RPCV Friends of Muslims: Taking on Islamophobia through social media
The Third Goal of Peace Corps asks Volunteers to share the culture of their host countries with Americans upon their return to the U.S. When I left for Peace Corps Azerbaijan in June 2007, I never imagined that nine years later I would be an advocate for Muslims in America and around the world.
My third goal project is specific to Muslim communities in which Volunteers have served. I wanted to include voices of those who served in communities where Islam is practiced, those voices whose perspectives remind Americans that Muslims are, more often than not, just like us. Social media’s ability to rapidly disseminate information to a wide audience makes it ideal for providing a positive look at Islam and Muslims. Personally, I have experienced threats, anger and these very anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, anti-Islam voices through various media streams, particularly social media, simply for being married to a Muslim.
I decided to make a Facebook page called RPCV Friends of Muslims, which went live in December 2015. In its first 90 days, the RPCV Friends of Muslims page has had 324 page “likes.” The individual posts themselves have reached more than 4,399 people in the last month alone. This doesn’t account for any conversations sparked outside of Facebook by the information shared on the page.
The goals of the Facebook page are to increase intercultural understanding about Muslims, the traditions of Islamic nations and the religion of Islam itself. The ultimate goal is to decrease instances of active Islamophobia, specifically online, by sharing the contributions and stories of the vast variety of cultural variation within Muslim communities and their members.
Since its creation, four RPCVs who served with Muslims in communities around the globe have come together to use the existing network of RPCVs online to tackle Islamophobia through sharing and spreading positive media including articles, videos, photos, podcasts, memes and other digital content. The page is open to anyone with a Facebook account and all posts are sharable.
It is more than just a Facebook page. Collectively, we are trying to represent the varied voice of RPCVs who have served alongside Muslims around the world, and use our voices to increase support and understanding of Muslims everywhere. This project would not be possible without my fellow administrators: Jane Bardon (RPCV Turkmenistan), Alan Toth (RPCV South Africa) and Nicole Anderson (RPCV Morocco).
The day I created the page, I felt like I had taken back a piece of the narrative. It is my hope that by providing a platform for alternative voices and narratives to be shared, we can remind Americans that Muslims are a part of our communities.
We want to help promote activities that support our goal of decreasing Islamophobia and create a greater understanding of Islam and Muslim cultures around the world. We welcome others to join us in this ongoing project. After all, the mission of the Peace Corps is to promote world peace and friendship.
Raechelle Baghirov was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Azerbaijan from 2007-10.