The Effect of Othering in an Alternative Facts World

wenty five years ago when the Internet was in its infancy, it was deemed to be the information superhighway.  The entire world would be connected and we would be able to get more information than ever, and up to date information at that.  In just a few short years traditional Encyclopedias died out, replaced by online sites such as Wikipedia.   The internet is still useful for such purposes, but it has become a minefield for urban legends, misinformation, ‘alternative facts’, and above all, for propaganda.


Propaganda is nothing new, with recorded instances of it as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome.  What is new is the ability for this propaganda to be disseminated to millions of people within seconds, all without leaving the comfort of our desk, chair, or bed.  Combining this capability with the anti-intellectualism and racist streaks that have run through contemporary western society has created a powder keg, as evidenced by the atrocious attacks on a Quebec City mosque just a few days ago.


Left and right wing people have their own bubbles that they live in.  For instance, I recognize in myself a tendency to believe everything bad and shitty about Donald Trump, and doubt the same sort of stories told about former President Obama or current Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.  Recognizing this. however, I do try to fact check as much of this stuff as I can (on both sides). Making allowances for individual differences, I think, on average, left-leaning people tend to be more fair and balanced and more likely to fact check, than conservative people, especially in the US.  Some of this might have to do with the fact that left-leaning people tend to be found in more urban areas, which also tend to be better educated and more diverse.  Diversity leads to more interactions with many types of people, and less chance of seeing different people as the dangerous “Other.” Again, I make allowances for individual differences, and am speaking of average tolerances.


This brings me to the point of my post today.  While scrolling through Facebook, that veritable minefield of ignorance and hate, I came across an article written by The Daily Wire, a conservative website which stated that it was unfair to claim that the current Muslim refugee crisis was similar to that of the Jews during the Third Reich.  The points the article made were as follows:


  1. There was no threat of Jewish terrorists infiltrating the United States.  The same cannot be said about Muslim Terrorists.
  2. Jewish Refugees of the Holocaust had nowhere else to go.  Muslim refugees do.
  3. The proliferation of Muslim refugees is a result of an intra-religious, Islamic civil war dating back to the founding of Islam in the 7th century.  Judaism’s theological disputes are solved with the pen, not the sword.
  4. Muslim refugees are far more religious (with many submitting to Qur’anic literalism) than Jewish refugees during WWII, an ethnographic-religious block that was predominantly secular, assimilated into Western society, and already integrated into the mainstream European social fabric
  5. Muslim immigrants have disproportionately contributed to racist attacks against other minority groups, notably Jews.  European Jews are still victims., rather than perpetrators or anti-Semitic, white and Islamo-Supremacists, acts of harassment, bulling and intimidation


Some of the points are, unfortunately true.  The Pew research poll quoted in the article does find that the favourability ratings of Jews among Muslims is low, but more so in predominately Muslim countries – Turkey, Jordan, Egyptian, and so on.  What this article fails to note, however, is that in Europe, Muslims are viewed more unfavourably than Jews, and both groups are disliked by conservative right-wingers, even among the more secular nations like France.


The article likewise is correct in saying that religion and governance are more intertwined in some Islamic counties then they are in the west.  I believe, as Reza Aslan does, that this is because there has not yet been a Muslim version of the Protestant Reformation.  Perhaps that is coming, perhaps not.  It is not for us in the west to judge whether another country, or group of countries changes to a more secular way of life.


As for radicals and terrorists there are two issues to consider.  On the first hand, we have to decide on a definition of terrorist.  If we take it to mean any act that causes terror in a civilian population, any number of things could be tagged as examples.  The ongoing drone strikes being conducted by the US military could be viewed as a form of terrorism..  One could make an argument that Donald Trump’s campaign threats to arrest women who had an abortion were a form of terrorism.  Dealing strictly with those acts that cause immediate injury or death, the numbers of domestic terrorists in the US, and here in Canada, far outweigh any number of foreign terror attacks.  It is the unknown that frightens people, more so than any individual person or group of people.  And if we step away from Cape Fear for a moment and think about things more rationally, is it really plausible that people who are fleeing countries in the middle of civil wars are really those that are the terrorists?  I would think not.


This speaks to the first point of the article.  Nowhere in evidence is the fact that most Muslims want to come to western countries to perpetrate acts of terror.  Are there some who do?  Of course.  But why would they come in droves for that purpose when ISIS is perfectly happy promoting home grown terrorists?  Another point: vetting potential immigrants is a time intensive process.  No one is saying to open the floodgates and let everyone in, but some common sense needs to be applied.


The second and third points of this article are the ones that make the least historical sense.  Was not the displacement of the Jews over and over again a result of religious wars and persecution?  Seriously! And, anyone who has studied their history in any depth will know that the circumstances around the Jewish people trying to flee Nazi persecution, and the Muslims trying to flee ISIS persecution are similar.  Boats of Jews coming to North America and to other western countries were turned back.  We all have to live with that on our collective national consciouses.  It feels to me that The Daily Wire is functioning as the same sort of propaganda machine that worked to such great and disastrous effect in Nazi Germany.
The same shit is happening with Muslims now, however, with the exception that many western European nations are taking refugees in where they can.  Yes, other Muslim nations should do their part.  No one is saying they shouldn’t, but that does not mean that other western countries should not help also.  Differences in religion and culture aside, we are all human beings.


Here in Canada we have accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees and to date the only act of terrorism was perpetrated by a white man in Quebec.  How is that for radicalism?


Stop “Othering” people and you’ll find it is the ideologies that need to be attacked not the people.  It isn’t lost on most of us who read, that it is the supposedly “Christian” people (usually right-wing, conservatives) who are the lest charitable and compassionate people.  Jesus would be so proud.