Saturday, January 05, 2008

"muslims," a word that makes women faint and brave men weep

Twice in the last month I've received endlessly forwarded emails warning the world of the dangers and threats of Muslims. First was an email from the boyfriend of an acquaintance of mine who decided to contact everyone in her email address book to let them know Barack Obama is a Muslim pretending to be a Christian for political purposes. Eek! Then yesterday I got an email from an acquaintance who occasionally sends me conspiracy theory crap or cute jokes. It told me that England had dropped the Jewish Holocaust from their history courses because of pressure from Muslims who deny it ever happened.

Obviously, neither of these things is true, as anyone who has the sense to check before sending out crazy emails would have known. Snopes, which looks into the truth or falsity of every rumor you can find on the internet, handled Barack's Muslim connections here and England's holocaust policy here.

The one of England is, I suspect, a typical example of a game I believe is called telephone where each person tells the next person what they were told, resulting in a story that completely changes by the time it gets to the last person. One school in England didn't teach at least one Holocaust class because of fears of anti-semitic comments from Muslim students, and emailers embellished the story. One interesting fact noted in Snopes is that while the email I got says "the UK" in its reference to England, there is an alternate email that says this is happening in the University of Kansas, which shows how emailers will edit and "clarify" stories before sending them on.

The Obama email looks to be more of a purposeful attempt to smear Obama, created probably by some hate group like the KKK. The email is full of bolded phrases like "parents divorced, atheist, he is a muslim, radical teachings, catholic school" (among the crazy fundamentalist right "catholic school" is almost as bad as "Muslim"). The Obama email is more disturbing because it is basically saying, be scared of Obama because he is a Muslim. That sort of direct, unabashed religious hatred is scary.

But what is scariest is that it is so easy for people to believe this. Neither of the people who sent me these things are drooling idiots. They are well-spoken, seemingly educated people. Yet they unskeptically accepted transparently nonsensical emails as a truth so important that it should be immediately emailed to all of their friends and acquaintances. And the most foolish of those acquaintances have probably all sent out the same emails to their friends and acquaintances. And all these stupid, stupid people are helping to perpetuate the concept that Muslims are essentially what Communists were though of as in the 1950s, a dangerous group of fanatics trying everything in their power to destroy our world through lies and manipulation for their own evil ends.

And all this, essentially because a small handful of Muslims belonging to an extremist organization in the Middle East killed a few hundred people by running a plane into a building, apparently thus giving permission for everyone to believe all Muslims throughout the world are dangerous, evil fanatics.

I have sometimes thought about what happens as oppressed groups get higher standing. Blacks, Hispanics, gays, while all still oppressed, have achieved greater acceptance throughout the years, and optimists would look at this and say, eventually we will end prejudice. But the hatred of Muslims proves otherwise; as some groups are accepted, new groups are nominated to take their place. Muslims, enjoy the bottom, because people are going to keep you there for quite a while.