Translated from Nathalie De Bisschop in Belgium:
Student who was arrested for tweet: “People are so afraid of Islam that they don’t see humour”
October 1, 2015
“I still really do not good feel good about it,” says Mohamed Ouaamari to newsmonkey. The 24-year-old student Digital Design was arrested in Antwerp yesterday because he was suspected of terrorism after a tweet that was meant to be funny. “I regret that it has caused so much rumour and that people became scared, but my tweet really had nothing to do with terrorism”, says the young Muslim. “Sometimes we need a bit more perspective.”
A practical joke with hidden cameras, it seemed at first sight. “I did not quite understand what was happening. I really thought it was a joke,” Mohamed Ouaamari tells newsmonkey. “At the moment they handcuff you, you realize quickly that it is not a joke.”
It all began with a playful remark on Twitter. The young Muslim of Moroccan ancestry was at a student event about networking and started to tweet. He asked for some advice from his followers: “Has anyone any networking tips? To call loudly “Allahu akbar” probably is not a good way to break the ice” he joked.
“Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest) is a phrase often used by all kinds of Muslims. It has nothing to do with terrorism. Just like if people from Christian backgrounds uses phrases like “Good Lord” or “God bless you” that does not make them terrorists.
Also, Mohamed Ouaamari’s tweet did not advocate using “Allahu akbar”.
One of his followers challenged the young man, all smiling and joking, to try. “Tomorrow in the news: 25 dead and 93 injured after mass hysteria in the ING building,” Ouaamari tweeted back.
Some concerned citizens called the emergency services, which caused police intervention to evacuate the building. Ouaamari had to come to the police station where he was interrogated for hours and then he was allowed to leave without charges.
Context and regret
A joke can be misinterpreted, the student fully understands. Quite apart from the fact that the tweet was humorous, there is, according to the student also nothing wrong with that. “When I posted my tweet, I did not suspect for a second that it could be interpreted as a terrorist attack,” responds Ouaamari. “I actually had Mecca in mind, where this year many pilgrims died.”
“I regret that it has caused so much fuss,” Ouaamari adds. ” … I wish I could have avoided that.” The ambitious Antwerp young man has still not completely recovered from what happened to him. “It seems like a cool story, but that it is absolutely not.”
Meanwhile, the hashtag #JeSuisMohamed is eagerly used on social media to express support for the young Muslim. “I think that’s far too focused on sensation and my situation has absolutely nothing to do with that of Charlie Hebdo“, he emphasized.
Yet there is some irony in the hashtag. “Once people talked about complete freedom of opinion and it was said that any humour should be allowed. It appears now that there surely are limits,” Ouaamari explains. “Do not get me wrong, of course I understand that limits must exist, but sometimes we need a bit more perspective. People are so fearful when it comes to Islam that they lose sight of humour,” he says to newsmonkey.
The young man does not let his head hang down. “I will continue to seize opportunities. I will continue to fight for my dreams and my ideals. We are young, we are the future and we must join in improving this country. I’m always going to keep doing my best,” he concludes.
Also here is his blog post after the recent events.