Arguing with the wall

The other day I was browsing through my Facebook feed and came across a post attacking Muslims*. It was in the form of a poster, and basically asked why if Muslims don’t like bacon, free speech, bikini’s, Jesus, dogs, etc, why the fuck did they want to come to Australia?

Most often I sigh sadly whenever I come across a bigoted post like this. I know from past experience that there is little point in taking issue with it. There might be some visceral self-satisfaction in slamming down the bigots, but it’s pretty empty. There’s no point in talking sense or logic to bigots because their bigotry isn’t rational.

You can make the best points ever in the history of best points, you could debate at a level that would see you win any number of election debates hands-down, and yet the bigot remains a bigot because their bigotry is nonsense. It’s unresponsive to good argument and plain facts because it’s the product of fear and fiercely protected ignorance. The bigot takes comfort in being bigoted; to deprive them of that is akin to taking Linus’ blanket from him.

In my experience you feel a self-righteous rush when you take on a bigot: you’re on the side of the angels. You look around and see the crowd listening in impressed by the force of your articulate argument, and you know if they kept score then you’ve smashed the bigot. Then you look at the bigot and they are entirely unmoved. They’ve heard your fine words and they’re just noise to them. Doesn’t matter what you say, because…well, just because. And to top it all off you’re forever branded in their ideas as a latte swilling lefty.

And so I rarely bother to take on the bigots directly these days, unless my blood is up, or I’ve had a few drinks, or because it’s the vibe. You’ve got to do it sometimes just for your self-respect.

The other day I began writing a response. I was blasé about the bigotry, oh yeah, another dumb analogy, whatever. What got my dander up was the factual inaccuracies. Why that should bother me I’m not sure. The whole thing is nonsense. I may as well be offended by typos. But there it was. I was infuriated. If you’re going to be a bigot then at least try to be accurate.

I began by pointing out the very obvious point that Jesus is honoured by Islam. This may have escaped the attention of people who don’t read beyond the sports pages, but it’s both relevant and true: the central figure in our Christian theology – Christ himself – is a prophet in Muslim belief. Take that bigots – but now they’ll probably look sideways at Jesus.

As I wrote I thought about how the black and white versions of things are true only in the extremes – the fundamentalists at the edge of every religion. One of my best friends is Jewish, and relishes a good piece of crisp bacon. I know Muslims who do as well, and even some who like dogs. And I began to relate a story from my trip to Egypt years ago, where I shared a beach with a very alluring Muslim woman wearing a chic black bikini.

I didn’t go beyond that though. I deleted what I wrote and moved on. Why? It seemed pointless, even childish. And so self-evident – so self evident that I was reminded that if people couldn’t recognise this now then they never will.

It’s the whole point of this really. I might have posted that, and might even have got a measured response. I might have been accused of being selective, as well as being a latte swilling lefty. Just because some aren’t like that, they might have claimed, it doesn’t mean all are.

And there is the point that eludes them. Just because some Muslims are fanatical terrorists it doesn’t mean all are. Of course. You and I know this because we are sensible, logical people who would prefer to assess things objectively. It is, as I say, self-evident – except it isn’t, not for everyone, not for those who prefer to attribute the worst qualities to those people for whom they have an unscientific fear.

The world is divided – and here I’m talking about my world, the western world – between those educated and smart enough to discern truth from nonsense and the particular from the general; and the uneducated and incurious who would rather believe in the nonsense because it gives them a peculiar comfort, and a twisted sense of brotherhood.

The only way to fix this is to shine a light. It comes down to education. Fundamentally it comes down to people thinking for themselves. It’s a rare attribute. So much easier to receive your opinions from somewhere else, and to propagate them as your own.

*You may ask why I have a FB friend who posts such things, and I ask myself the same question. It’s an interesting question worth pondering because it’s not as simple or as straight-forward as it seems. Though I come on strong, I actually pity the woman who posted this, as I do anyone with their mind so closed. She is, in fact, a lovely, warm, caring person one on one, which is something which makes these discussions fascinating. There are some loonies and disagreeable people with these hardline views, but most are otherwise reasonable and decent human beings. It’s a paradox that I’ve never been able to resolve – but once more illustrates the complexity of this issue, and stupidity of generalising – which, of course, I am guilty of myself occasionally.

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