Muslim symbols

The lunatic fringe of the extreme American right is at it again, and by lunatic fringe I mean those people who believe that Sarah Palin has what it takes to be president of the United States, that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are merely concerned citizens who don't have a particular agenda, and that Fox News is a good and unbiased source of information of what is going on in America and the world.

Why are these people so afraid of everything that doesn't look like it stepped off the Mayflower? They are afraid of civil rights, afraid of homosexuals, afraid of Muslims, afraid of anything that is different in any way... And the propaganda is getting worse. No one bothers to cite sources, of course. The content is all disinformation, innuendo, outright lies, and ignorance.

This time, Muslims are back as a favorite target. Indeed, with increasing frequency, anti-Muslim emails end up in my inbox. Depressingly enough, people I know or even consider friends often forward these to me. Perhaps they do it deliberately, out of conviction, or maybe just out of some kind of neo-Pavlovian it-says-to-send-this-to-everyone-I-know-so-here-I-go reflex (though I honestly don't know which scenario is scarier).

The whole point of these emails is to make Muslims, and particularly Arabic Muslims, appear stupid, inferior, and dangerous. Let's look at a few examples that illustrate the point:

The Etihad Airbus A340-600

In November of 2007, an Airbus 340-600 being readied for delivery to Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways was undergoing engine tests on the ground at the Airbus facility in Toulouse when it crashed into a retaining wall. I remember the item being covered by both the French printed press and prime time television news. Several months later, I received the first of several emails that combined parts of what happened with anti-Arabic propaganda. The technicians from Abu Dhabi were all Arabs, they had not read the manual, they had ignored warning signs, they had taken inappropriate actions, they had no clue how powerful the engines were, and so on. The implication was clear: don't put expensive toys like an airliner into the hands of stupid and uneducated people.

Not surprisingly, this interpretation is at odds with what really happened. For instance, control input that led to the crash came from the cockpit's right hand seat, and that was occupied by... an Airbus engineer. Oops! The news blackout (because the news item was supposedly considered insulting to Muslim Arabs) never happened, either. The pattern is all too familiar: take a true story that involves some members of the targeted group, distort the facts so that the story says what you want it to, and send it off. People will believe anything that fuels their prejudices.

Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez

In the last few months, I have received several copies of an article called, "All European Life Died in Auschwitz", supposedly written by a Spanish writer, Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez. Now it doesn't look like this man actually exists, but let's leave that aside for now. The thrust of the article is that, "Europe died in Auschwitz. We killed six million Jews and replaced them with 20 million Muslims." The point is then made that these Muslims "brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty, due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride."

I cannot really comment on Spain, but looking at France, a large number of Muslims (many of whom, it may be useful to remember, are actually French citizens) were brought to this country from Northern Africa in the 1960s, when there was a significant shortage of manual labor in many French industries. By the way, these people are usually referred to as "Maghrébins" (Northern Africans) rather than "Musulmans" (Muslims); the fact that many of them happen to be Muslims has no bearing on their socio-economic status. Anyway, as the need for manual labor declined, the worker neighborhoods in the inner cities deteriorated more and more, and today there are some truly problematic areas where even the police are reluctant to go. To call these Muslim neighborhoods, though, would be totally misleading and wrong.

What is so insidious about this so-called article is that one cannot help but think that the author would heartily approve of Auschwitz had it served to exterminate a different people!

Nobel Prizes

Then there was the email that listed what the author claimed were the 129 Jewish recipients of Nobel prizes versus the 7 won by Muslims; the fact that there are, so it said, 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and only 14 million Jews was clearly meant to show that Jews were very smart, that Muslims were very stupid, or both. What utter hogwash! Obviously, no matter what the religious (or rather cultural) background is, someone's chances at ever even being considered for a Nobel prize depend on the education system in the area the person is raised as well as the investment in research that is available. Right away, it becomes obvious that the countries in which Islam has the most adherents are not exactly privileged in these areas. For similar reasons, the People's Republic of China, the world's most populous nation, has only been awarded 8 Nobel prizes. Does that make the Chinese stupid? Hardly!

The Multiple-Choice Test

Then there is the fear of Muslims, either of Muslim violence or simply demographics. The former, of course, is mostly fueled by what happened on September 11, 2001 in the United States and George W. Bush's ensuing War on Terror. One of the emails meant to scare people contains a list of violent acts, such as the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the bombing of US Marine barracks in Beirut, the blowing up of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, and so on. The email is formatted as a multiple choice test in which the first three answers are always supposed to be funny while the last choice is the same for every question: "Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40." The implication is clear: It's the Muslims that do all the bad things that happen to Americans. Of course, the list is put together to make that very point. Robert Kennedy's assassination is listed, for instance, while John F. Kennedy's is not, evidently because not even the gullible target audience of the email would swallow that Lee Harvey Oswald was a Muslim (Ironically, Sirhan Sirhan, Robert Kennedy's assassin, was a Christian Palestinian, not a Muslim. Mudslingers are a sloppy lot!). The point is that such a list can be put together based on any desired parameter. It proves strictly nothing. For example:

And so on, at will. Easy, isn't it? Notice that I haven't even mentioned those Irish-Americans who supported the terrorist organization IRA with donations, nor the fact that Muslims have a long way to go before they can compete with such eminent list leaders as atheist Stalin or Christian Hitler.


Then there is the demographics angle. A good example of this sort of fear mongering was sent to me in the form of a video that makes a number of (naturally unsubstantiated and false) claims. For example, it claims that in France, there are more mosques than churches. This is pure nonsense. In the South of France where I live, there are literally hundreds of churches, but I am not aware of even a single mosque. France is a secular country, and those who want a mosque will have to pay for it. The French Muslim community has never been, and clearly is not now, in any position to embark on a mosque building frenzy. The debunking website did a good job separating fact from fiction on this one (link at the end).

In conclusion...

I find this anti-Muslim propaganda scary, and its recent escalation is worrisome. It is reminiscent of the anti-Jewish propaganda in Germany that began with fear mongering as well and gradually increased to the point where certain people didn't even consider their Jewish neighbors part of the human race any longer. No group of people, whether defined by ethnic, cultural, religious, or, for that matter, any other criteria, has a monopoly on good or evil. At the end of the day, there are just human beings with different histories, backgrounds, and hopes for the best possible future.

At my workplace, we are more than forty nationalities, and so I meet people of a great many cultural backgrounds. Some of these are bound to be Muslims, but the truth is that I have no idea what religion people are. The topic simply doesn't come up. They are are just colleagues who happen to come from different cultural backgrounds, and while I appreciate certain individuals more than others, their origins have no bearing on the matter.

This, then, is a plea: Do not fuel this irrational fire by blindly forwarding hate mail and spreading lies and obvious propaganda. We know from history what can happen when we go down that road. Be critical and be smart! Don't spread things that not only don't solve problems but that are actually making them worse. Be wary of generalizations; any kind of systematic diatribe against a group of people is not only un-Christian, it is also profoundly un-American.

Cannes, France
February 26, 2010

Here are a few links:

From The Etihad Airbus A340-600
From Muslim Demographics (the page includes the video)
From this site: Copy of the Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez "article"
From this site: Copy of the Multiple choice test

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