Bombarded with hateful tweets from trolls, it was only natural that my response would be rooted in the fact that I am Muslim.
Susan Carland is fighting Twitter trolls by donating $1 to UNICEF for each hateful message she receives. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
As a Muslim woman, people from many different quarters are eager to tell me how to dress and how to act. They also seem determined to tell me what I believe.
I regularly get tweets and Facebook messages from the brave freedom-fighters behind determinedly anonymous accounts telling me that, as a Muslim woman, I love oppression, murder, war, and sexism.
They have no interest in what I actually think about these things, or any other; I realised this quickly after pointless attempts to engage achieved nothing. I am just a blank canvas onto which they can project their own prejudices and fantasies about Muslims.
Their online abuse ranges from requests to leave Australia, hope for my death, insults about my appearance (with a special focus on my hijab), accusations that I am a stealth jihadist, and that I am planning to take over the nation, one halal meat pie at a time.
As I browsed some of their Twitter timelines, I noticed just how many of the tweets they sent out were full of rage, scattered at any recipient they could find. It seemed that as people so full of darkness, they could only see darkness in others.
And while these trolls are desperate to tell me what I believe in order to wedge me into their own miserable world-view, I am not defined or confined by that. My response to them is not an act of angry defiance but a calm reaction that is deeply rooted in who I am and the faith that defines me – not a perverted caricature of Islam that people try to force on me, but one that instructs its followers to take the higher road and be a force for good in the world, not because people necessarily deserve it but because it is simply the right thing to do.
So, in response to all the hate I receive simply because I am Muslim, it was only natural that my response would be rooted in the fact that I am Muslim.
As I sat in front of my laptop one day, reading the merry stream of toxicity directed towards me, I wondered what the most edifyingly Islamic response I could give would be. The Koran states “Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with what is better.” I’d tried blocking, muting, engaging and ignoring, but none of them felt like I was embodying the Koranic injunction of driving off darkness with light. I felt I should be actively generating good in the world for every ugly verbal bullet sent my way.
And so the idea of donating $1 to UNICEF for every hate-filled tweet I received came to me. I particularly liked the idea of giving to UNICEF, as so often they were assisting children who were in horrific situations that were the direct outcome of hate – war, poverty due to greed, injustice, violence. These children seemed like the natural recipients for the antidote to hate. And donating to them every time I was abused felt like tangible good in response to virtual hate.
I’ve been doing this for some months (so the sudden news interest is somewhat baffling) simply as a way of authentically living my beliefs. Now when a ghastly tweet comes my way, I barely bat an eyelid. It represents nothing more than a chalk-mark on my mental tally for the next instalment to UNICEF.
And this has been an unexpected outcome; by refusing to let the hate of others mould me, I am more secure and relaxed in my own identity than ever. Their hatred of what they believe Muslims are has encouraged me to recommit to the beauty of my tradition.
I have a choice: to respond similarly, or respond with “that which is better”. Their hate doesn’t define me; my beliefs do. And so what my response should be is clear.
Dr Susan Carland lectures in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.