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This young Muslim woman brilliantly countered an anti-Muslim protest — with selfies

Zakia Belkhiri
Jurgen Augusteyns

This weekend Antwerp, Belgium, hosted the third annual Muslim Expo, a festival celebrating Muslim culture.

Unfortunately, not everybody in Belgium is interested in celebrating Islam. Belgium has become a hot spot for jihadist radicalization, and the March ISIS terror attacks in Brussels are still a sore spot for many who don't understand that most Muslims oppose ISIS just as much as anyone.

About 40 members of Vlaams Belang, a far-right Belgian political party, showed up to protest the event. They held signs that said things like "No headscarves," "No mosques," and "Stop Islam."

But Zakia Belkhiri, a young Muslim woman, wasn't having any of it. She decided to take some cheerfully defiant selfies in front of the protesters — and was captured doing so by photographer Jurgen Augusteyns. His photos of Belkhiri's selfies went viral after being published by Vice.

But of course, with virality comes increased scrutiny. Within days, screenshots of an offensive tweet Belkhiri apparently sent in 2012 (reading "Hitler didn't kill all the jews, he left some. So we [would] know why he was killing them") began circulating, and getting coverage particularly from right-wing and anti-Muslim media sources.

Belkhiri, who had already been tweeting about wanting to be left alone by the media before her tweet resurfaced, briefly deactivated her Twitter accountThen she reactivated it to tweet an apology: "my opinion many years ago was meant on the zionist back then, that spread hate instead of love so to all the other jews peace be upon you!" Later, she tweeted an image in English and Dutch of a more detailed, multi-paragraph apology to the Jewish community, before deactivating her account again.

Her apology probably wouldn't be enough for everyone. Still, some used the incident as an opportunity to spout even more of the Islamophobic hatred that Belkhiri was protesting in the first place.

Selfies are increasingly being used as an activist tool

Selfies often get a bad rap as a classic symbol of millennial narcissism. But feminists, for one, have challenged that notion and championed the selfie as a fun tool of empowerment and self-expression, as well as activism.

Transgender men and women have also made a great use of selfies recently to protest discriminatory laws, like North Carolina's, that forbid them from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

Activists in Tunisia have used "trash selfies" to protest their filthy streets and pressure the government into doing something about it.

Shana Broders, a volunteer patient escort at an abortion clinic in North Carolina, shared the photo below with me in December. Broders is constantly dealing with anti-abortion protesters, not all of whom respect personal boundaries. Her selfie was not just an act of cheeky defiance, but also one of self-defense.

"This protester would not leave me alone — so I pulled out my camera and said, 'Selfie,' and he turned away," Broders said.

"Selfie!"
Courtesy of Shana Broders

Update: This article has been updated with the developments on Belkhiri's 2012 anti-Semitic tweet and the backlash to it. It has also been updated to clarify the details of Belkiri's apology, and to include a new link to a screenshot of her longer apology. I also removed the word "heartfelt," which some readers took offense to because they felt it minimized Belkhiri's anti-Semitism. That was certainly not my intent, and so I took the word out to clarify that.

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