The times we live in. In a two-hour session called “Intervention Bystander Training,” some played the role of harasser, others played the bystander trying to do the right thing — and be safe.

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It’s tough to understand why anyone would get all mouthed-up with Fatima Sheikh, 20, of Redmond, a junior majoring in education at the University of Washington, one of three kids in the family, dad a techie, mom staying at home.

Spend a few minutes with her.

She envisions graduate school in the years ahead, then a career in curriculum building or public policy.

On her Facebook page, among the groups she lists as belonging to is UW Teens For Boundless Memes.

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She has four “likes” listed on her Facebook page: the Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners.

The fourth “like” is Ibtihaj Muhammad, a member of the U.S. Fencing Team and the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for this country.

Sheikh wears a black niqab that completely covers her hair and face, except for a slit for her eyes. She wears a long dress that nearly touches the floor.

Her parents are originally from Pakistan. “I’ve rarely been to Pakistan,” she says. “I consider Seattle to be my home.”

Sheikh was in 10th grade when she decided to completely cover her face. “It’s my religious belief, modesty in expressing myself,” she says.

Sheikh shows her religion every time she goes out in public, and it was the reason she attended “Bystander Intervention Training.”

The Saturday event was sponsored by the CAIR branch in this state, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which bills itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil rights group.”

Sheikh tells of one incident in the fall when she wishes she hadn’t felt all alone. She was taking a bus from the Woodland Park area to the UW.

A man nearby began staring. “I’m used to that,” she says. A woman in full niqab is an unusual sight in Seattle. “I kind of ignore it.”

Then, “He started saying these awful things. ‘OK. You’re a terrorist.’ ”

‘I’m calling the police,” he said. As if the cops would sympathize with him.

Sheikh says others on the bus averted their gaze. An elderly couple moved to the rear to avoid the scene. Sheikh also decided it was best to move.

On her Facebook page, Sheikh recounts being on the bus in January 2017 at the Pacific Science Center with her mom and 10-year-old sister.

“ … having visitors comment on how I am dressed — and in such a hateful manner! — is quite shameful and disheartening,” she posted. “I can’t imagine the type of impact that had on my little sister — hearing grown adults around her criticize and say blatantly rude things about her mother and sister.”

We live in a time of heightened fear, both in verbal and bombast and very real violence.

It is and it isn’t surprising that President Donald Trump used the term, “shithole countries.”

And it seems it’s just another day’s headlines that in Oregon, a man was charged with the stabbing deaths of two passengers on a Portland light-rail train. They had confronted him about anti-Muslim comments directed at two teenage girls. The man inflicted 11 stab wounds in 11 seconds.


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Fauzia Lala has earned black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Arnis. But when it came to real-life threats to her safety, she didn’t feel prepared. Now, she’s helping other women build skills for self-protection. (Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)

Some 50 people attended the session at the Courtyard by Marriott near Lake Union. Four-fifths were women. Those running the session were women, and said they didn’t know why so few men came.

The training followed a 16-page guide that’s available online, and which has participants take part in a number of scenarios.

One was of a man harassing a hijab-wearing woman on a bus. Another was of a Latino man speaking Spanish with a store clerk. Another was of a trans woman harassed while heading to a restaurant lavatory.

The advice in all the scenarios is to ignore the harasser and ask the person being harassed if you can join them.

In the bus scenario, the advice is to recruit others by loudly saying something like, “My friend and I are going to move down here, is there anyone else who would like to join us in polite conversation?” This then creates a physical barrier between the harasser and his target.

Some of those attending had to play the role of the harasser. They weren’t very good at it.

“Why don’t you go back to your country!” “Speak English!” “I pay taxes!” “Show your identification!”

Those playing bystanders were believable because that is what they felt they’d do in real life.

“Are you OK?” “Can I help?” “I’ll accompany you to the bathroom.”

The guide also prominently states what it “will NOT do is teach you how to deal with situations of immediate danger.”

The advice for that, it says, is “leave the situation as fast as possible.”

Liam Neeson in “Taken,” or Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer” is a movie, not real life.

A spokesman for Seattle police says the content of the training guide is “very good” and “empowers Seattle residents to stand up for each other.” Sgt. Sean Whitcomb says that also means that “there is a nuance to every situation,” meaning, “don’t put yourself at risk.”

Those attending the two-hour session said they found it useful and at the end posed for a group photo.

There was plenty of advice to remember, like the video function on your smartphone.

“REMEMBER TO RECORD WITH THE PHONE SIDEWAYS … it is the same size and orientation as a television, in case your video is ever broadcast.”

The times we live in.


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