How the internet responded after 2 Muslims were killed in NYC.

#IllWalkWithYou

Thara Uddin used to water his own garden — and then his neighbors', too. That's just the sort of thoughtful person he was.

On Aug. 13, 2016, moments after saying prayers and leaving his place of worship, Uddin was shot and killed alongside Imam Maulama Akonjee, the leader of the mosque he attended.

Their deaths have rattled the Muslim community in Queens, New York — and beyond.


Folks mourn the loss of two Muslim community members in Queens. Photo by Kena Betancura/AFP/Getty Images.

Although the investigation is ongoing and a motive has yet to be established, many believe it was a hate crime they believe Uddin and Akonjee were murdered because they were Muslim.

It's not an irrational thought, either, seeing as Islamophobia is anything but a dying form of bigotry in America. Last year, there were triple the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes compared to the year before, NBC News reported in December 2015.

In response to the murders, #IllWalkWithYou started cropping up across the internet.

The viral hashtag — created and shared by allies who are committed to standing in solidarity with their Muslim friends and neighbors — has been a shining ray of hope in the wake of a very dark situation.

The simple phrase packs a whole lot of love into four little words.

For interfaith couples, the hashtag might mean something a little bit more.

Some used the hashtag to point out that sometimes justice fails, and that's not OK.

While others noted that the hashtag was really humanity at its finest.

Many people, however, used the hashtag in a literal sense — to let their loved ones and Muslim neighbors know that they're only a phone call (or tweet) away.

From Washington, D.C. ...

...to Minnesota...

...and all the way to Tennessee.

The hashtag popped up from coast to coast, letting Muslims know there are plenty of people who'd walk with them around town, to provide safety in numbers wherever they need to go.

Even a few friends across the pond — who've witnessed their own recent wave of Islamophobic violence — got wind of the message and threw their support behind it.

In the wake of senseless violence, the hashtag made hearts a little bit fuller and the world seem a little less threatening to Muslims everywhere.

The hashtag also spurred conversations about what needs to happen in order for a viral hashtag to make lasting change.

Like calling out the fact that, in order to curb anti-Muslim violence, we need elected officials who will actually do something about it — not help perpetuate the bigotry.

After all, you don't have to be Muslim to understand what it's like to live at a greater risk of discrimination and violence in the U.S.

Women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people of color — the list goes on and on when it comes to the groups and communities who know what it's like to be targeted and what it's like when someone has your back.

When we all commit to having each other's backs, it makes the whole world a safer — and more beautiful — place to call home.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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