Social media: it’s where many of us spend hours a day, build and maintain relationships with friends and family, and establish communities with those similar to us. But beyond our daily shares, retweets or double-taps, there is a darker side to our favorite online platforms.
The anonymity, safety, and far reach of social media has helped form online communities that would not have formed otherwise. In particular, xenophobic individuals and organizations committed to promoting their ideologies have found platforms like Facebook to be places where they can anonymously unite and work to create a sense of legitimacy for their ideas.
And so we’ve seen the rise of hatred and Islamophobia online.
Individuals like Kevin J Johnston, who called for his subscribers to “beat the living hell out of these guys [Muslims],” and groups like the Three Percenters, who have organized or taken part in Anti-Islam rallies across Canada, have thousands of followers, all built online.
With such a strong presence of hate on social media, it’s important for us, as Canadian Muslims, to ask ourselves: how do we respond to online instances of Islamophobia?
The answer, we would submit, is to take a balanced approach. That means following the wisdom taught to us by our religion, while also using resources that are available to us. It means preserving our manners and conduct, while also employing all available and lawful actions needed to help reduce the presence of hate and Islamophobia. The one thing we absolutely cannot do though, is nothing.
Many times, doing nothing can seem like the easiest thing to do. How many times have we asked ourselves: “What difference would my dislike on an Islamophobic video make?” We question ourselves when it comes to standing up for ourselves. Even when the haters are loud and clear, we find it difficult to voice ourselves. The Ottawa Police acknowledges the difficulty in coming forward, with their Diversity and Race Relations Unit explaining that fear of being re-victimized, experiencing retaliation, compromising privacy or even engaging with law enforcement will create reluctance for victims to report hate crimes. These are all realities facing not only the Muslim community but all those who find themselves targeted by hate.
But the response to online islamophobia is key to stopping its spread. Whether that means reporting a video on Facebook or even directly filing a complaint to the police, the response will be heard and can help to build a case against those spreading hate.
Prior to the arrest of Kevin J. Johnston, multiple complaints were made to police about the posts and videos he was making. Ultimately, it was these voices that led to the shutdown of his YouTube channel and his eventual arrest.
Not every incident of online Islamophobia will end so dramatically, but that shouldn’t take away from the importance of taking action. At the very least, incident reports to groups like the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) can assist in data compilation and that data helps advocate for changes in policy needed to prevent the spread of Islamophobia.
Those changes though, are only as accurate as the data that they’re based on. We also know, from Statistics Canada, that up to two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported meaning that even the data we do have is incomplete.
So it’s important to take action, yes, but while inactivity is definitely an issue in our communities, over-activity has also become prevalent. We’ve all seen those perhaps well-meaning keyboard warriors who defend our religion through swearing and fighting in the comments sections. While it can be tempting to respond to hate with hate, we should instead look to the example our Prophet (peace be upon him) when he was confronted with Islamophobia. Not once did he compromise his upright conduct in response to the hatred he faced. Instead, he responded with that which was better.
In one of the worst instances of Islamophobia ever recorded, Our Prophet was ridiculed, stoned, and attacked by the people of Ta’if simply for being Muslim and calling people to Islam. But when offered the option to destroy the people of the town, the Prophet instead chose mercy, hoping that one day these bigots or their progeny would truly understand Islam.
And this is precisely how we should try to respond; not with swearing or comment wars, but with peace and mercy. We’re told in the Quran: “The [true] servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk on the earth humbly, and if the ignorant engage with them, they say [words of] peace”
So in order to achieve immediate peace, we must restrain ourselves from responding in a disrespectful manner. But in order to achieve long-term peace for ourselves and for others, we must also convince ourselves to be proactive and take a stand. After all, our faith teaches us to harmoniously stand for justice in order to bring an end to hate for all.
“And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” Fussilat, Verse 34
Ziyad Zeidan works as Social Media & Communications Intern and Afreen Meharaj as the Research & Publications Intern with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).