Her witty humor, humility, and incisive voice has brought this woman to the forefront of Twitter. Not only is Hend Amry a powerful social media presence — she has earned herself at rank 55 on the list of “Most Powerful Arab Women” in 2016.
She was also nicknamed queen of Muslim Twitter, best satirical Arab writer on Twitter and Muslim-American activist.
In her Twitter bio, Amry says, “I am East and West, citizen and refugee. The melting pot is a failed paradigm — maybe more like a tossed salad. I am an international crouton.”
Some of her most memorable and vocal Tweets include:
Born and raised in California, Amry’s Libyan parents moved to the U.S. to study, but ended up living in America to avoid Gaddafi’s vicious regime. Amry is an artist who currently lives in Qatar with her husband and two daughters.
Muslim Girl had the pleasure of interviewing her about her personal life, presence on social media, representation of Muslim women among other things.
MuslimGirl: Quoting your Tweets, Tablet Magazine called you a Muslim-American activist. CNN identified you as a Libyan-American commentator. Foreign Policy referred to you as the best satirical Arab writer on Twitter, Libyan artist and writer. Which one of these do you identify with the most? What do you want the readers of Muslim Girl to know about Hend Amry?
Hend Amry: I think that all of these labels have a lot more to do with how my tweets are perceived rather than my intention. I think it’s all rather overwhelming and beyond these kind of outlets for putting me on these pedestals.
I think pedestals are, by definition, exaggerations of a person’s influence or character. Not that I’m complaining!
But at the end of the day, I’m just one of many people who have moved into the online space to follow the news and share their views on all of the crazy events unfolding at what feels like breakneck speed. If I were to describe myself, and I touch on it a bit on my twitter bio, I would say that I am a human being who fits so many different categories, that I cheekily use the term “international crouton.”
Tell us more about your family. Where do you live now?
I have two daughters (third and seventh grade). I was born and raised in the U.S.
My father was studying there and ended up staying because Gaddafi was a big problem. I got married and moved to Washington D.C. — and in 2008, we moved to Dubai for my husband’s work. He got a job there, and after four to five years, we moved to Qatar.
We’re expats working and living in Qatar, but the U.S. is home and we will come back at some point — but we really enjoy living in the Middle East. We didn’t get that chance growing up, and I know for my husband he wants to contribute to the region. I do, too, so it feels good being a part of the development of the region in some capacity, even if it’s not our country. There’s so much and it’s such a dynamic place. It’s exciting to be part of that.
In your piece “Libya: The long road home,” you talked about your father, upbringing, politics, identity and then your visit to Gharyan “in a newly freed Libya.” Have you visited again since? How do you feel about the politics in Libya and the Middle East in general right now?
After that initial visit, I have not returned due to the increasingly difficult security situation, which is very sad. I don’t think the loss is terrible from my own perspective; rather, it means life is difficult for my family, friends, and countrymen and countrywomen in Libya, and they deserve better.
I see in Libya a tumultuous process that is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Middle East, and maybe to a less obvious extent, the world.
What will happen in the next few years and what we will end up with, remains to be seen. But it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Your Tumblr blog is amazing. Tell me more about why you started “When ‘Arab’ stock photos go terribly wrong.”
Thank you! It was kind of the accidental Tumblr, because I had never made one, nor had even considered making one. But I was looking for stock photos for a friend one day, and what I came across was stereotypical, racist, terrorism-centric cartoony images — and it just shocked me.
I know that stock photos tend to be terrible in general because they have to have context to make any sense, but these were the kinds of images that I thought would only further negative tropes, no matter the context.
I tweeted a few, and decided that a full tumblr would be needed to do the vast quantity of awful photos any justice. Thus the tumblr was born, and I think everyone who sees it is as shocked as I was.
What type of art do you do? How does your art inspire your activism?
I really enjoy many mediums — drawing, sketching, acrylic painting — though I don’t make the time to pursue it as much now as when I was younger.
No, it’s not linked to activism (not that I call what I do activism, I think I’m just being a normal person responding to inaccuracies and stereotypes that I don’t think represent me or the region I’m from.)
Your piece “Picking the Wrong Fight” is spot on. Despite many Muslim women speaking up about hijab being a political statement, an identity marker and a symbol of feminist motif, many still insist on condemning it. As you say, “hate-filled hysteria” challenge Muslim women’s agency. What do you think are the reasons for this persistent “other-ing” of Muslim women? (Mind you, I find it problematic to even use the term “Muslim women” assuming we’re a monolith.)
There is something quite remarkable that happens when educated, feminist-minded westerners discuss Muslim women. They often think we are a different species with completely different brains. Somehow, the rules don’t apply to us. The right to control our bodies, our clothing, our choices, our partners, our sexuality — all of that is in question because we call ourselves Muslim no matter what we say or do.
We, as Muslim women (and I agree, we are not a monolith and our experiences and opinions are incredibly diverse) find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to argue the very idea that we have agency. That’s bottom of the barrel, and I reject that positioning unapologetically.
It gets exhausting, but at the same time, we’re at a special place where there is a crack letting the light in. There’s flexibility and an opportunity to create change. We’re in the spotlight and the attention is on us, so that is a platform. Our voices can be heard.
I see it as a positive moment and exciting times for Muslim women because we finally have the platforms to speak for ourselves, not only for foreign audience, but for Muslims in our communities, our national communities, and wherever they may be.
How has your overall experience and interaction been as a Muslim woman with people online?
More positive than negative. The personality that I am online, I am not trying to be somebody else, that’s just who I am. When you’re online, a part of you comes through. Not all you; but it’s me — and I’m not pretending to be anyone else.
It has been very positive and everyone says to me that I influence people — but the truth is that I have been so influenced by this community.
It’s unbelievable just to have that positive feedback. Difficult times bring out the best in people and there have been far more who come out and say “I am your friend and your ally and I’ll stand with you” than those who have attacked me. That’s so inspiring.
I have been in tears in different conversations with people. If they only knew that although I am making jokes online, I am crying like a baby — because to me it’s a very sincere effort on so many people’s part. I don’t take it for granted.
For example, often times after some incident like someone’s hijab has been torn off in the news or some discriminatory event happened, some people will tell me, “If this happened to you I will stand by you and I won’t let that happened on behalf of my country” (or on behalf of some group). They say, “I apologize that you had to experience this.”
They apologize when they don’t have to, and it’s just those small gestures that remind me that there are more good people and allies than bad. We have friends and communities to depend on outside of our Muslim community.
These responses are from all over the world. People actually say, “If you’re ever in my town and you need help I will DM (directly message) you my number. They even offer money if something’s going on. People are sincere and it’s not just empty words. They are willing to go above and beyond and it’s unbelievable.
What do you think the future of the Middle East will be? Are you optimistic?
I think that we’re at a very dynamic place in history. There are technological innovations and changes in geopolitics. It’s like someone hit fast forward on the time button.
There are so many innovative changes; the question is whether can we steer this bucking bronco in direction that will take us somewhere decent and good.
How do you deal with online haters and bigotry? Any tips?
It’s not new to me. I was born and raised in the U.S. and during different times in my life I have dealt with bigotry and abuse, so I already built up some strategies. When I come across trolls or abuse, I have a series of choices before me: I can ignore them, which I often do; I can retort and engage with them as a way of pushing back; or, I can create a learning moment by using them as an example or a punch line for a joke.
At the end of the day, I know they’re not responding to me as a person. They don’t know Hend. They would never say these things if they were standing in front of me, and I try to keep that in mind. I don’t take it personally and I try to share with followers to know this is the kind of negativity that Muslims face to create an opportunity to talk about.
Have the same ethics, morals, boundaries, and interpersonal skills online as you would in real life. Bring them all with you online and interact with people as if you were standing in front of them.
You can follow Hend Amry at @LibyaLiberty.