FACT-CHECK: Five Untruths About Sikhism

Earlier this month, a Sikh-American man named Deep Rai was shot in the Seattle suburb of Kent by a masked assailant, who told Rai to “go back to your own country” before firing a bullet that barely missed his heart.[1] Sadly, as of writing, the gunman remains at large[2] and Mr. Rai is still recovering from his injuries,[3] but the incident serves as a harrowing reminder that Sikhs are also leading targets of racist, xenophobic violence in this country.[4]

Jasjit Singh, Assistant Director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund attributes anti-Sikh sentiments to people simply “not knowing who we are.”[5] As a religious minority that is inherently on display yet attracts little public interest into their beliefs and traditions beyond the highly visible turban, there many widespread, harmful misconceptions about Sikhs. Below I have highlighted just a few of the most basic myths affecting the Sikh community.

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: Five Untruths About Sikhism”

Advertisements

FACT-CHECK: Violence Against Non-Muslims in the Qur’an (Sura 5:33)

Anti-Muslim activist and co-founder of the English Defense League (EDL),[1] Tommy Robinson (a pseudonym), reacted to a Qur’anic verse quoted last Sunday during an Academy Awards acceptance speech. The verse was largely overshadowed by two other notable wins, with Mahershala Ali and Iran’s “The Salesman” winning for best supporting actor and best foreign film respectively, which both drew Muslim issues into last Sunday’s awards show spotlight.

In a video published Friday by Rebel Media, Robinson slams “Hollywood elites” for constantly “ramming Islamic scripture down our throats” while unwittingly “calling for their own execution.” Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon,[2] left the EDL in 2013 and has since become involved in PEGIDA UK,[3] the British iteration of Germany’s nationalist movement that aims to counter what it views as the “Islamization” of Europe.[4]

The chapter (sura) was quoted by Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “White Helmets”: a film chronicling the treacherous lives of the famous troop of volunteer rescue workers of the same name, who chase explosions throughout warn-torn Syria to provide medical services to blast victims. The film won an Oscar for best documentary short. Receiving the award, von Einsiedel recited a statement from Raed Saleh, founder of the White Helmets,

“We are so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse from the Qur’an: to save one life is to save all of humanity. We have saved more than 82,000 Syrian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.”[5]

To most rational people, Saleh’s statement reads as to a call to peace. Yet, in his response, Robinson dismisses the statement as a nothing more than a liberal deception to mischaracterize Islam. Despite the White Helmets’ acts of immense charity in the face of unimaginable horror, and Robinson’s history of anything but,[6] he still felt morally justified in his condemnation of Islam’s sacred text in this context. In his discussion of the “real meaning” of Saleh’s verse, Robinson also felt comfortable serving in the role of expert in the Arabic words “Taqiya” and “Kitman” and correctly interpreting the Qur’an—1,400 years of Islamic scholarship notwithstanding.

While the subsequent sura at the center of Robinson’s response is indeed violent and disturbing, his application of the verse—as evidence that Saleh’s “to save one life” is really a message of war against the infidel West—is unsupported, corrupted by his determination to find no moral nuance in Islam and to view all Muslims as fundamentalists, who unlike the majority of Christians and Jews, are compelled to follow every word of their most sacred text.

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: Violence Against Non-Muslims in the Qur’an (Sura 5:33)”

FACT CHECK: POTUS’ ‘Sweden Incident’ sparks CBN Trump apologists to cite fake statistics from Islamophobic blog

Donald Trump’s most recent public gaff at a rally in Melbourne, Florida has generated a chain reaction among his “friendly reporters.”[1] Among those anti-“MSM” publications viewed as a favorite of the president’s is the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), demonstrated by Trump choosing a CBN Chief Political Correspondent David Brody as one of only two—both conservative leaning news outlets—to be called on during the February 15th Netanyahu press conference.[2]

Trump’s Sweden comments were meant to grant justification for his anti-refugee, anti-immigrant positions. Instead, his blunder drew negative attention to the ban’s dubious legal foundation, and the deeply engrained xenophobic prejudices underlying the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies. The president stated,

“When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”[3]

These comments drew immediate criticism from former Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who wrote on Twitter, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”[4] The Swedish Embassy in Washington later contacted the White House asking for clarification on Trump’s remarks, and one Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Catarina Axelsson told the Associated Press that she was unaware of an “terror-linked major incidents.”[5] The reaction from the Swedish government prompted Trump to state on Twitter that his comment “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”[6]

Today, CBN’s Dale Hurd and Gary Lane discussed the president’s controversial Sweden comments on air, staunchly defending Trump’s statements. Hurd argues that Sweden, which likes “to think of itself as a Humanitarian superpower,” has “brought in all of these refugees, and it’s a mess” and that crime has “become a regular occurrence in Sweden.”[7] Lane followed with a report from a blog that goes by the name “Muslim Statistics,”[8] which claims, “est 77% of rapes [in Sweden] committed by 2% Muslim male population.”[9],[10]

This blog is explicitly and unapologetically anti-Muslim. It reposts statistics from reputable sources such as the Pew Research Center, with misleading headlines beside gory photos of beheadings meant to manufacture fear of Muslims as violent jihadist rapists, which are utterly inimical to Western ideals.[11] However the blog also includes “reports” based on skewed data and all out fabrications. This Sweden report is one example. Below I will highlight the faults in this report, and comment on the reckless reporting of CBN, which not only cited this malicious lie on television, but reproduced it on an online article[12] as the only counterexample to a Washington Post article that reported a decline in the average crime rate in Sweden in recent years, including for lethal violence and sexual assaults.[13]

Continue reading “FACT CHECK: POTUS’ ‘Sweden Incident’ sparks CBN Trump apologists to cite fake statistics from Islamophobic blog”

FACT-CHECK: What’s going on in Dearborn, Michigan?

I really didn’t want to do another “Muslim thugs” post. However, as I cruise the dark depths of the Internet for potential leads on deceptive news stories, I can’t ignore this hateful virus taking over the /r/The_Donald subreddit. To be fair, this subdomain is mostly harmless, layered with various pro-Trump messages and attacks on Megan Kelley (and her poor ratings). However, peppered throughout, I have found posts reading, “Michigan has a NO GO ZONE for Christians where Sharia Law rules and Police do not enter. And MSM will NEVER report on it” and “CHRISTIANS WIN BIG LAWSUIT AGAINST MUSLIM THUGS IN DEARBORN, MICHIGAN!

So what the hell is going on in Dearborn, Michigan? Well, if your someone who will believe anything they read or (more realistically) someone who will believe anything that they want to believe, this tiny mid-western city is the epicenter of a plot to Islamize the United States. The total population of Dearborn is roughly 100,000,[1] and it is home to somewhere between 30,000[2] and 40,000 Arab Americans of various national backgrounds.[3] According to the 2000 US Census, this ratio (30%) represents by far the largest concentration of Arab Americans per capita in any place in the US.[4] Assuming that the city’s reputation as a jihadist utopia is unfounded (see analysis below), I have a feeling that this demographic reality in Dearborn is the real source of its mythic reputation.

With the anticipation of the US quickly becoming a “majority minority” nation[5] and the rise of White Nationalism into mainstream politics,[6] Americans are looking for a scapegoat. Muslims are a natural target; Americans already hold very negative perceptions of Muslims as compared with other religious groups according to the Pew Research Center.[7]

Demographic fears and racial hate have materialized into narratives used to justify their own existence. Swarms of Muslims men mindlessly rampage through Western (White Christian) cities, assaulting people and property, imposing Sharia Law while waging jihad against our freedom and individuality. This trope, similar to an impulsively violent zombie horde or an assimilating pack of Borg invaders, is well played out in fiction but also mirrored in the real world, providing a disturbing insight into our social psyche. These false narratives serve to simultaneously dehumanize and vilify the target group, labeling them as both inferior and evil, but even more importantly, they induce a sense of combat urgency. Fear of imminent harm leads to irrational judgments, even more so if one is already predisposed to think the enemy is subhuman.

Before I dive into this week’s analysis, I want to be clear: I do not intend to only focus on Islamophobic misinformation with this blog. I recognize bigotry and ignorance within and against all religions, cultures, and individuals. However, as an American, in this time, I am exposed to certain political and religious beliefs more often than others, and am prone to responding to my direct social environment. With that, I’ll start by listing some of the trouble the Muslims of Dearborn have been causing lately.

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: What’s going on in Dearborn, Michigan?”

EXTRA: NYE Muslim pyrothugs, part 2

While poking around the Internet last week for some foul piece of reporting to fact-check, and eventually landing on Breitbart’s article about a 1,000-man mob of Muslim hooligans tormenting a sweet old German town, I first eyed a piece written for Bare Naked Islam, an openly anti-Muslim site boasting the tagline, “It isn’t Islamophobia when they really ARE trying to kill you.”[1]

I was drawn to a post describing a flurry of New Year’s Eve car burnings “by Muslims” in France.[2] This piece was published a day before the Breitbart story on January 2nd, but has some striking similarities to its more famous cousin. The story claims that a mass torching event, which damaged or destroyed hundreds of parked cars across France on New Year’s Eve—what has now become somewhat of a “sinister annual tradition”—was carried out by Muslims and went unreported by French officials in an effort to “minimize the anti-Muslim backlash”.

I ultimately contacted someone from the site for some clarification via email. Briefly, here’s what I found out.

Continue reading “EXTRA: NYE Muslim pyrothugs, part 2”

FACT-CHECK: Breitbart, ‘Fake News’, a fire at a church in Germany, and a ‘1,000 man-mob’ chanting ‘Alluha Akbar’

On January 3rd, a story appeared on Breitbart’s website titled, “Revealed: 1,000-man mob attack police, set Germany’s oldest church alight on New Year’s Eve.”[1] Since then, multiple US and international news outlets have hit back against the conservative-learning news site with claims of false or distorted reporting of the event, branding the story under the topical “fake news” rank, with some even going so far to label it a work of, “hate and propaganda”.[2]

Breitbart’s critics included Tehran’s AFP News, the Guardian,[3] the Independent,[4] POLITICO, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post,[5] and a few German-language papers. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, in reference to the article, stated (as translated by the Straits Times), “Breitbart has used exaggerations and factual errors to create ‘an image of chaotic civil war-like conditions in Germany, caused by Muslim aggressors.”[6] This idea is at the core of my interest in this story—and so many other like it—and the more broad relationship between so-called “fake news” what some, including myself, identify as the existence of an increasingly false perception of hostility, even downright “culture war” between religious groups, leading to actual acts of discrimination and violence.

I will not go into great detail here about what does or does not constitute “fake news;” that discussion is beyond the scope of this post. However, I will say that I am conscious of the concerns many have raised about the misleading nature of the term, and I will avoid using it in my writing. Instead, I prefer to label misleading or inadequate reporting individually and with more nuance, on a case-by-case basis.

A fuller discussion of Breitbart’s ideological viewpoint and professionalism may be warranted at a later time. Briefly however, I would like to draw your attention to a New York Times op-ed published on January 7th, which profiles an environmental science professor named Nathan Phillips, whose criticism of Breitbart is fierce, labeling it “hate news,” that which the Times defines as “a toxic mix of lies, white-supremacist content and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African-Americans and others.”[7]

My analysis is unqualified to come to any similarly definitive conclusion. Instead, I will identify and evaluate only the “facts” reported and language employed by Breitbart in their coverage of this New Years Eve event. I will present the points of contention within the original article, highlight responses from critics as well as Breitbart’s defense of the piece, and make a decision about the informational value of the article, and the implications of any misinformation presented by this increasingly popular news platform.

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: Breitbart, ‘Fake News’, a fire at a church in Germany, and a ‘1,000 man-mob’ chanting ‘Alluha Akbar’”