This Is How #MuslimAmericanFaces Went Viral

Between Donald Trump calling on a ban of all Muslims entering the U.S. and the confusing facts behind the San Bernardino shootings, it’s a hard time to be a Muslim-American.

To help clear the hazy fog around Muslim-American life, on Wednesday morning, Benjamin Wittes (a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution), launched the Twitter hashtag #MuslimAmericanFaces, asking people to tweet photos of three Muslims they know, putting real faces to a community that’s under fire.
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Muslim-Americans from all walks of life participated by posting photos of themselves at their jobs, with their families, and even posting historical references of the long history of Muslims in the United States.

Wittes tells us all about about his intentions behind starting the viral hashtag campaign in a brief phone interview.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Why did you decide to start the #MuslimAmericanFaces hashtag?

The rhetoric against Muslim-Americans is becoming very ugly. I work on national security and legal issues and I generally believe that in counter-terrorism, sometimes you need to do things that aren’t pretty. But, I also believe that you never have to confuse that with bigotry or disgusting generalizations about people. So, I was thinking today about the Muslim-Americans whom I deal with in various capacities and think very highly of, and that I certainly would want their faces to be what people think of when they think about Muslims. I started by tweeting Mai El-Sadany's picture (whom I work with) and she started tweeting other photos and it caught on!

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How do you hope #MuslimAmericanFaces will affect people's perception of Muslims in America?

I’m not one of those people that thinks a hashtag can change the world. My goal for it was to simply to remind people that they are talking about real people here. When leading politicians say things that are as vile as things that have been said about Muslims recently, it’s really important to remember that you’re talking about a very diverse community. These people have real lives and real faces. So my goal was quite modest—to remind people of just that. The fact that so many people felt like it was something they wanted to participate in shows that this needed to be reiterated.


What kind of response has the hashtag generated?

It’s been mixed. Mostly overwhelmingly positive but I have noticed in the last couple hours or so, a lot of people that have hate in their hearts have been trolling the hashtag. I don’t think the hashtag is a particularly political statement. I’m not surprised but I am saddened. I posted a few tweets this morning but largely left it to run its own course, throughout the day. I didn’t want to be the center of it.

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I hope people will find the hashtag fun and a way to be positive at a time when the rhetoric against Muslim Americans is very, very negative. Tweet pictures of your friends and what they’re doing with their lives. Remind people that painting with a broad brush is always stupid! It’s not much more complicated or deeper than that.

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