Opinion: How to respond if your friend makes an Islamophobic comment this weekend

OPINION: After the horrifying terror attacks last week, it's fair to say New Zealand has come together to recognise and support the Muslim community during a time of immense loss.

Many are choosing to wear headscarves as a show of solidarity on Friday, and our Prime Minister has been praised internationally for her handling of the event.

However there is always the friend that comes out of the woodwork during these tough times - with a pro-gun ownership meme, an Islamophobic comment or a racist Facebook post. On social media, you can simply block and unfriend these people.

But what to do when you're confronted with it in reality?

Let's imagine that a dinner conversation turns to US President Donald Trump's failed Muslim ban, or someone sitting around you voices some of the rhetoric we've seen bandied around by idiots in comments section lately - the "the tables have turned" and other moronic things like that.

US Quaker organisation the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has compiled a series of steps to help you feel prepared, should racist commentary arise.

Avoid getting stuck

Try to reply to them outside of the premise of their statement, framing, or language. If your only comeback to "all Muslims are terrorists" is "no they aren't", you won't get far, because you're trapped within their racist assertion with nowhere to go. Also, speaking from experience, this is where emotion can take over, and sometimes tears can arrive.

Ask questions

Instead of coming right back with a counter-argument, asking questions can give you a chance to think, and also give the person making the statement a chance to really consider what they're saying.

The AFSC says one of their workshop participants said this tactic slows things down so that two people with opposing views can have a real conversation. For instance, you can say, "Can you explain why you think that?"

Avoid personal attacks

Depending on your personality, this is either easy for you or hard. Either way, calling out the speaker might feel great in the moment, but it won't change the mind of the speaker, or of the other people in the room. One of the AFSC's co-trainers likes to remind people that they are planting seeds of thought for everyone within earshot.

Use key words

One clever way to move the conversation beyond an anti-Muslim statement is to focus on a key word in the statement and shift the meaning in your response. I like this tip because it's easy to remember in the moment.

So your holiday dinner guest says: "It's about time the Government does something to protect all Kiwis from terrorists." In response, you can say, "I totally agree, we should protect people from terror, like those who are fleeing violence and war." See, you've shifted the meaning of who needs protection and what the terror is.

Avoid mythbusting

Study after study has found that facts alone do nothing to persuade, and this will only get you in an unsatisfying and unproductive back-and-forth. Also, it can be difficult to remember accreditation and research behind facts in the heat of the moment.

Contrast with shared values

Tell a story about what the world would look like if values that you and the listener share were shaping the world. AFSC has done some research, and there are a few key messages that help move an audience to action against profiling and surveillance of the Muslim community.

They've found that the value-based frame that appeals to the broadest audience is: "Everyone deserves to live and pray in safety and peace."

If you see Islamophobia out and about

Marie-Shirine Yener, a 22-year-old French illustrator based in Paris, has drawn a handy illustrated guide that outlines a scientifically tested method to sideline the antagonist and support the target, all the while reducing the chance of violence.

Yener, who publishes her work online as 'Maeril', came up with the idea after hearing from Muslim friends about the rise in Islamophobia they have experienced.

Opinion: How to respond if your friend makes an Islamophobic comment this weekend
Photo credit: The Middle Eastern Feminist.

In her cartoon, 'What to do if you are witnessing Islamophobic harassment', Yener gives bystanders advice to help the person being targeted.

She recommends you "engage conversation" with the victim, and "ignore the attacker".
"Pick a random subject and start discussing it," she recommends, "[and] keep building the safe space.

"Continue the conversation until the attacker leaves, and escort them to a safe space if necessary" she ends the guide.