As the world grappled with the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, one man’s idea of finding answers was to challenge a Muslim woman.
“I confronted a muslim woman in Croydon yesterday,” Matthew Doyle wrote in a tweet, which he later deleted. "I asked her to explain Brussels. She said 'nothing to do with me.' A mealy mouthed reply."
Doyle is now in trouble for a series of tweets that he posted about the incident. The 46-year-old British man was arrested at his home Wednesday for inciting racial hatred on social media, the Telegraph reported.
But such a reaction has become so common after terror attacks that Muslims say they have come to expect it.
"It's starting again, prepare yourselves, Arab Muslims," one European Muslim tweeted following the attack, while a Syrian boy apologized for the attacks, the International Business Times reported.
Such behavior has some observers concerned. They question what seems to be a widespread expectation sometimes expressed to Muslims: that they should explain or apologize for attacks carried out in “the name of Islam.”
Expecting Muslims to explain why a certain individual committed terror attacks is problematic, and promotes a “fundamental fallacy that sort of assumes that there is something called a Muslim community that is monolithic” said Nader Hashemi, an associate professor and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver.
“When a shooter who is white conducts a mass shooting we don’t blame all white people,” he tells the Christian Science Monitor.
Though Islamophobia has become so widespread with popular hashtags such as #stopIslam, anti-Islamophic rhetoric is also taking root. Several Twitter users came out strongly against Doyle’s tweets. Some chastised Doyle’s actions, while others made fun of him.
What happened to the Muslim woman confronted by Doyle underscores the significance of maintaining a strong anti-Islamophobic rhetoric, says Hashemi.
“Such messages shouldn’t go unchallenged,” he says adding that this might be the best way social media could be of use in fighting Islamophobia. “If people don’t stand up and repudiate the bigotry that we see online, some people may start to believe the negative narratives.”
Looking at history, constant pushback and challenges to the social perception of African Americans and Jewish people is what constituted the level of progress we have now, he says.
A Pew research study conducted in December found that Americans are divided on their perceptions of Islam, with 46 percent saying that Islam – more than others – is likely to incite violence. That view is split along party lines, with 68 percent Republican and 30 percent Democrat.
But we aren’t seeing enough of a counter narrative to Islamophobia, says Hashemi. And the current political climate isn’t exactly helping, he said alluding to Donald Trump's comments following the Brussels attacks.
“Frankly, we’re having problems with the Muslims,” Trump said, as the Hill reported. “These attacks are not done by Swedish people. That I can tell you. We have to be smart. We have to look at the mosques and study what’s going on. There is a sick problem going on.”
The public sphere and media is not criticizing him sufficiently, Hashemi says, “If Trump were to talk about African Americans the way he is talking about Muslims, he will be finished.”