13 01 18
  • Name: Mairie-Shirine Yener
  • MissionRaise awareness around Islamophobic harassment occurring in public spaces and give easy tools for bystanders wishing to help.
  • Size: 1
  • Location: Paris, France
  • Key personnel: Cartoonist – Mairie-Shirine Yener


Mairie-Shirine Yener, under the pseudonym Maeril, created an online illustrated guide on how to respond to anti-Muslim hatred. The cartoon went viral and has been used by groups around the world in a bid to make people more confident to intervene if they witness Islamophobia.


“I was getting more and more worried feedback from friends who witnessed or underwent public harassment. I wanted to help the bystanders intervene with concrete, easy to comprehend tools,” says Maeril.

The Paris-based illustrator was worried about the growing insecurity affecting the Muslim community around her. After the 2016 Summer controversy around the the burkini ban on French beaches – which was widely ridiculed internationally –  Maeril decided to act.

Mairie-Shirine Yener/Twitter

“People felt scared and report of harassment and assaults were multiplying,” she says.

Maeril remains very aware of the “wave of Islamophobic hatred” in France partly through her circle of Muslim friends and her family’s links to the Muslim diaspora – her mother is French-Iranian and her father is Armenian.


“I put together a cartoon that advised white people on what to do if they witnessed Muslims being verbally attacked public. Among other things, the cartoon recommends ignoring the harasser, approaching the Muslim victim and engaging them in loud and energetic conversation, before escorting them to a neutral or safe space if they wanted to leave the situation,” says Maeril.

The step-by-step guide first appeared on Tumblr in September 2016 and has since accrued more than 200,000 shares. The four simple illustrations show to focus on the harassed person and create a calm environment.

The cartoon has garnered positive responses from across the world.

Today I got another message from somebody who used the technique, telling me it worked,” says Maeril. “I regularly get those kinds of messages, and it’s very heartwarming to know my work helped to make a difference! It’s been effective, I think, and I hope it keeps on doing good.”

One group who contacted Maeril was the San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system who, with her permission, crowdfunded a run of 40 posters displayed on BART trains.

Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for the transit system, told Guardian Cities the project inspired the network to do its own poster campaign for inclusivity, which launched last year on the theme of “the Bay Area rides together”.

The city of Boston also used the illustration at the centre of a public service campaign with 50 posters being run over six months around bus stops and other public spaces.


“The art! Oh my god, the art is so bad. I know many people don’t see that but I drew this after pulling an all-nighter, during my lunch break at my internship. So yeah I regret not putting more work into the visual aspects of it all, haha!” says Maeril.

Maeril didn’t realise her art would go viral nor did she expect all the reactions it garnered.

The illustrator says that despite the overwhelmingly positive messages she has also, for the first time in her life, been the target of a lot of hate for publishing the cartoon. Some of it was anti-Muslim hate while other messages called her naive and immature.

A few haters took it even further, defiling her work by drawing Islamophobic sketches or porn on it.

Maeril has a very matter of fact approach to it, saying wryly that you “get used to it” and “haters will hate”.

She also received a number of messages asking her to “stop making it about Muslims” as the technique could be used for every type of harassment.

Maeril agrees but says that she focused on protecting Muslims in this illustration “as they have been very specific targets lately, and as a French Middle Eastern woman, I wanted to try and do something to raise awareness on how to help when such things happen before our eyes – that way one cannot say they ‘didn’t know what to do’.”

Maeril says she also found it telling that the guide went viral when she was not a Muslim. “There is a tendency people have not to believe a minority group when they speak of oppression. We always rely on some sort of a “bridge” – a more familiar, non-Muslim person like me, in this situation – and I wish we didn’t have to,” she writes.

Moving forwards

“Terrorism has been hitting us all hard. We need to stand together and block the road to any form of hate that could spawn from fear,” Maeril says.

Maeril says she hasn’t kept track of just how many demands she’s had to reuse the cartoon. Many of the people who have contacted Maeril are just “anonymous samaritans who wanted to make a difference and asked for permission to print it for their local newspaper, NGO or church group”.

Maeril was surprised by how encouraging people have been about the guide and attributes her initial pessimism to the rather negative public discourse about Muslims going on in France.

Have you ever thought of what it would be like to live in a place where you’re afraid to ask for help from the police and where people deny you services because of what you choose to wear? Because there are people who endure that every day,” says Maeril. “I wanted to make sure everyone had the easiest tools to step in when someone tries to disrupt our unity. I hope everyone got the memo.”

She’s also worked on other illustrations, addressing similar topics.


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