Artist Marie-Shirine Yener made a comic for bystanders who witness anti-Muslim harassment


If you see something, say something. That's usually the message blasted over intercoms in airports and train stations, but it's often not practiced when harassment is taking place. 

This can be especially true when Muslims are harassed in public, and illustration artist Marie-Shirine Yener (under the pseudonym Maeril), made a comic strip with step-by-step instructions for bystanders to challenge it. 

The 22-year-old illustrator created the comic strip — that now has over 70,000 notes on Tumblr — after hearing numerous stories from friends about enduring racist and anti-Muslim harassment in France. The recent burkini ban controversy also motivated Yener to make the comic.

"The recent burkini bans crystallized Islamophobic hate even more and I felt like I really had to try and do something about it," Yener told Mic. "Some people don't intervene when they witness harassment, because they have no idea what to do. I wanted to change by offering clear and safe steps for the sake of the person harassed."

Marie-Shirine Yener/Tumblr

Yener said she experienced xenophobic harassment in the past mainly because she has a Middle-Eastern background. The artist is part Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian. She also became more sensitive to injustice as a woman who is autistic.

"I get harassed in public spaces because I'm a woman, but also because I am Arab-passing and not white," Yener said. "The personal connection I have to harassment helped me find a pacifist solution to make sure there is little chance as possible for an incident to escalate to violence."

After her comic strip went viral, Yener said that she received a lot of hate mail and harassment from Facebook, Twitter and the Q&A social-networking site Curious Cat. The messages ranged from accusing her of helping terrorists to scrutinizing her for making the comic strip about Muslims when other marginalized groups deal with harassment, too.

"It made me laugh because my intention was to precisely empower Muslims, and I won't change that: this comic is for them," she said. "I, of course, encourage people to use that technique for other situations of harassment, but I am absolutely not sorry for making this about Muslims: They're easy targets lately, and are particularly vulnerable to hate in the public space."

"I'm a very spiritual person myself and deeply respect religions, and I have been standing up — through comics but also with my voice — against the Islamophobia that started growing in my country after my home, Paris, was attacked," Yener said. 

The illustrator says she won't let the threats and hate mail intimidate her, and since the 2015 Paris attacks, she won't let anyone stop her from speaking up.