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US cities advertise 'how to' guide to fighting Islamophobic harassment

US cities have adopted a how-to guide on how to combat incidents of Islamophobia [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 July, 2017

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A cartoon by a French illustrator has been adopted by US cities showing how people can intervene if they witness Islamophobic abuse.
A viral online illustrated guide on how to respond to Islamophobic abuse has been adopted by US cities in a bid to make commuters more confident to intervene if they witness an assault.

French illustrator Marie-Shirine Yener's step-by-step guide first appeared on Tumblr in September, in response to what she described as "wave of Islamophobic hatred" in France. In it, the artist suggested supporting the victim by engaging them in conversation.

"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 concluded by urging her followers on Tumblr to share the how-to guide: "it could push a lot of people to overcome bystander syndrome".

The cartoon attracted more than 200,000 responses and came to the attention of four San Franciscans who, with Yener's permission, crowdfunded a run of 40 posters and displayed them in the advertising spaces on Bay Area Rapid Transit trains.

Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for the transport system, told Guardian Cities the project inspired the network to run its own campaign for inclusivity, which launched in March on the theme of "the Bay Area rides together".

She added that while they don't have any evidence that the posters helped to deescalate abusive situations, the city "strongly feels the posters help raise awareness and get people thinking about these important issues."

Now the city of Boston has followed suit, with the cartoon at the centre of a new public service campaign. 

In a statement, mayor Martin J Walsh said the posters were "one tool we have to send the message that all are welcome in Boston," adding: "Education is key to fighting intolerance, and these posters share a simple strategy for engaging with those around you."

Suzan El-Rayess, the civic engagement director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Centre, has said the campaign "couldn't come at a better time". Police data last year showed hate crimes against Muslims in the city, while small in number, had nearly quadrupled from five in 2015 to 19 in 2016.

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