With the current tragedies caused by ISIS, the media spotlight on Muslims and Islam as a whole hasn’t been too bright… Or, perhaps, has it been too bright? Have media sources decided to shine a bright light of ignorance, inspired and supplied by the fuel of public fear, on a people entirely based on their religion?
There is much confusion in the general public about the beliefs and practices of Muslims. I, too, used to be very ignorant—not out of hate, but simply out of a lack of knowledge. This past summer I took a History of the Muslim World class to fulfill a history general education requirement… And it sparked a thirst for knowledge and social justice in me. Not only can I tell you the difference between Shi’a and Sunni beliefs, I can explain the social injustices many Muslims face even within their own borders and communities.
Education is the only way to combat ignorance. Anthony “Scott” McNorton, fifth-year senior physical education major at the University of Wisconsin- Superior, unknowingly began a trending movement called “Selfies with Muslims” when he began to post pictures of himself with Muslims and explained the lack of violence and the abundance of harmony between them in his captions. Included in his caption, and now his movement’s mission, is the following: “Combating ignorance and hatred that has developed towards the Muslim community by promoting acceptance and tolerance through pictures and experiences!”
I am fortunate enough to be friends with Scott and was able to catch up with him a little bit about his movement and quest for peace.
Q: What was your inspiration to start taking selfies with Muslims?
A: It all started when Donald Trump decided to call for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. After I watched that rally, I just felt that something had to be done. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do about all the hate filled rhetoric but I knew that I had to do something and honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do. It actually started by coincidence. I just so happened to be sitting in the Yellowjacket Union one day and saw another student walking through it, and the idea just popped into my head that instant. I ran over to her, told her my idea, and she was all for it. I was raised in the South and in my upbringing, my family taught me the importance of morals, values, and respect. To not be selfish, to always try to put others before yourself, and to treat others the same way that I would want to be treated. For people to hate an entire population just because the acts of a few is ridiculous. I want to educate people to the fact that Muslims are not terrorists and terrorists are not Muslims. I also want to show the Muslim community that there are people out there, like me, who cares for them, supports them, and will stand with them. Selfies with Muslims is just something simple that people can do to show their support for the Muslim community.
Q: What types of reactions have you received from taking these selfies?
A: Unbelievable! Ha ha! Almost all of the comments I've gotten, messages I've received, etc., have been overwhelmingly positive. I honestly did not expect the reaction that it has gotten. People from all over the U.S. and the world just saying "thank you", "you're amazing", or "you're a hero." I've had people tell me that I've restored their faith in humanity. I can't even begin how messages like that make me feel. It's very humbling! While I greatly appreciate all of those positive comments and messages, it's not me who has restored their faith in humanity, it's not me who is amazing, or is a hero, or deserves thanks; it's the people that are in the photos with me who have allowed me to tell the world who they are. For them to step out from silence, open themselves up to me, and put themselves out there the way that they have; they are the true hero's! I'm just a person with a phone taking selfies. Now, having said all those nice things, there have been some not so nice things said. I've been told that I'm "taking Russian Roulette to the next level", I've been asked if I have a "death wish", I've even had someone say that they hope someone "takes me out" for doing what I'm doing. To tell the truth, I expected things like that. It didn't surprise me and it honestly doesn't bother me. I know that I can't change everyone's negative view on the Muslim community, but if I make a connection with one person and have them rethink their attitude towards the people in the Muslim community, then I accomplished what I set out to do. The reaction that I've gotten from the people in the selfies with me has been amazing! Lots of hugs, high fives, handshakes, and smiles. I thought at first that I would get a lot of hesitation from the people in the Muslim community but that has not been the case at all. I have yet to be denied a selfie with someone!
Q: Explain a little bit about how this movement has grown. Has this received more attention than you initially thought?
A: Well, at first, I thought that I was just going to take a couple of selfies, post them to my personal Facebook page, make a point, and be done. That turned out to not be the case. Ha ha! It really kicked into gear when I began posting them to a support group Facebook page for a teacher near my hometown. The teacher was teaching a lesson on calligraphy and during it, she required the students to write the Islamic statement of faith in Arabic. That started a firestorm! Threats were made against the teacher, school, and officials. People were calling for the teacher to be fired. It was a mess! I started posting these selfies on that page to show my support for the teacher and to show what being tolerant of others can do. Someone on that page said that I should start a separate page that was just dedicated to the selfies, so I did. The page started really slow. I honestly didn't think it was going to last long. I was trying to do everything that I can to get the word out about it but nothing seemed to be happening. A couple of friends of mine shared the page with a couple of local news stations and they picked it up. It started to gain some momentum then. A couple of days later, "Muslims of America" decided to share one of my stories on their Facebook page, and that's when it really started to take off! I've done interviews with people about the initiative. I've had groups contact me from St. Louis and Orlando saying that they want me to come down their to talk to their communities. It's just been unbelievable! Completely not what I was expecting at all.
Q: What do you hope this movement will inspire on both a personal and communal level?
A: Good question! In all the interviews and questions that I've gotten, I don't think I've been asked this one yet. Ha ha! I just really hope that this initiative will inspire people to not be afraid to walk up to someone from the Muslim community and have a conversation with them. I honestly believe that if people would just take a moment and find out what people in the Muslim community are all about, they'll find out that they're just like everyone else. They'll see that people from the Muslim community have similar values, virtues, and life problems. I would love to, one day, be able to just sit back and watch this initiative grow to the point to where I don't have to take selfies anymore. Not that I don't want to or anything, I just want to be so busy trying to share other people's selfies that I won't have time to take my own. If 1% of the Facebook population took one selfie with someone from the Muslim community, that would be ten million selfies! That would be unbelievable! As it pertains to the community level, I look at it this way. We don't have a choice when it comes to all of us living on the same planet but we do have a choice in how we treat people and by choosing to be a racist, a bigot, a thug, a terrorists; it does nothing but undermine and tear down our world community. Whether people realize it or not, we are all in this journey that we call life together. Why not make it one that is full of love and laughter instead of one that is full of hate and fear?