Here we go again. Another terror attack and who gets the brunt of the backlash? Hijab wearing Muslim women; easily identifiable and perceived as easy targets. Very recently, two incidents popped up on Twitter; one in Croydon and one in Washington, DC.
Matthew Doyle boasted on Twitter that he “confronted a Muslim woman in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said ‘nothing to do with me.’ A mealy mouthed reply.” Perhaps Mr. Doyle was expecting others to agree and retweet endlessly sharing in the outrage of this indifferent woman. But Mr. Doyle was in for a shock. People were indeed outraged but not by the Muslim woman but with Mr. Doyle himself. They criticized him for confronting a woman who in fact, had nothing to do with the attacks. They countered his tweet with their own parodies:
The replies brought more replies. Mr. Doyle’s tweet has been deleted and is now unavailable since going viral. His tweet and its overwhelming response sparked news stories in several publications. Apparently, he works in PR and one would think he’d know better. He went on to defend his actions, though the account has now been suspended.
All this is nothing new. There will always be people like this. But the response to his hatred was heartwarming. It showed a side of humanity the world rarely gets to see anymore: compassion. No one knows who this Muslim woman he confronted is or if she even exists outside Mr. Doyle’s imagination. But if she does, I hope she feels heartened and emboldened by the kindness of strangers.
The responses garnered action by Scotland Yard who arrested Mr. Doyle on “suspicion of inciting racial hatred on social media.” For some, his arrest raises the issue of freedom of speech. Should people be arrested for things they post on social media? Should people be held accountable for what they post? It was not unexpected when the charge of stirring up racial hatred was dropped, and according to reports, Doyle now plans to sue the police.
Thankfully, the confrontation between Doyle and this unnamed Muslim woman (if it happened) didn’t end in violence. Also telling is that Mr. Doyle didn’t get the response he was expecting. What if he had? What if all the responses were in agreement and started leading toward threats? It’s a lot of what-ifs. But the world is watching as US presidential candidates use hateful rhetoric to bolster their votes. And in turn we’ve seen rallies and protests erupt in violence from the very emotions this kind of rhetoric can stir up.
Meanwhile in DC, a Muslim woman was harassed by an officer at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library to remove her hijab. When she refused, he threatened her with arrest. According to witnesses he showed her his handcuffs in a threatening manner. The incident was reported when witness Jessica Raven, interim executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces spoke to staff at the library and took to Twitter asking DC Public Library (DCPL) for a response. Thankfully, the library responded with the removal of the officer.
Again, what makes this situation remarkable is that not only did Ms. Raven come forward but another unidentified man sitting near the Muslim woman spoke up for her as well. Interestingly enough, according to an interview Ms. Raven describes this man as wearing a cowboy hat. The officer claims he thought she was wearing a hoodie and asked her to remove it. Why would he feel the need to ask her to if the gentleman next to her was wearing a hat? Since when is there a dress code in a library? The incident is still under investigation.The Muslim woman eventually left and did not report the incident. I hope she does so justice can be served.
In many incidents of bigotry and Islamophobia, witnesses stay silent. As evidenced by the two Muslim women who were escorted off a flight for staring at a flight attendant with no one coming to their aid. In fact, even Ms. Raven admitted to not knowing what to say in the moment. Situations like this can be scary. It can be a tricky thing getting involved but as these two situations show, it can mean all the difference. Reporting incidents like these, even after the fact, might give Islamophobes pause the next time. With so many sites now chronicling Islamophobic attacks, any information and evidence is important.
As I write this, a woman reported on Twitter seeing two men on the London Underground push and verbally attack a Muslim woman wearing hijab. She, too, admitted to feeling quite shaken up and too afraid to say anything at the time. That’s justifiable. No one should be expected to put themselves in a dangerous situation. She bravely took a photo of the men and sent them to authorities. That is what being an ally is all about. It is about support. There is decency in this world. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.