When the news broke regarding the Paris attacks, my immediate reaction was to check if anyone I knew had been caught up in the tragedy. Then I felt pain for my city as a French person — my family is from the suburbs of Paris. Then, my heart sank further when I realized that the attacks were linked to ISIS, as I knew what this would mean for me and my husband.
Having been in an interracial marriage with my husband Mohammed Farhan, who is Jordanian/British and Muslim, for 15 years, we know too well how this causes further misrepresentation of Muslims and Arabs. My husband and I both live in Portsmouth in the UK (as I, too, have dual French/British nationality). We have experienced a lot of hate and Islamophobia in the UK. And on social media, it can even result in racist, prejudice and threatening verbal attacks. So, justifiably, we had cause for concern.
Sitting at my desk, trying to decide what to write as my Facebook status, I was overwhelmed with trepidation. As I went to my Facebook account, the first thing I saw was the post informing me I could add a tricolor flag filter to my profile picture. Staring at it I started to feel very uncomfortable, I felt I had been offered a privilege over others to show solidarity for my nation and our dead.
My husband's family are from Jordan and The West Bank in the occupied territories where our family originate, so we see conflict and tragedy there continuously. I thought to myself: My husband and our family have not been given this opportunity on Facebook, nor have the people from Beirut, Lebanon, which was attacked the day before Paris and the list goes on of the conflicts and tragedies around the globe needing the same acknowledgment.
So I decided to speak up for everyone — instead of only Paris. I wanted to express the hypocrisy I felt and possibly make people think before following the suggested trend. I cannot speak for anyone but myself and wanted people to feel less isolated. I have a large number of international friends on Facebook who I have connected with through my art and my non-profit organisation Art Saves Lives International, so I did not want anyone to feel less important in their suffering, this is why I felt the need to write my status.
Here's what I wrote:
Once I wrote the status, it took on a mind of its own and went viral. I had hundreds of messages from all over the world thanking me for speaking up for them and telling me that they felt I communicated how they felt, too. Feeling empowered by the movement we had created I continued to elaborate on my status and reach more people with the message "we are one."
Here's what I wrote:
"Please remember I am only human, I in no way think I am perfect! ... I am feeling so overwhelmed by the love, but the few negatives hurt me deeply as they are hateful and prejudice and some are threatening. All I ask is for people to be respectful, kind and if you wish to know more about me, ask? I only wish to create positive change in the world ... love to you all, we are one!"
I hope that Facebook and popular media will listen to the people sharing this message and understand that they are being left out and made to feel less human, less important.
Is this the message we want to share with one another?
Do we wish to make people feel their lives matter less?
I do not criticize the individual Facebook user for using the flag filter, I do however criticize Facebook itself for being so un-inclusive of its users and for showing a favoritism over western countries.