attacks towards Muslims in the U.S. and in London. And while this kind of intolerance and discrimination is largely acknowledged as unacceptable in civilized society, the frequency at which it is happening today has prompted Muslims to create guides on what to do when faced with anti-Muslim behavior.
But how should non-Muslims respond to Islamophobic attacks that they see in public spaces? In an effort to combat the "bystander syndrome," one Paris-based artist created a guide on how to respond when they see Islamophobic harassment taking place. Maeril, a French Middle Eastern woman, posted an illustrated guide on Tumblr that uses a proven psychological method.
Maeril told BuzzFeed News that the technique in the guide is called "non-complementary behavior," the act of breaking a pattern to diffuse a tense situation. At the crux of this technique is to do something counter to the other person's expectations. In this case, by focusing attention solely on the person being harassed with warm, small talk, the attacker loses control of the situation and feels disempowered to continue acting on his or her aggression.
Though not Muslim herself, Maeril told A Plus in an email that she's been exposed to Islamic culture all life, which prompted her protective feelings towards Muslims after the Paris attacks.
"My mom's Iranian and my dad's Armenian from the Turkish/Kurdish diaspora, they are not Muslims but the countries they come from have Muslim influences; I also come from a very diverse district in Paris, and several of my best friends are Muslims," she wrote. "So when Paris attacks occurred, my first reaction was to protect Muslims at all costs and remind people around me, online and offline, that they're as French as we are and as worthy of trust and love."
Then the burkini ban happened and Maeril kept reading about Islamophobic attacks. "I told myself that I had to at least attempt to do something about it," she continued. "That's how I had the idea to make a very simple guide to give steps for any bystander to intervene when they witness such an attack. It aims to diminish the risk of [violent] escalation as much as possible while being accessible enough for shy people to attempt to follow its directions."
Maeril's guide has been shared more than 62,000 times on Tumblr at the time of writing.
Because she's not Muslim, Maeril said that she hasn't been at the receiving end of a blatant Islamophobic attack. "I've however been harassed by men in the streets, simply because I am a woman, and I've been called a 'terrorist' since I am still Middle Eastern and visible as such," she said.
She added that her hope is for people to stand up to Islamophobia more often, and more efficiently, adding:
They are part of our people, we need to protect them as such.
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