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…are you kidding me?

By April 11, 2018June 30th, 2020Deception, fake news, islamophobia, London, The Weekly

“Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…” Jonathan Swift (circa 1710…)

“A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.”—Mark Twain. (ascribed)

“If knowledge is power, what happens to our power when our knowledge is corrupted?” —David C. Weston

You may have heard about “Punish a Muslim Day” on April 3rd. If you missed it, not to worry, most people did; which is a good thing.

I’d like to address the possibility of a “Punish a Muslim Day,” evaluating it as the non-event that it was. The entire affair is a perfect example of where we are as global societies and where we are possibly headed if something is not done to stay the proliferation of inaccurate and un-validated information. I won’t even stoop to call it news, because as far as I can tell it was little more than a misinformation campaign. The consequences and the fear which ensued were real, but the source of the announcement is highly suspect. Eric Adams, president of the Brooklyn Borough in New York City stated, “Someone sees this as being a hoax. We do not see it as being a hoax. That is a premeditated action and its goal is to create terror.” I agree, it is an attempt at breeding terror. What I am undecided on is who the perpetrator was, and what his/her aims were in carrying out the hateful deed.

We live in a world filled with mis-information. We have a critical need for an intelligent and reasonable consideration of the information we consume. Jumping to embrace everything we hear in the mainstream media or on social media is a dangerous cocktail to be drinking. It has serious implications for all of us. The 24 hour news cycle is a frenetic merry-go-round that draws its life from distressing news. The public feeds off of it and the news outlets are too sympathetic to their hunger.

Informing others of “Punish a Muslim Day” by sending out fliers was a terrible prank that someone played. No one is sure who carried out the farce. According to the information available so far on open source information networks, fortunately there are no reported incidents of hate crimes against Muslims reported on April 3rd, neither in the United Kingdom where the fliers were said to be distributed, nor in the US where one flier was reported as being delivered.

The review.

The National Police Chiefs’ Association issued a statement on 29 March that some people in Bradford, Leicester, London, Cardiff and Sheffield, United Kingdom, reported receiving mysterious fliers announcing that 3 April will be “Punish a Muslim Day. ” The fliers proclaimed that points will be awarded for certain acts of violence – from 25 points for removing a woman’s headscarf to 500 points for murdering a Muslim.

statement from the flier says, “Are you a sheep like the vast majority of the population?” The letter reads, “Sheep follow orders and are easily led. They are allowing the white-majority nations of Europe and North America to become overrun by those who would like nothing more than to do us harm and to turn our democracies into sharia-led police states.”

Counter Terrorism policing the North East said it had received reports of “potentially malicious communications sent to individuals across the UK”. Iman Atta, the director of “Tell Mama,” which monitors anti-Muslim activity, said the letters had “caused quite a lot of fear within the community.” Riaz Ahmed, a liberal democrat councillor in Bradford, told the Yorkshire Post he had received the letter at his business address. “It was not addressed to anyone, just the address and post code as if it was sent out randomly, he said. It has a second-class stamp on the plain white envelope and the frank mark is Sheffield. It was posted yesterday. It seems strange that anyone would send something like this to an address in a predominantly Muslim area. When I opened it and saw the content, I was horrified.”

An interesting development emerged from the consequences of the offensive flier. On a relatively modest scale there were protestors who formed a human chain around a mosque as an anti-racism event was held in a few places throughout the country against “Punish A Muslim Day.” Nearly 100 people held hands and signs as they lined the perimeter of Newcastle Central Mosque as a show of support for the Islamic community. As encouraging as that is, I am reminded that 100 people out of 65 million Brits is a pretty paltry number.

Counter-terrorism police began an investigation after some people across the country reported receiving a shocking letter advocating violence against Muslims on the designated date of April 3rd. How many received letters has yet to be determined. Elsewhere in the UK, other groups of anti-racism protestors hit back against the sick call for violence, by organizing “Love a Muslim Day” and a “Day of Solidarity.”

Why would I question the veracity of such a threat as “Punish a Muslim Day?” The flier which was sent out to people in the UK and in the US was despicable. I don’t doubt it’s existence. I have seen a photo of it. It is provocative and hateful. As I examined the curious variables around its distribution and the impact of its contents, it simply does not add up to me as a genuine wide-spread threat. Much of the evidence either for or against the authenticity of the threat is fraught with holes. What I am presenting here is simply an alternative way of looking at the issue, not a whole-sale denial, on my part, of its occurrence. Here are a few variables that cause me pause:

  1. There was no singular organization or person in Britain or the US calling for paladin attacks on innocent Muslims. No one in the whole world was publicly condoning such attacks.
  2. The fliers were sent to homes in Muslim areas of the UK and to one Muslim in the US. It makes no sense to me to send a letter such as this to Muslims. It seems that such a letter would be sent to non-Muslim neighborhoods. There is scant information about how many (or how few) were sent out, but the number could be as low as a few dozen. Fliers were sent to 12 Muslim members of parliament, accompanied with a non-toxic white powder for extra effect. The effects though, were staggering with a visceral response on social media. Millions were mobilized to its claims. This is a misinformation campaign at its finest (or worst); low cost, high impact, by whomever perpetrated it, for whatever reason.
  3. No incidents of Muslims were reported to have been attacked anywhere on April 3rd.
  4. The people who sent the fliers are either very stupid vigilantes, for apparently not knowing that their fliers would only gain sympathy for their intended victims. It is more likely that actual vigilante thugs would simply go out and brutalize innocent people, rather than telegraphing their intentions.
  5. The outcomes were not difficult to predict. It seems that any thinking person could have foreseen the consequences of such an announcement as the one made in the fliers which were sent out. Perhaps this individual is a psychopath. Clearly he/she is not stupid because up to this point, he/she has done a pretty good job evading detection by law enforcement.

The why.

I realize that I am inviting scrutiny on myself by even challenging the veracity of this information-based terror campaign. My point is that the ends do not justify the means. We are living in an age where daily we are bombarded with misinformation. In a recent article, psychological scientist David Rapp , (Northwestern University) explains that people encode the inaccurate statements into memory because it’s easier than critically evaluating and analyzing what they’ve heard. Most of it can be easily seen for what it is by doing even the simplest form of analysis. If we just stopped for a second and thought about it, we could see through most of the confusion. Unfortunately we are always in such a hurry, scurrying from one thing to another. Thinking has become a luxury in which few of us indulge. I am pleading with you as your brother: Re-order your life in such a way that you will take some time to think. You will only become victimized by the misinformation that floods our lives if you do not take the time to analyze it. “If knowledge is power, what happens to our power when our knowledge is corrupted?”

We should be devoted to the mastery of truth. We should be the harshest critic of misinformation, insisting on the truth and settling for nothing less. Why? Because he whom we follow declared himself as “…the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) The Truth is our north star, our shoreline. Without it, we are to be considered miserable and deceived creatures at best.

The action.

  1. Set aside regular time to think. I came across a great Harvard Business Review article that gave some great advice on how to set aside time to think. “When you’ve got a packed calendar and an overflowing inbox, it’s tough to find time to think. But improving the quality of your ideas requires unstructured, reflective thinking. This activity helps you examine your assumptions and draw connections between pieces of information. How can you make the time to do it? It depends on your individual schedule and rhythm. You might build reflection into a single day, designating Monday mornings, for example, as your time to think and organize the rest of your week. Or you might spread the time over the week, carving out 90 minutes on three days. You can also combine your reflective thinking with another activity, such as taking an afternoon walk or drinking a morning cup of coffee. Whatever strategy you choose, make sure the time is a regularly scheduled and protected event on your calendar, uninterrupted by emails, calls, or meetings.”
  2. Take time to trust, but verify. That was an old Ronald Reagan maxim. I have found it helpful. Do not content yourself with simply reading something once and taking it at face value. Think about it and then verify it by looking at another source or two. It will only make you better. This of course, is predicated on your ability to do number 1; setting aside time to think.
  3. Listen, wait, respond… Live out James 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” because…”human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (vs 20) Listen, wait and respond…and respond we should. Respond with truth and grace in a loving and gracious manner, always!

Resources.

Urges for Vigilence… https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/11/uk-charity-urges-vigilance-after-punish-a-muslim-day-letters

Snopes Analysis… https://www.snopes.com/news/2018/03/29/punish-muslim-day-fliers/

Lessons from “Punish a Muslim Day”… http://aboutislam.net/muslim-issues/europe/punish-muslim-day-presents-lesson/

Bombarded with Misinformation… https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/why-we-fall-prey-to-misinformation.html

Positive Responses on Punish a Muslim Day… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5576895/Protestors-form-human-chain-mosque-protests-held-UK-wide-against-Punish-Muslim-Day.html

What Happened on Punish a Muslim Day?… https://ciiradio.com/2018/04/04/punish-a-muslim-day-heres-what-happened/

Brooklyn Ramping Up Security of Muslim Citizens… http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn-bp-nyc-enhancing-security-punish-muslim-day-article-1.3910784

Muslim Association of Britain Online… https://www.mabonline.net/a-message-to-the-muslim-community-on-the-punish-a-muslim-day-threat/

No attacks materialize… https://www.jihadwatch.org/2018/04/uk-despite-media-and-police-hysteria-punish-a-muslim-day-fails-to-materialize

David Rapp… http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721416649347

Take Time to Think… https://hbr.org/tip/2018/03/schedule-time-for-reflective-thinking-every-week

Trust, but Verify,… https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/9855/is-trust-but-verify-a-frequently-quoted-word?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=google_rich_qa&utm_campaign=google_rich_qa

Listen, wait, respond… https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/give-others-the-gift-of-being-slow-to-speak

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