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The unexpected silver lining of the dangerous #StopIslam trend


Yesterday’s terrorist attack in Brussels killed at least 34 people and maimed hundreds more, reigniting fears around Islam and the religion’s billion plus global followers. In a moment of tragic nostalgia that brought the aftermath of the Paris attacks to mind, piles of unfocused, poorly-reasoned hatred flooded the twittersphere castigating all Muslims for the deplorable actions of a radical few. The hatred initially gathered around a hashtag #StopIslam.

Certainly anger is a valid response to terrorism; anyone seeking to end random human lives to propagate their own brand of fear and ideological control cannot be excused. However, a significant  bulk of yesterday’s frustrations were not focused at the individuals who deal in the business of murder and death. Instead of #StopISIS or even #StopTerrorism, too many people flocked behind the banner or #StopIslam, as if to suggest that all Muslims in virtue of their faith, shared responsibility in yesterday’s terror.

A point raised quickly by a counter movement.

The outlook that initially sparked #StopIslam is basic. Surely in moments of tragedy that affect all echelons of the world’s community, everyone must remember to not lose sight of our best selves. People everywhere must do better than to lash out randomly and aggressively at those we do not understand. That’s what terrorists do. 

People should also be aware before lending their voices to ill-informed bandwagons such as #StopIslam, that ISIS’ terrorist activity has taken more Muslim lives than those of any other faith or following. Since declaring its Caliphate, ISIS has targeted and killed more than 10,000 Muslims across the globe.

Muslims then are are being forced to contend with politically motivated violence from those within the community and hatred from those without. Western media is culpable too, by paying lesser attention to terrorist attacks outside of Europe and the US, they have fuelled an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ complex, that unfairly posits Muslims as objects of suspicion rather than innocent victims just like those in Brussels.

It is this type of miseducation that leads to discriminatory hashtags such as #StopIslam.

Interestingly though, in a relatively short time #StopIslam was hijacked by people inside and out of the Muslim community. Taken over by people unwilling to allow their friends, family members and fellow humans to be disparaged by ill-fitting stereotypes. It’s disappointing when social media serves as a platform for the intolerant, but when it allows people to stand in solidarity with those under threat, we must remember to praise and embrace it. The incendiary hashtag has largely been turned on its head by empathetic commentators, providing an ironic silver lining.

Social media is at times a platform for hate. The turn of events with #StopIslam shows an ironic advantage to all of that hate being so visible. When hate is visible it can be addressed, responded to and eased. This is an improvement over hate that remains in the shadows and is allowed to fester. Social media can be a platform to confront (preferably calmly and rationally) hate and use the sunlight of public attention to disinfect hate and intolerance it from our communities. 

It's not acceptable for people to be attacked on the basis of religion, that is a that truth holds fast for the innocent victims of terrorist attacks and the global Muslim majority who place an incredible value on peace and prosperity.