The #IllRideWithYou campaign has caused a social media storm reminding the world that Islamophobia is not a thing to be tolerated
The #IllRideWithYou campaign is a remarkable phenomenon that marks a new stage in our responses to violence and terror. Like the #crimingwhilewhite campaign, it acknowledges and exposes the vulnerability of others, by those who could have just enjoyed their privilege instead of extending their support. The campaign illustrates a moment where the ordinary heroes around us stand up without waiting to be called.
The fact that this gesture has been received by many Muslims with such overwhelming emotion and gratitude tells us a lot about attitudes in our societies; being permitted to share in the pain of a tragedy like the Sydney siege, without being accused of being somehow complicit, feels like a gift.
However frustrating it is for this kind of patronage to even be considered necessary, these are sadly the lows we have reached. When Ben Affleck clumsily argued with Bill Maher that the vast majority of Muslims were peace-loving people, the same as the rest of humanity, it felt like a double, triple blow. It was unthinkable that it needed to be said, and ridiculous that it apparently required an impeccably liberal, all-American, non-Muslim Hollywood celebrity to have any hope of the message being listened to. Worst of all was that the sentiments were completely rejected by the rest of the all-white male panel. It was quite a horrific moment. It seemed like this panel had passed a judgement in mainstream US media: Muslims are inherently extremist (unless they explicitly reject Islam). Don’t trust them.
The word Islamophobia is awkward, but the vulnerability of Muslims to attack and scapegoating is very real – and the visibility of covered Muslim women makes them even more so.
Reading about the incident that sparked the original #IllRideWithYou tweet, I was reminded of a bus ride in Stockport back in 2006 where a young man tried to pull off my headscarf. I wondered about the other passengers and how they would have reacted if it had been something more serious.
Despite living in a multicultural environment where Muslims rightly feel part of the community, almost every person can recall stories of being spat on, called a terrorist or having their scarf pulled off – and that’s just the stories of overt aggression. Nonetheless, the experiences of love, friendship and normality that have always outweighed any abuse.
I recently watched the pacifist documentary We Are Many which examined the anti-war movement that emerged in the wake of 9/11, and the discourse which played out in the western world to figure out how to respond to these terrible attacks. It was emotional recalling how many people across the world united in that call for peace, how hopeful it was, and what price we paid when our governments decided to approach ideologies of violence with violence.
The world now feels more unstable than ever, wherein the jihadists are promoting an uglier, more brutal and nihilistic vision than ever before. The recent CIA torture report gives us a glimpse into how much the guardians of our society were willing to sacrifice our collective humanity.
In 2002 the Not In Our Name organisation stated a pledge against US military action declaring: Not in our name/ will you wage endless war; Another world is possible/ and we pledge to make it real. By 2014, this message had evolved into the #notinmyname campaign, a defensive declaration for Muslims to assert their rejection of ISIS. From feeling a need to apologise and distance themselves from the actions of our governments, western Muslims were now being expected to vocally distance themselves from a psychotic movement that had never represented them in any way. ISIS, unfortunately, does not make subtle distinctions – either you sign up to their terrifying worldview (by force if necessary) or you are the enemy and a legitimate target. On the other hand, the right-wing western media, among others, are all too ready to lump all Muslims with acts of violence and terrorism. The UK press has repeatedly called for poppy headscarves, the union jack and the likes to be draped around the heads of hijab-clad women so that the ignorant can easily distinguish between the goodies and the baddies.
Interestingly, the past week has seen the #notinmyname hashtag being used both by Muslims denouncing the Sydney siege, and by Americans expressing renewed outrage at the horrifying torture perpetrated in the name of national security.
The #IllRideWithYou campaign manages to discard ugly and false stereotypes and attempts to relieve the pressure on Muslims. No apologies or proofs needed, we know you, you are part of us. #IllRideWithYou isn’t about protection. In the end, it is about solidarity.
One last cheer for the Aussies who inspired us – and if there’s anyone out there who’s afraid Muslims are strange, alien and possibly violent creatures, come along, #IllRideWithYou and we can talk.
Image from: Twitter
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