It’s hard to turn on the news these days without catching a whiff of the rotten stench of Islamophobia, whether it’s Trump saying we should ban all Muslim immigrants, a disturbing rise in hate crimes and bullying (even directed at Sikhs mistaken for Muslims), or avoiding women in hijabs or Middle Eastern men with beards. One group in South Africa, however, hopes to counter this wave of fear by reminding us that Muslims are also our friends and neighbors, and just as beautiful, complex, and patriotic as ourselves.
Recently, digital marketing agency NATIVE VML partnered with People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), a not-for-profit organization devoted to fighting for the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, and immigrants in South Africa, to create a campaign to combat the scourge of discrimination. Using the hashtag #IAmMuslim, the initiative has commissioned a series of powerful portraits of women draping themselves in the flags of their home countries. The portraits will be used in outdoor, print, and social media campaigns throughout Africa. As Muslim Coalition founder Saba Ahmed recently demonstrated by appearing on FOX News wearing an American flag hijab, a project like this can be a revolutionary act.
“Juxtaposing these two symbols creates such a strong impact and challenges the assumptions people have about Muslim identity,” PASSOP’s Tendai Bhiza told Design Indaba.
“We are fully aware that certain quarters may find these images controversial, but the point of this movement is to challenge the prejudices people may have, and change the way we think about a culture that has been unjustly defined by the actions of a select few,” said Ryan McManus, Executive Creative Director at NATIVE VML, to Design Indaba.
Interestingly, in South Africa Muslims make up 1-2% percent of the population—many of whom have lived in the country for generations and are fully assimilated. It would seem like an unlikely nation for Islamophobia to flourish, but is perhaps the best situated to counter it. The campaign hopes that other countries dealing with extreme Islamophobia will also adopt the cause. As McManus told Design Indaba, “In this era of divisive rhetoric and rampant hate speech online, we need unifying images like these now more than ever.”
Laura Feinstein is the Head of Social Stories at Fusion. Formerly, she held staff roles as the East Coast Editor of GOOD Magazine and the EIC of The Creators Project at VICE, and has contributed to The Guardian, T/The New York Times, Paper Magazine and many others. She specializes in the niche, the esoteric and the un-boring.