Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse...

Ignorance abounds. And people suck.

I guess I'm a little behind in the current events department, because it took a week before I became aware of this story from the Raleigh News & Observer.
False rumor puts Triangle Muslims on edge. I won't bother reproducing the whole article here because if you're going to read it (and I suggest you do) you should get it from the original source.

But to summarize, here are the higlights.

About a month ago (around January 18th, 2008 according to Snopes.com) three people decided to take in a matinee screening of the movie Atonement. Two of these people were an unidentified married couple apparently from Raleigh. The third was a "mysterious Middle Eastern woman" wearing a full chador and "carrying a briefcase and cellphone". According to the report, the woman entered the theater as the trailers were ending, took a seat two seats down from the couple and placed the briefcase in her lap. Apparently the woman received multiple text messages on her phone over the next hour which so unnerved the couple that they felt compelled to leave the movie and report this suspicious activity. It's unclear how the next phase of the story came to be, but reports are that after talking to several theater employees an usher claimed to have seen "a whole group" of similarly dressed women fanning out to various areas of the multiplex. Raleigh Police were called in to investigate and found one woman (presumably the one the couple had seen in the auditorium) matching the description they gave. The "briefcase" turned out to be her purse and keeping it in her lap was probably a defense against the filth that movie theater floors are known for as well as against having it stolen or rifled. Which -- plast I checked -- was a perfectly reasonable precaution and certainly not nefarious in any way.

But apparently at least one person didn't see it that way. The couple, apparently still quaking from their close brush with a fiery death, relayed the story to a friend who immediately e-mailed all of his or her friends, who turned the whole business into a new chain letter. And did so -- presumably -- after the police had already debunked the story and determined that there was in fact no threat to the security of the theater or its patrons and staff. In other words, the email that started this latest conspiracy theory was (probably) initiated with the knowledge that there was no threat. The chain letter is a secondhand account (and in one important segment perhaps even a thirdhand account), so its reliability would be suspect in the best of circumstances. But to send a message as inflammatory as this one even knowing that a substantial portion of it was untrue is at best irrespnsible and at worst criminal.

A copy of the entire message is available in the Snopes article at: http://www.snopes.com/rumors/atonement.asp

But perhaps most telling are two quotes from the N&O article. The first is attributed to one Judy Allen from the Country Club Hills area of Raleigh who said: "It rang true. We just wanted to do our part to protect the community. It's important to keep your eyes open."

Ms. Allen is certainly correct on one point. It is important to keep your eyes open. It's equally important to keep your brain open so it can process what your eyes are telling it. Let's set aside for a moment the notion that not every Muslim is a red-eyed screaming jihadi bent on destroying the Western World. For just a moment let's consider how a covert operation is carried out. Rule Number One is not to attract attention to yourself. The email mentions that the 9/11 hijackers ran 14 test runs before carrying out their operation. But it neglects to mention the impeccable care those hijackers took to assimilate into the culture and the community. Walking into the target area wearing a chador or burqa would be similar to walking into Harlem for a cross burning wearing a white sheet and a hood. Not real inconspicuous, is it?

The other quote came from one Chuck Poe, also from the Raleigh area. To his credit, Mr. Poe checked out the story -- but the aritcle doesn't mention whether or not he forwarded the message. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe he didn't. The article went on to say: "Poe said he sympathizes with Muslims and the extra scrutiny they feel. 'When people talk about terrorism or Islamic people, people get a little jumpy. I know I do,' Poe said. 'I hate it that people get so jumpy, yet you want to be vigilant.'

He "hates it that 'people' get so jumpy" one breath after he admits to being one of those jumpy people. Make up your mind. But on a more Freudian level, he's equated "terrorism" and "Islamic people" whether he realized it or not. Which brings me back to the notion I previously set aside. That being that being Muslim does not make a person a terrorist any more than being from Johnston County makes one a member of the Klan (If you're not old enough to remember the KKK billboard that used to stand on US 70 just outside Smithfield, ask somebody who lived here during the 60's and early 70's). Based on their claims, the Klan is composed of "God-fearing Christian folk". God-fearing Christian folk who burn churches, intimidate minorities and beat people who disagree with them within an inch of their lives -- and occasionally further. If we accept the premise that a small percentage of Muslims committing terrorist acts means that all Muslims are terrorists, then we must also accept that this relatively small percentage of Christians who commit hate crimes brands all Christians as criminals. Sounds absurd doesn't it?

And perhaps most perplexing of all is the claimed expertise such people have about Islam and its practitioners. How many Muslim people do you know personally? A dozen? Twenty? More? "Probably none" would be my guess. Yet to hear them talk you'd think they'd made an extensive study of the religion and the people who practice it. I confess I know only a handful (or less) of Muslims myself and none of them especially well. And vitrually everything I know about Islam could be condensed into not much more than one single-spaced page. But I will not allow that ignorance to make me fearful of people whose religion or nationality is different from my own. It is not a crime to be Muslim. It is not a crime to legally visit or even immigrate here from a predominantly Muslim country. And it is certainly not a crime to wear a burqa in public. I've seen far more criminal fashion statements made by Westerners. But it is certainly an embarrassment to be a member of a community that would villify an entire demographic group (for lack of a better word) for no more reason than they are "not-like-us".

All of which brings me back to my original thesis.

Ignorance abounds.

And people suck.Stumble Upon Toolbar

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