The Danger Of Confronting Islamophobia To Its Face

Forget the ideas of confronting the bully. Get yourself the [bleep] out of there, ASAP.
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This Fathers’ Day, a Muslim family in Virginia is coming to terms with the gruesome murder of their daughter, Nabra Hassanen.

As the bereaved family—and Muslim in America— struggle to come to terms with this tragedy in the last few days of the holy month of Ramadan, the murder brings up the question again:

What’s the best way to stand up to hate?

Last week, a former colleague from my days at Thomson Reuters called me up, to interview me for a story. He was writing on hate in the Trump era. He addressed the recent Portland train stabbings and asked me what I thought was the best way for bystanders (or victims) to stand up to Islamophobia.

“Passive resistance” I told him. “If you ever see a Muslim confronted by an Islamophobic bigot, calmly figure out the best way to shield the Muslim and help get them out of there. Then, call the authorities. Don’t stand up to them.”

Forget the ideas of confronting the bully. Physical confrontation helps no-one.

Get yourself the [bleep] out of there, ASAP.

“In the Trump era, racists have become emboldened and empowered.”

The suspect in Nabra Hassanen’s murder is 22 year old Darwin Martinez Torres. According to Fauquier Times, Hassanen was with a group of friends leaving late night prayers when Torres pulled up in his car, leading to an altercation between the group.

Other accounts tell a more one-sided story where Torres drove up to the group and hurled insults, eventually getting out with a bat and attacking Hassanen, while her friends ran back to get help.

Whatever the story, the end result was the same. Nabra Hassanen’s lifeless remains where found in a nearby pond.

My journalist friend asked me another question:

Did I feel that Islamophobes were more emboldened in the Trump era? And if I did, do I prefer people being honest about their racism, or did I prefer more tacit racism, less in-your-face bigotry?

I told him that I much preferred the geysers over the volcanoes.

The reason, I cited, was the concept of naive realism and “groupthink”, as Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross lay out in their book, The Wisest One in the Room.

Basically, people think that everyone thinks like them. They also tend to side with the group’s opinion. Of course, in the age of Facebook, “the group” are all of those people in our little bubbles, who are just like us.

In the Trump era, racists have become emboldened and empowered. Bigotry has come out of hiding and is hitting us in the face. “Groupthink” now tells them that they were right— that everyone does think like them.

Taboos have an interesting role in all of this. When a society is left-leaning and liberal, racism is taboo. And with that taboo, you can’t openly express your bigotry or Islamophobia without feeling like it’s wrong.

As a result, hate simmers and gains pressure, only to come out in small bursts at a time, like a pressure cooker.

“Hate isn’t a reasonable discourse. It’s downright dangerous.”

But what we have under Trump is a full blown explosion of hate.

Taboos against racism, however, have a counterproductive role as well. With racist dialogue being taboo, label of “racist” become taboo, too. Nobody wants to be called a racist.

That results in things like justification and rationalization of the racism, according to Australian researchers Martha Augoustinos and Danielle Every, in their paper Accusations and Denial of Racism: Managing moral accountability in public discourse.

We’ve seen this in the Black Lives Matter movement, where people justify racism with phrases like “black-on-black violence.” Similarly, we’ve seen this with the Islamophobic idea of “takiyya” (an obscure and rarely used Shiite Islamic concept), where Islamphobes justify hate against all Muslims (even the liberal ones) because they claim that every Muslim is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, just pretending to act “secular”.

We’re not living in simple times. Hate and Islamophobia are unleashed. The volcano has erupted. The hate is real. I commend the three men who stood up to a bigot in Portland. My heart breaks for the DC Muslim Community as they grapple with the loss of a 17-year-old girl.

But nobody should try to be a physical hero against Islamophobia. If someone hurls insults at you, don’t fight him. Get yourself the [expletive] out of there. If you see a young girl being attacked, calmly try to get her to safety. Hate isn’t a reasonable discourse. It’s downright dangerous.

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