We’re briefly taking our eagle eyes away from the UK to bring you a story from the United States; specifically, Boston, Massachusetts – setting for any film starring Mark Wahlberg – where the city is taking a unique approach to tackling Islamophobia.
Last month, the city began installing 50 posters on bus stops throughout Boston. The posters encourage citizens to intervene, in a non-confrontational way, if they encounter a Muslim being harassed.
The posters, which were designed by Paris-based artist Maeril, take the shape of a strip in a comic. They recommend that bystanders should attempt to dispel the abuse by talking about a neutral subject to the person being harassed, the idea being that this throws the abuser off.
According to the Associated Press, the technique is called ‘”non-complementary behavior,” and is intended to disempower an aggressive person by countering their expectations.’
Check out the poster below:
Credit: Maeril/City of Boston.
‘These posters are one tool we have to send the message that all are welcome in Boston,’ said the city’s Mayor, Marty Walsh. ‘Education is key to fighting intolerance, and these posters share a simple strategy for engaging with those around you.’
We love this idea. It’s down to all of us to tackle intolerance and to counter bigotry when it infects our communities. While you could argue that people shouldn’t need a how-to guide for calling out hate, there’s nothing wrong with visible advice on tackling it in a calm, safe manner.
We’ve just got one question: Is it working? The posters have now been up for a couple of weeks. Earlier this month, NPR hit the streets of Boston to see what locals thought about the new campaign.
One woman, 59-year-old Diane Shufro, said that she’s heartened by the efforts of the city to get people involved in stopping harassment. ‘I hope it gets people thinking,’ she said.
Other residents noted the advice given by the posters. The idea of ignoring the abuser, and instead talking to the victim, seemed like an effective route to take between confronting the attacker, which could be dangerous, and ignoring the incident completely, which can have a damaging long-term impact.
As Lecia Brooks, an outreach worker at advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center, explained: ‘We take a greater risk when we just let these situations pass, because people then begin to think that it’s OK to do so. We can’t allow harassing behavior to become normalised.’
This really is the crux. The people who hurl this abuse in the street are a minority, so it’s the responsibility of the majority to ensure their hatred is drowned out. As the posters show, this can be through an act as simple as ignoring them while making the victim feel welcome.
Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center Mosque, described the campaign perfectly when he said: ‘It sends a message to everyone that Muslims are part of Boston. That they are not the other, that they are just like us, just like any other human being.’
We hope the people of Boston will follow the campaign’s advice and refuse to allow harassment to become the norm. While most of the Ummahsonic fanbase may be UK based, we’d do well to take a cue from our pals over in Boston when it comes to tackling Islamophobia and other forms of hate and harassment.
One last thing though – as a city official said, if it looks too dangerous, call the police.
Featured image credit: Tovia Smith/NPR.