The Internet Is a great place for harvesting knowledge. It is also the world’s primary repository of virtual rubbish and misinformation, and it seems to be a mechanism of unparalleled efficiency when it comes to spreading prejudice.
It really made me mad! And I don’t get mad very often – not at emails anyway.
As a representative of the church I get more than my fair share of cyber-trash attempting to deride non-Christian religions and cast suspicion on my Islamic neighbours, so I really didn’t think there was anything that the smug, white supremacist world could throw at me that would shock me. I was wrong.
It was an email with a photograph of a storefront of a shop somewhere in Texas. Clearly visible on the glass door of the storefront was a sign that explained that the store was closed for the day as the proprietor was commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ali. The email then stated that Imam Ali was one of the 9/11 hijackers who died in the Twin Towers attack!
The author of the email then went on to helpfully supply the name and exact location of the shop so that anybody in the region with a spare Molotov Cocktail would know exactly where to hurl it. After all, why shouldn’t this guy have his shop trashed and his business destroyed? Why shouldn’t he be lynched in fact? Does anything less than death befit such an arrogant anti-American traitor who boldly displays his reverence for America’s enemies on his shopfront window?
The only problem with this scenario of course is that Imam Ali was NOT one of the 9/11 hijackers. Imam Ali was the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed and was assassinated while praying in the year 661. Imam Ali had as much to do with the 9/11 tragedy as did Mohammed Ali, and what’s more, the author of the email must have known that!
It is not possible that the author of the email simply made a mistake, and that that perhaps one of the suicide jihadists coincidentally shared the same name as the historical Ali, for ‘Imam’ is not a name. It is a title, comparable to ‘Father’ or ‘Reverend’. Imam Ali was a holy man. Indeed, for Shi’a Muslims Ali is the first of the great Imams and hence holds a position in the Islamic faith similar to that of St Peter or St Paul for church-goers (whose martyrdoms many Christians remember each year).
Of course I appreciate that the majority of Western people will not know any of this, and I’m sure the author of the email was counting on that. I happen to know a fair bit about Imam Ali, mainly because last year some Islamic friends invited me to a play on his life (and death).
It was a long production, started an hour late and was performed entirely by well-meaning teenagers. I found it hard going. Even so, by the end of the production I knew who Imam Ali was, and had a pretty good appreciation of the central role he played in these people’s faith.
Back to the email…
What was running through the author’s head when he thought of staging this hoax. It couldn’t have just been a knee-jerk reaction. This guy had taken the time to get a good photo of the shop, with a clear image of the sign displayed on the window. He’d then embedded it in an html email and crafted his story. He must have known the potential for damage.
Was he perhaps the owner of a competing shop in the same mall? That’s possible, and it would have been an effective way of getting rid of a competitor. My guess though is that it was just some guy full of hate who believes that all Muslims are terrorists-in-the-making (if not actual full-blown terrorists) and hence any attack against any Muslim person is warranted, even if based on a lie, because if they aren’t our enemies yet they are no doubt on the way to becoming our enemies, so the more we get rid of in the short term the less we have to deal with in the long term. I think the logic goes something like that.
Of course a slightly more intelligent person would see that spreading lies about someone and trashing their shop is an excellent strategy for creating enemies out of potential friends, but guys like the author of this hoax probably don’t get that far in their thinking. They prefer simpler equations: eg. All Muslims are terrorists. All terrorists must die!
The Internet Is a great place for harvesting knowledge. It is also the world’s primary repository of virtual rubbish and misinformation, and it seems to be a mechanism of unparalleled efficiency when it comes to spreading prejudice. How are we supposed to deal with garbage like this? The answer is simple enough. We fight back in kind by publishing truth. We uncover lies and dispel myths, and we encourage our peers to check out their facts before they trash someone’s shop.
For those who thrive on simplistic equations such as ‘all Arabs are Muslims’, ‘All Muslims are terrorists’, etc., we give them the facts.
- All Arabic people are not Muslims. Many Arabs are Christians, and indeed some of the oldest churches in the world are made up of Arabic Christians.
- Conversely, all Muslims are not Arabs. 62% of the world’s Muslim population actually live in Asia.
- Islam did not introduce suicide bombing into the world. That was done primarily by the Japanese in World War II, and was reintroduced by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.
- Not all suicide bombers are Muslims. An analysis of Hezbollah suicide bombers after the first Lebanon war found that only a third were Muslims. Most were communists and there were some Christians.
- And most importantly not all Muslims are terrorists.
I’m sure I don’t need to give statistics to back up this last point. How many of the Muslim people you know are terrorists? Of course the great irony is that the persons I know who are the most fearful of their Muslim neighbours are persons who don’t personally know any Muslim people at all!
It should work the other way around, shouldn’t it? If we are going to fear anyone it should surely be those people who have I have an established record of doing us harm. When I think of the long list of people who, over the years, have hurt me, maligned me, threatened and betrayed me, there’s not a single Arabic or Muslim person amongst them. I suspect that for most Islamophobic people it’s exactly the same. You’d think that would count for something.
No. We fear what we don’t understand. We fear the unfamiliar. Prejudice is built upon this sort of ignorance and it becomes the fuel for violence and war. It is the truth that sets us free.