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10 Dangerous Lies Spread In The Wake Of Horrifying Attacks
After an obscene tragedy like the attacks that recently gripped Paris, most of us want nothing more than to come together and express solidarity for the victims. Candlelight vigils, calls to “pray for Paris,” and declarations like January 2015’s “je suis Charlie” help us to show the terrorists responsible that fear will never win.
At least, that’s what most of us do. A few others immediately begin spreading disgusting falsehoods that are insulting to the victims at best and downright damaging at worst. Here are 10 of the most egregious lies spread in the wake of recent attacks.
10 UK Muslims Celebrated The Paris Attacks
In the wake of the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, that killed around 130 people, a disturbing video started making rounds on social media. Shot in London, it showed a group of Muslims reacting to the news with gleeful celebration, smiling, and waving Islamic flags. Posted by Facebook user Jean-Baptiste Kim, it quickly gathered over 500,000 views.
The men in the video were almost certainly Muslim, and they were definitely celebrating, but they weren’t celebrating the Paris attacks. They were celebrating Pakistan winning a cricket match in 2009. This should have been obvious. The men are waving Pakistan flags and chanting the word “Pakistan.” It’s also shot in daylight, although it was dark in London when news broke of the attacks. Nevertheless, the video’s improbable nature did not stop people from using it as evidence that Muslims are inherently savage.
Other images were likewise taken out of context. One showing a Muslim man standing on a French flag was revealed to be two years old. Another showing a suicide bomber posing in his vest was a doctored selfie of Canadian Sikh Veeren Jubbal. By reposting his image as one of a Muslim killer, Twitter users were literally putting his life in danger.
There truly have been some shocking reactions to the Paris attacks. In Turkey, soccer fans booed loudly during a moment of silence for the victims. But by posting out-of-context videos that deepen divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims, morons like Jean-Baptiste Kim are simply doing the terrorists’ work for them.
9 The Media Is Ignoring A Brave Muslim Who Stopped A Bomber
An update to this story can be found here.
At the same time that the “Muslims celebrating” story was circulating, a very different tale was taking hold across the political divide. At the Stade de France in Paris, a would-be suicide bomber was stopped by a security guard before he could enter. He detonated his vest outside, killing only one when he could have killed hundreds. The guard who stopped him was called Zouheir. Since Zouheir is a Muslim, the media refused to report it.
As Snopes has noted, this story is mostly false. It’s true that a bomber was stopped before he could enter the stadium, and it’s true he detonated his vest. It’s also true that a security guard named Zouheir working there that night. But whether Zouheir stopped the bomber or was present when the vest exploded, and even whether Zouheir is a Muslim, are all things that we don’t know. Going by news reports, the story seems unlikely at best.
What’s especially troubling is the light that this story paints the media in. Just as the story above sought to portray all Muslims as savages, this one seeks to paint the white establishment as a bunch of racists. It only serves to divide our societies further.
If you’re after a real Muslim hero, look no further than Ahmed Merabet. The 42-year-old policeman gave his life trying to protect the Charlie Hebdo offices in January. The media hailed him as a hero.
8 Japan Hasn’t Been Attacked Because It Keeps Muslims At Bay
In modern history, Japan has only suffered a single mass-casualty terror attack—when creepy cult Aum Shinrikyo released a cloud of nerve gas on the Tokyo subway, killing 12. This has led some to speculate on why the country hasn’t been targeted by extremists. Following the Paris attacks, a viral graphic claimed it was because they “keep Islam at bay.” According to the text, Japan refuses to give residency or citizenship to Muslims. It has banned the importing of the Quran in Arabic. It has hardly any embassies in Islamic countries. Propagation of Islam is banned, and Muslims are forbidden from renting houses.
Nearly every single one of the facts cited in the graphic is false. There is nothing to stop Muslims from getting residency or citizenship in Japan—beyond the barrage of tests that non-Japanese from any background must take. Japan is home to plenty of mosques, and propagating Islam or importing an Arabic Quran is perfectly legal. Muslims may rent property, and Japan has embassies in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. If you wish, you can take college courses in Arabic in Tokyo.
The graphic is trying to imply that all Muslims are naturally violent and must be kept at bay. The trouble is that the facts don’t fit this preconception. Japan has low terrorism because it has low violent crime in general. Keeping Muslims out has nothing to do with it.
7 The Media Ignored The Beirut Bombing
The day before the Paris attacks, two ISIS bombers detonated suicide vests in Beirut, killing 43. Following the outpouring of grief that accompanied the Paris attacks, bloggers began to ask why similar sentiments weren’t expressed for Beirut. Many blamed the media, accusing it of ignoring the deaths of brown-skinned people.
There was certainly ignorance surrounding the Beirut bombings, but it wasn’t on the part of the media. Most major outlets covered the story; it was the readers who ignored it. CNN, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Economist, the BBC, The Guardian, and even the Daily Mail all gave extensive coverage to the tragedy in Lebanon. Most other outlets at least mentioned it, while some covered it in great depth. The reason it didn’t appear on people’s Twitter feeds is because readers weren’t sharing the stories. Nonetheless, people who had ignored the story originally then chastised the media for not covering it. Guardian US writer Jamiles Lartey scathingly referred to these people as “tragedy hipsters.”
These undeserved anti-media claims are poisonous because they create an “us and them” mentality. They paint reporters as racists and assume that some grand conspiracy is trying to delegitimize the suffering of non-white people. Luckily, this horrible cloud had a silver lining. More people are now aware of the bombing in Beirut than they would have been otherwise. Of course, the media isn’t always blameless . . .
6 The 2011 Norway Shootings Were The Work Of Muslims
On July 22, 2011, white supremacist Anders Breivik detonated a bomb in Oslo and then took a gun to crowded Utoya island and started shooting, killing 77, mostly young people. Prior to the Paris attacks, it was the worst terrorist atrocity that Europe had seen for years. Although it quickly became apparent that it was the work of a right-wing lone wolf, many in the media jumped to the conclusion that it was the fault of Muslims.
The Weekly Standard ran an article before the facts were clear, naming an Iraqi Kurd as the possible mastermind behind the plot. The Washington Post used the attacks to pour scorn on Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plans, saying that they proved Al-Qaeda was still a threat. When the truth emerged, the Post failed to apologize for their cheap political point-scoring and used their correction article to attack Obama’s Afghanistan plans again.
In all fairness, this was the first major attack by a right-wing terrorist since Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. It is perhaps understandable that many would assume Islamic extremists were initially responsible. But the media should be held to higher standards than idiots on Twitter, and they fell spectacularly short. They contributed to a climate of fear surrounding Muslims, leading to a farcical moment where Norwegian Muslim leaders felt that they had to publicly condemn the actions of an anti-Muslim terrorist.
5 The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings Were The Work Of Basque Separatists
The Madrid Train Bombings remain the deadliest terror attack ever committed on European Union soil. Nearly 200 people were killed by Islamic extremists detonating bombs on trains during the morning rush hour. As is often the case, conspiracy theories started to circulate quickly. Only this time, it wasn’t people online or in the media who were fueling the rumors; it was the Spanish government.
Despite hard evidence that the bombers had been inspired by Al-Qaeda, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar publicly laid the blame at the feet of Basque separatist group Eta. At the time, Spain was headed into a tight election, and it was felt that Aznar’s party, which was tough on separatism, might get a boost if Eta were found to be responsible. Although the bombings didn’t match the group’s MO, the government stuck to their guns for three whole days.
Today, many conservatives continue to believe that Eta was responsible for the attack, in spite of court rulings that cleared the separatists of involvement. As a result, many supporters of Basque independence are now saddled with the collective guilt of an act that had absolutely nothing to do with their cause.
4 White People Donated Millions To Dylann Roof
In June 2015, 21-year-old neo-Confederate Dylann Roof walked into a historically black church in South Carolina and shot nine people dead. His actions came at a time of inflamed racial tensions in the US. Ferguson was still in many people’s minds, and the Baltimore riots had exploded only a month and a half before. Roof’s actions added fuel to this fire, which may explain the rumor that surfaced in their wake. Only days after he was arrested, it was reported that sympathizers had donated over $4 million to Roof’s legal defense fund.
The headline came from NewsWatch33, a “satirical” site (that we will not link to) whose entire MO is to write something fake, present it as news, and then rake in the sweet advertising dollars that all those clicks bring in. Unfortunately, this particular story was picked up on social media. It was shared as evidence that white America cares about black lives so little that they’ll reward an evil racist for killing black people.
The timing especially made this story poisonous. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was at its height, thanks to genuine concerns about white Americans treating black people as disposable. This “story” risked exacerbating already strained racial tensions—in other words, doing Roof’s disgusting work for him. If you’re wondering how the writers at NewsWatch33 sleep at night, the answer is on a gigantic pile of bloodstained money.
3 Britain And France Have ‘No-Go’ Cities For Non-Muslims
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, some people were keen to learn more about Islamic extremism in Europe. The foolish among them turned to Fox News to do so. In a report just four days after the massacre, self-styled “terrorism expert” Steve Emerson claimed that the UK and France had whole cities under sharia law, where non-Muslims couldn’t go. At one point he claimed that Birmingham was “totally Muslim.”
This last part was so clearly false and insulting that British Prime Minister David Cameron personally commented on it, calling Emerson a “complete idiot.” Emerson was forced to apologize to the people of Birmingham. However, he didn’t retract his comments on France, which were equally false. Snopes later determined that he’d been talking about the Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS), which are essentially the French version of the Baltimore projects. While some are predominantly Muslim, and some are virtual no-go areas, this is due to crime rather than religious police. None are under sharia law, and most are simply deprived (and often non-Muslim) neighborhoods.
As moronic as Emerson’s statement was, it helped to paint Muslims as so scary and feral that “normal” people should steer clear of them. In light of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, this was bad enough. Following the Paris attacks, building this sort of “them and us” mentality is a recipe for disaster.
2 Gun Control Caused The Paris Attacks
It takes a special kind of idiot to look at something as tragic as the Paris attacks and then use it to boost your flagging presidential campaign. That idiot is Donald Trump. The day after the attacks, he took to a stage in Texas to blame the 129 deaths on gun control.
Trump is an old hand at this type of idiocy. In January 2015, he appeared to blame the Charlie Hebdo shootings on France’s strict gun control laws. Aside from demonstrating his lack of empathy, Trump’s statements prove nothing. Many people in Norway own a gun, yet Anders Breivik was able to conduct his killing spree unchecked. Britain is even more restrictive of gun rights than France, yet it has (thankfully) only suffered one major terror attack in the years since 9/11. Many US states allow concealed carry on campuses, in schools, and while drunk, but America still has more mass shootings than anywhere else in the world.
More to the point, Trump’s comments skirt dangerously close to victim blaming. In Trump’s narrative, Francois Hollande goes from being a president bravely dealing with a national tragedy to a man who let his citizens die by not liberalizing gun laws. It’s a perverse take on one of the year’s most heartbreaking stories. The only sadder part is that those who heard Trump spout off this nonsense loudly cheered him for it.
1 The Paris Attackers Were Syrian Refugees
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, one piece of evidence sent shock waves through Europe. Found near the body of a bomber was a Syrian refugee passport.
The consequences were immediate. Poland instantly retracted its previous offer to house 7,000 Syrian refugees. In the US, state governors started saying that they would never accept Syrians. Images of the passport have since been shared far and wide on social media as evidence that ISIS has infiltrated the refugees.
The passport is a fake. The man identified in it, Ahmad Almohammad, was a loyalist pro-Assad solider who died several months ago. Germany’s interior minister believes it was planted by ISIS to create a “false trail” and stir up divisions.
Even if it does turn out that the bomber was Syrian, that fact wouldn’t change the fact that the majority of the attackers were EU nationals. Of the nine suspects identified, seven were born in France or Belgium, and one was a Moroccan who legally became a Belgian citizen. Rather than being a foreign plot, these attacks were prepared and carried out by Europeans who’d spent their whole lives on the continent. Scary as it is to admit, these men were homegrown terrorists.
Blaming refugees plays into ISIS’s hands. The Islamic State openly wants Europeans to turn against Syrians. Doing so would support their narrative that the infidels in the West hate Muslims and would lend legitimacy to their self-proclaimed status as the religion’s defenders.
Counterterrorism experts claim that ISIS has deliberately set a “trap” for Europe, hoping to turn its citizens on their Muslim neighbors. If that happens, they hope that their radicalization efforts will pick up even more recruits, resulting in more attacks, more mistrust, and so on until they can engage the continent in an apocalyptic war. By slandering Syrian refugees online—or reposting any of the vile misinformation that follows in the wake of these tragedies—people are simply doing the terrorists’ dirty work for them.