SXSW Interactive 2016 | Muslims on the Internets!

SXSW 2016 is officially over for me. I usually only do the Interactive portion and leave the Music part to the cool kids. Nevertheless, there was plenty of action at SXSWi and I’m pleased to report that there was a strong Muslim Contingency this year, involved with all manner of cool and innovative initiatives.


The Tempest Launch

Formerly known as Coming of Faith, The Tempest has officially launched as the premiere site for Millennial Women of Color to raise their voices and tell their stories. The site welcomes contributors from diverse backgrounds to write/record on a wide range of topics.

I had the pleasure of speaking on the panel at the sold out launch party during SXSW, where I discussed the impact women have on marketing, and how Millennial women can best market and promote themselves and their work online. Check out The Tempest on Twitter, too.



Zahra Noorbakhsh and Taz Ahmed took the podcast world by storm last year when they launched their show #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, a thoughtful, topical, irreverent (and often hilarious) look at modern life from the perspective of two American Muslim women.

I’ve been a fan of this show from the beginning and have harbored a secret fantasy about being a guest, which is why I was thrilled they asked me to host the Q&A session during their SXSW live appearance.

Be sure to catch their recording of the live show in a few weeks to hear about Politics, Zahra’s Spanx, a gift of cocaine, and the epic Persian v. Desi Aunty Staredown.


Panel: American Muslim Media: Taking Back Our Narrative

I had the opportunity to speak on a panel with Fatemeh Fakhraie, Eman Hassaballa Aly, and Wajahat Ali about the current state of American Muslim Media. We covered everything from social justice work done by Muslims online to fighting Islamophobia and defining what it means to be an American Muslim. I compiled a list of some of the more outstanding online initiatives and media outlets by American Muslims for reference.

The panel was well-attended, the audience was engaged and we had a thoughtful, enthusiastic Q&A session at the end. Thanks to Kit O’Connell for compiling a Storify of the panel tweets!


Online Harassment Summit

SXSW Interactive hosted an Online Harassment Summit this year, to mixed reviews. There was some controversy leading up to the summit, and it was poorly attended which led to a lot of finger-pointing. Regardless, online harassment is a serious issue and one that disproportionately affects women and minorities in digital spaces, so it’s an area of interest for me.

The issue of online harassment exists in a tension between protecting individual users and protecting free speech. Activists, representatives from social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and civil rights groups were panelists.

There are a lot of ideas about what to do to address this issue, but one company called Affinis Labs (co-founded by a Muslim named Shahed Amanullah) has taken a unique approach and started holding hackathons to problem-solve around online hate and harassment. Affinis Labs’ No2H8 hackathon was featured in a Fast Company piece during SXSW, and Amanullah himself spoke on a panel about how to combat the group ISIS through online efforts.

The Ibtihaj Muhammad Debacle

The fly in the ointment at SXSW this year was an incident that occurred when U.S. Olympic Fencing Team member Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first American Olympiad to wear hijab) was asked to remove her hijab during registration for identification purposes. (Even after she explained that it’s not removable for religious reasons.) Then, the registration desk gave her the wrong ID badge.

Thankfully, it appeared to be an issue of poor volunteer training. No other incidents were reported by Muslim hijabis attending the conference, and SXSW immediately removed the volunteer, issuing a public apology to Ms. Muhammad.

SXSW Interactive Diversity

SXSW is pretty committed to diversity as an organization. Part of the panel selection process requires that the proposals and panelists be diverse, which is something I think our friends at #NoAllMalePanels can definitely appreciate.

SXSW is an international festival with thousands of people crammed into a few square miles for almost three weeks. Yet conflicts and miscommunication are kept to a minimum. It’s been a pleasure to participate at SXSW this year and I’m grateful to the organizers for their willingness to accommodate a wide range of people in the programming, including Muslims working in technology and communications.