© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

2014 Hashtags: #MuslimApologies Grew Out Of Both Anger And Whimsy


And this week, I've been talking to people about online activism, using social media sites like Twitter to advance a cause, start a debate or keep one going.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will not succumb to threats...

CORNISH: The debate we're listening in on today comes down to this - should ordinary Muslims make it a point to publicly condemn the actions of violent Islamic groups? In a speech in September, President Obama made his case.


OBAMA: It is time for the world, especially Muslim communities, to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al-Qaida and ISIL.

CORNISH: Of course, some Muslim organizations are doing that. A recent example with the rise of the extremist group ISIS, one British organization started the campaign Not In My Name, with a Twitter hashtag and video.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We must all unite together and try to stop this group from damaging Islam and damaging Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Not in my name.

CORNISH: But there are some Muslims who think these expectations are unfair. And some of them got behind a more cynical hashtag.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2 AND WOMAN #2: (In unison) #MuslimApologies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: @mahmooha2013 - I'm sorry you tapped my phone and all you learned was that I was planning a potluck.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: @SmellTheWilayah - Sorry that covering my body out of modesty doesn't fit into your social stereotype of women.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: @FarhadAhajiAli (ph) - Sorry that our religion is just too cold to handle. #MuslimApologies.

CORNISH: The person who helped launch this hashtag is Maha Hilal.

MAHA HILAL: This hashtag illuminates a very divisive conversation in the Muslim community.

CORNISH: Hilal is a recent PhD graduate from American University and says the hashtag grew partly out of anger, partly out of whimsy.

HILAL: I created this fake shirt saying I'm Muslim and I'm sorry for everything. That was on one side of the shirt. And on the back it said in the past, present and future. So to me, it was a joke. It was saying, like, no matter what, this is just a blanket apology. And from this point on, like, I don't want to have to apologize for anything else. This should just cover everything, right?

CORNISH: And, of course, she posted a picture of the fake T-shirt on Facebook.

HILAL: And then someone who had commented said we should take this conversation to Twitter. And within hours, there were, you know, hundreds of tweets.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2 AND WOMAN #2: (In unison) #MuslimApologies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: @Nahda Productions - I'm sorry that while Europe was in the Dark Ages, Islamic civilization thrived in technology and science.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: @__rose3 - I'm sorry that Mufasa had to die in "The Lion King."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: @Elkilanimaluna (ph) - As a Muslim, I apologize for World War I and World War II, even if it has nothing to do with the Muslims, but just in case.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: @CoolStoryLife - I'm sorry for existing.

CORNISH: Some of them were quite pointed. There was one that said I'm sorry that Muslims keep getting in the way of your oil. Another one that said I'm sorry we didn't quietly accept the puppet dictators that the West loves imposing on us. What surprised you about the directions that these went in?

HILAL: You know, they were kind of being sarcastic in terms of sorry we're getting in the way of whatever goals it is that you want to accomplish in the Muslim world. So for sure, there was a little bit of pushback in terms of what is the relationship between what's happening in many of these countries and the ways in which the U.S. is intervening?

CORNISH: You know, for people hearing these and at the same time may be hearing news of extremist acts throughout the world, what is the problem with saying some horrendous act happening in the name of my religion is not something that I condone and I want to speak out about it?

HILAL: Sure. I, for one, you know, when I see an act of terrorism on the news, I don't identify with the person. I feel nothing towards that individual using Islam as a rationale or justification. And I think that that's the way that other people from other minority groups or from other groups in general - you know, when crimes are committed by members of their group, how do they react? What, do white Christian Americans feel any sense of responsibility or any need to speak out against a crime if an act of violence was perpetrated in the name of Christianity? No. I think that that's extremely problematic. And I also think - and I think a lot of Muslim organizations are guilty of this as well - there's not enough analysis of what's being done in terms of why exactly are these individuals committing acts of violence? Obviously, there's a global war on terror; obviously, there's occupation. But then - it's always than just reduced to - especially in the case of Muslims - religion and that's it.

CORNISH: There's also the argument that when people speak out, it's not necessarily intended to be an apology for all of Islam, that they're instead really expressing their own outrage.

HILAL: I mean, I think honestly, I've heard this counterargument numerous times. And I just think there's a very fine line in terms of condemning and apologizing. And again, I think it comes back to what is expected of Muslims and Muslim Americans, and is this expected of other groups? And I think the answer is no, it's not expected of other groups.

CORNISH: One thing you wrote in your essay in sort of explaining this is that you wanted to respond to this idea of kind of being held responsible for what extremists do using cynicism and sarcasm as a way of fighting back. One criticism is that it's just that - cynicism and sarcasm. What is the value of that?

HILAL: In a way it's just catharsis, right? It's just a way of releasing all these pressures and stress. A way to say, like, it sucks but this is how we're going to deal with it. And also, I think through these kind of actions, you find like-minded individuals who are not just tweeting, but who are actually doing actions on the ground, who are doing research, who are trying to transform their communities. You know, for me, I assumed, you know, a handful of people would also agree with my perspective. But then the evolution of this hashtag demonstrated to me, for example, that it's more than just 10 people; it's thousands of Muslims who are sick and tired of being held collectively responsible. And we can potentially, you know, connect with one another and figure out ways to constructively address this issue beyond Twitter as a platform.

CORNISH: Maha Hilal, a recent PhD graduate from American University. She helped launch the Twitter hashtag #MuslimApologies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.