• A French illustrator is encouraging people to show their support for victims of Islamophobic harassment (Tumblr)
This illustration demonstrates how empathy can diffuse hate.
By
Bianca Soldani

1 Sep 2016 - 3:20 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2017 - 10:40 AM

A French woman is trying to encourage social cohesion in a novel way.

Maeril is an illustrator and video producer of Middle Eastern descent and this week published a simple, step-by-step guide designed to support people experiencing Islamophobic harassment.

In it she recreates a scene on public transport where a woman wearing a burqa is being verbally abused. She takes the perspective of an innocent bystander and encourages them to ignore the attacker and engage the victim in easy conversation.

“Keep eye contact with [the victim] and don’t acknowledge the attacker’s presence: the absence of response from you two will push them to leave the area shortly”, she writes.

Maeril's concept is based on a psychology principal of non-complementary behaviour which uses empathy to diffuse hate, and she tells SBS she was inspired by her own multicultural background to take action.

"I have been exposed to Islam all my life: because it influences the culture of the countries my parents come from, as my mother is French-Iranian and my father is Armenian from the Turkish/Kurdish diaspora, but also because of the place where I grew up, Paris’ 13th district, which is very diverse," she explains.

"After the Paris and Nice attacks, Islamophobia was crystallised and has been increasing everyday: the burkini bans made it worse, and I wanted to help fight against that hate however I could."

Maeril believes that in Paris, where she lives, many people are supportive of the Muslim community "but they stay silent".

"That is a problem, because all the Muslim women hear then is the hate directed toward them," she says, "Then again, in rural areas where people rarely see a non-white person, the inhabitants are more likely to develop a bias against Muslims because their main source of information (TV, newspapers) tend to mainly relay negative information about them."

The illustrator's Tumblr has attracted close to 70,000 comments in two days and the response for the most part has been positive.

"I have - of course - received hate, Islamophobic messages, but most people were thankful to read a guide that gave them clear steps to intervene," she says.

"t’s always easier to gather the courage to step in when you know exactly what to do! It made me really glad to see all that support, I hope that Muslim people who saw it too felt empowered and supported!"

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