“We are only as blind as we want to be.” – Maya Angelou.
Two recent media stories that have gone viral illustrate the point that we are quick to believe what we (or the mainstream news media) desperately wish to be true.
The first is a heart-wrenching account published on Dec. 12th of a good-hearted Santa Claus who went to deliver a gift to a terminal child, who then died while in the arms of said Santa. After the story went viral, certain skeptics started asking questions, noting inconsistencies in the report. With doubt in the air as to the story’s veracity, media outlets as of Dec. 14th are now backpedaling like crazy, hoping to protect their journalistic integrity (despite not having carefully vetted the story in the first place) should the account prove to have been a hoax. Interestingly, even Snopes.com has waded into the fray, highlighting this claim as its top story and labeling it “unproven” at this point – not “false” but rather unverified.*
(*Apparently, as I post this blog, the Santa story has been verified as true. Hallelujah!)
The second is a dark, unsettling account of an alleged hate crime said to have occurred in NYC on Dec. 1st. Yasmin Seweid, an 18 year old Muslim woman, filed a police report claiming that while riding the subway that evening she was verbally and physically harassed by three drunk men shouting their support for Donald Trump, calling her a terrorist and demanding she leave the country, yanking on her shoulder bag hard enough to break a strap, and then attempting to tear her hijab off her head. Even worse, she claimed, no one on the train came to her defense.
This story also went viral, adding fuel to the Islamophobia fire raging across all mainstream media outlets as the “malevolence du jour” of conservative, redneck America. In spite of nagging inconsistencies in her story, Seweid kept insisting in the truthfulness of her account as police questioned her over the last two weeks and even took to Facebook to shame not just her alleged attackers, but New Yorkers in general who failed to come to her aid: “It breaks my heart that so many individuals chose to be bystanders while watching me get harassed verbally and physically by these disgusting pigs. Trump America is real and I witnessed it first hand last night!”
Apparently, on Tuesday Dec. 13th, Seweid admitted to the police that the whole story was a hoax which she concocted due to “family problems.” Apparently, she had been out late on Dec. 1st drinking with friends (behavior not tolerated among women in strict Muslim families) and has been dating a Christian man (also not tolerated by observant Muslims), and felt she needed an alibi which would gain her sympathy with her parents. The authorities, who had devoted significant man-hours and resources to this investigation of an alleged “hate crime,” have now charged and arrested Ms. Seweid on charges of filing a false police report.
News agencies have not been falling over themselves in haste to retract all the “Hate Crime” headlines that they launched two weeks ago. This is not surprising since it harms the “Islamophobia plague” narrative which they are so eager to put forward. Sadly, when such false reports are gobbled up and spewed far and wide only to be later revealed as hoaxes, they damage the credibility of both old and new reports which turn out to be true. When the public does not know what to believe, it tends to take no action. Those in the media wanting so badly to portray the evils of Islamophobia as reaching epic proportions in America that they are willing to blindly trumpet anything they hear which fits their narrative, are actually doing a disservice to their cause, like the proverbial boy who falsely cried “Wolf” too many times.
And groups like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), which seem to want to traffic in Islamophobia victimization as a way to curry favor and power among political and societal elites, don’t help matters when they try to twist an obvious false narrative into a further attack on the Muslim world. Ibrahim Hooper (the National Communications Director for CAIR) said in an interview yesterday:
No one out of the blue decides to make this kind of report…Whenever there are these rare instances of alleged false reports — it’s still an allegation at this point — it’s used by the growing Islamophobic community to delegitimize and undermine the many legitimate anti-Muslim incidents.
Even though Ms. Seweid confessed that she concocted this hoax due to fear of her own Muslim family situation, Hooper wants to lay the blame for this incident at the feet of an increasingly Islamophobic America. You see, the real problem is that Muslims are feeling “…tremendous psychological stress and pressure” which leads to unfortunate lies like this one. Ms. Seweid’s deception in falsely painting conservative Americans as Islamophobic is not the issue; Islamophobia is the issue. It is the culprit which so frazzled her thinking that she had to make up an Islamophobic attack in order to bring some peace into her life. Amazing! Ibrahim Hooper should compete for the Olympic gold medal in mental gymnastics. He is as practiced as they come. (I find it more than a bit interesting that a search for the name “Yasmin Seweid” on the CAIR website turns up zero hits.)
Until the media in general return to the business of reporting news that has been accurately vetted, rather than jumping to be the first to report stories which fit their own appetites (whether good or bad, Santa or Islamophobe), the public will continue to grow more skeptical and inert, even when news of the wolf’s arrival is actually true and compelling. Then, such news might be too late to arouse an indifferent culture.
Where Islamophobia truly results in hate crimes, that needs to be opposed both at the immediate criminal level as well as at the conceptual societal level. Likewise with Islamic jihadism – it needs to be reported accurately, dealt with judicially or militarily and opposed ideologically. In both cases, we need a press corps that is impartial, providing the public with a perspective that reflects the real world (as much as that is possible), not one slanted by the biases of reporters and their editors. Then we can weigh the issues for ourselves, and determine as a public the best course of action, whether it accords with the private views of our media purveyors or not.