Public Transit Agencies Use Viral Cartoon To Fight Islamophobia

The viral illustration was first shared on Tumblr back in September and is now being used in anti-Islamophobia ad campaigns in San Francisco and Boston.

Muslim Student and Holocaust Survivor Holding Hands in Auschwitz-Birkenau

An illustration picked up on Tumblr that depicts how to respond to Islamophobia is now popping up in public spaces throughout the United States.

French illustrator Marie-Shirine Yener created a detailed guide for people to refer to upon witnessing harassment amid the “wave of Islamophobic hatred” in France, according to The Guardian.

Yener — who goes by the pseudonym Maeril — suggests using conversation to help the abuse victim.

“It can be anything: a movie you liked, the weather …” she wrote. “Keep eye contact with them, and don’t acknowledge the attacker’s presence: the absence of response from you two will push them to leave the area shortly.” She then urged her Tumblr followers to share the how-to guide: “it could push a lot of people to overcome bystander syndrome.”

She first shared the illustration back in September, and it went viral in no time. Eventually, four San Francisco residents came upon the guide, which happened to align with their initiative to make the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, or BART, more inclusive.

They reached out to Yener for permission to use her image and launched a crowdfunding campaign to make 40 posters out of it, which are now being displayed as advertisements on BART trains.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost reportedly admitted that there was a mixed response to the new ads.

“There was very nice social media reaction, but they also spurred racist and insensitive tweets and letters,” Trost said.

There is also no tangible evidence yet that the signs have assisted in helping during real-life abusive situations, but according to Trost, the city “strongly feels the posters help raise awareness and get people thinking about these important issues.”

The city of Boston has also joined the cause and began displaying the cartoon in the form of posters at bus stops and other public spaces. The campaign will run for the next six months.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh issued a statement, announcing that the posters are “one tool we have to send the message that all are welcome in Boston.”

“Education is key to fighting intolerance, and these posters share a simple strategy for engaging with those around you,” he added.

Yener said she is happy that her work is being used in these positive campaigns.

“As the creator of this guide, it is very exciting to know that the public is going to discover it in a more official, accessible way,” she reportedly said. “It makes me hopeful that this could be a real tool against the surge of Islamophobic hate crimes.”

Hopefully other cities will soon follow suit, and perhaps seeing these ads will prompt onlookers to do more than just pull out their phones and record when they witness people being harassed. 

Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Matthew Black

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