“Excuse Me, Your Pants Are On Fire”

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June 6, 2014 by T. Gregory Argall

Who wants to tell a lie with me?

Not some innocent, harmless little lie like, “Salad tastes good,” or “Your call is important to us,” or “Foreplay isn’t really cheating.” That sort of lie never hurt anyone or caused any problems.

I’m looking to tell a blatant, vicious, harmful lie built on hate, distrust, and a lack of confidence regarding my own beliefs. Something anonymous and with plausible deniability but strong potential to damage and hurt whole sections of society.

Who’s with me? Anyone?
That’s nice.

Yesterday a story showed up in my random Facebook newsfeed with the heading “Muslim Woman Is Put Right In Her Place.” It was yet another variation on a story that has been wandering around the internet since 2003 in one form or another.
This version started like this…

A Muslim woman dressed in a Burkha (a black gown & face mask) was standing with her shopping in a queue at the checkout. When it was her turn to be served, and as she reached the cashier, she made a loud remark about the Canadian Flag lapel pin which the female cashier was wearing on her blouse. The cashier reached up and touched the pin and said, ‘Yes, I always wear it proudly. My son serves abroad with the forces and I wear it for him. The Muslim woman then asked the cashier when she was going to stop bombing and killing her countrymen explaining that she was Iraqi.

The second paragraph goes on to show how an elderly gentleman in the line up launched into a heartfelt speech about brave soldiers fighting to give her the right to speak out like that, and maybe she should go back to her country where she doesn’t have the right to speak her mind.
And then everyone else applauds.

It’s a nice story inspiring patriotism and showing how disruptive and ungrateful “those evil Muslims” are and it’s pure fiction.

I’ve seen many retellings of this story. Sometimes it’s in Canada, sometimes in the US, sometimes Great Britain.

I’m always amazing, fascinated, and saddened by the thought of how empty and hollow someone’s life has to be for them to present a story like this as reality in the first place.
At some point someone sat down and thought, “I believe this fear-based set of things about this group of people, but I have no facts to back up my fear. If I fabricate an anecdote and claim that it’s true, then the world will finally understand how evil and dishonest those people are.”
Okay, I might be paraphrasing a bit.

Let’s take a step-by-step look at their efforts.

First of all, the heading. “Muslim Woman Is Put Right In Her Place.” Immediately, before the story even starts, we’ve established that particular people have a particular place and they should not step out of line. Remove one word from that sentence and you get, “Woman Is Put Right In Her Place,” a phrase that hasn’t been spoken out loud since the 1950’s. Try posting that on Facebook and see how quickly your wife unfriends you.

Once the story starts, the teller explains in brackets what a Burkha actually is, because “normal” people are unfamiliar with the word. Traditionally a Burkha consists of a gown and veil, although the storyteller here made a “minor semantic error” in referring to the veil as a face mask. Really, what’s the difference?
A veil is worn for modesty in public. A face mask is worn by dishonest people who have something to hide. They’re practically the same thing.
That’s about as sensitive and respectful as referring to a Catholic “swinging around a little statue of a dead guy on a stick.” Technically, it’s not wrong but it certainly isn’t right.

The “loud remark” made by the Muslim woman is never revealed, but we get a verbatim quote of the cashier’s response. There is also a word for word reporting of the elderly man’s impassioned rebuttal instructing her to go the hell back where she came from. This makes the Muslim woman a generic representation of all Muslims, while the people who are actually quote become unique individuals in our minds.

Overall the story is constructed to push all the right buttons for people who have such buttons in the first place. And although it is so obviously false, people still blindly forward the emails or share the Facebook postings, while quietly reminding themselves, “It’s not racist because they all actually hate us, right?” Whoever “Us” may be.

And before I get accused of only singling out racists, this sort of thing happens elsewhere on the political field as well.

Also yesterday, I saw on Facebook a meme quoting Republican sound-biteist Michele Bachman saying, “America needs another president like Benjamin Franklin.” Franklin, of course, was never president of the United States. Also, Michele Bachman never said that.
Yet, some sad, lonely internet ironist sat at his computer, searching for just the right picture of Michele Bachman, with just the right dull gleam in her vacant eyes, so he could completely make up a stupid quote to write on the photo. He even made the effort to attribute the quote to a specific interview on CNN. That, of course, just makes it easier for people to fact-check and disprove.

Someone should tell that guy, “Michele Bachman already says enough bat-shit crazy stuff on her own. She doesn’t need your help. Your point is making itself. Just shut up.”

The difference, of course, is that Michele Bachman seems to be the sort of person who would use the “Muslim Woman Is Put Right In Her Place” story in one of her campaign speeches.
But until that actually happens, we can’t say that she did. Because that is a lie.

As always, try to be nice to each other.




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