Chain-Mail Letters

[by Joe Auciello]

Recently an elderly woman at a John McCain rally told the Republican nominee, “I don’t trust Obama. I read that he’s an Arab…” At this point, no doubt fearing a public relations disaster, McCain took the microphone and told her no, she was wrong.

Of course, she was wrong — several times over. Barack Obama is not Arab. Further, she wrongly suggested that Arabs as such are not to be trusted. McCain might have pointed out that, from the point of view of the interests he represents, the Arab world is important. The U.S. is allied with Arab nations, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, conducts business and trade relations with them, and the U.S. has military bases in their countries.

But, ask another question. Where did this poor woman read this misinformation? It’s not in Republican campaign literature or in major newspapers or news magazines. Even the “National Enquirer” does not run this kind of material.
A good guess is that she read it in a chainmail. Emails have been circulating on the internet for some time now falsely claiming that Obama is a Muslim. These chainmails and others like them are full of half-truth, distortion, illogic, and misinformation. They lie by omission; they play on fear; they slander and smear people.

Consider a chainmail now getting wide circulation. It features photographs of angry Muslims carrying placards with incitement to violence. The signs call for the extermination, slaying, and death of those who insult Islam. They warn that the “real Holocaust” is imminent.

After these photographs, the author or authors of the chainmail say, “Americans need to know! – You need to forward this to everyone! These Pictures tell it all!”

Further, the chainmail says these photographs of a “Religion of Peace” rally have been censored from American television and newspapers because the sight of them would lend support to President Bush’s war on terror. Presumably, the media has a liberal bias so that they are hiding the truth from the American people and, by so doing, indirectly aiding foreign terrorists.

The chainmail suggests that the hateful views shown in the photographs are typical of British and American Muslims. Further, the chainmail authors say the language of these placards justifies war in Iraq. The chainmail ends by condemning Barack Obama because it claims that he defends or maybe even agrees with the slogans of killing Europeans, white people, etc.

Now, all of this is propaganda of a particularly crude and foolish variety, designed to stir up fear.

One might as well circulate an email about Timothy McVeigh, a military veteran who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, and point out that he was a loner who liked guns and disliked the federal government. Then point out that military veteran McCain and military mom Palin support the National Rifle Association (NRA) and are self-styled mavericks who criticize the federal government. Of course, such an email would be essentially dishonest, trafficking in the kind of smear known as guilt by association.

This anti-Muslim chainmail works much the same way.

The pictures themselves are real, much like Timothy McVeigh was, but despite the claims of the chainmail, the pictures do not tell the entire story.

First, these are not photos of a “Religion of Peace” march. The pictures were taken on February 2006 at the Danish embassy in London as part of a protest against a Danish newspaper that published cartoons that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed. About 500-700 people attended this demonstration.

This is hardly a secret in the United States. Even if the pictures were not published, the event was reported and the offensive slogans were quoted. To give just one media source, an article on this demonstration can be found on the “fair and balanced” media outlet, Fox News. Perhaps if Fox did not publish the photos it is because of the anti-Bush and anti-war bias of the Fox News channel?

The chainmail would have you think that the slogans on the placards represented most if not all of the Muslims who attended the rally, and that they also represented most if not all of the Muslims in Britain and America.

This kind of thinking is wrong on the face of it. Instead of Muslims, try saying, “All Jews are…” or “All Italians are…”, etc. Those who have been the victim of prejudice or who have family members who were such victims know how this false generality works.

The chainmail tells you only a selective portion of the truth. The fact is that leaders of the major Muslim organizations in Britain spoke out against this demonstration. Go to Google and look for “BBC News, Feb. 4, 2006” and open the article entitled “Muslim Leader Condemns Protestors.”

Further, the chainmail does not tell you that shortly after this rally another Muslim demonstration was organized in London that drew ten times as many people as the first. This larger demonstration was peaceful and criticized the violent threats of some Muslims and criticized as well the worldwide publication of cartoons offensive to their religion.

The chainmail won’t tell you facts like this because stirring up fear requires half-truths and innuendo and ignorance.

The chainmail goes on to justify war with this type of Muslim extremist. Well, of course, the United States is not at war with British Muslims of any type. Further, Britain is the strongest ally of the U.S. in the war in Iraq. That might tell you something about the influence these Muslim extremists actually have in Britain.

As for the United States… the chainmail suggests that this country is “next” for takeover by hostile Muslims, but the chainmail supplies absolutely no evidence for the claim. Of course, there is none. That’s what fear is for. Frightened people do not need any facts or evidence.

Nor does the chainmail tell you that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a secular country, not a nation of Muslim extremists. Further, Hussein had no relations with extremist organizations like al-Queda.

In fact, after the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran brought the Ayatollah Khomenei to power, Iraq under Saddam Hussein began a war with Iran. These two countries went to war against each other from 1980-1988. The U.S. extended trade credits to Iraq and encouraged allied countries like France to provide the Iraqis with military arms.

Finally, what about the quote from Barack Obama in which he says he will stand by Muslims? Even the author or authors of this chainmail do not dare say openly that Obama supports extremist Muslims. They only imply it with innuendo.

The real meaning of Obama’s quote is far less sinister. In fact, the quote can be found and read it in its full context in “The Audacity of Hope,” page 261. (Of course, the chainmail won’t give you the page citation).

There, Obama says that he would stand up for the legal rights of Muslims as U.S. citizens if they were victimized or subjected to any type of harassment as a result of their religion or ethnicity. Following Sept. 11, 2001 and the passage of the Patriot Act, Muslims in the United States were quite fearful of how they would be treated in a country that in World War II had the FBI investigate Italian-American organizations and had placed Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.

In 2004 the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported receiving more than 1,500 reports of civil rights abuses of Muslims in the United States. If only a portion of these are valid, it is certainly justified for a U.S. senator to speak about the importance of treating people properly and upholding the law.

Maybe that’s why John McCain told some of his more hysterical supporters that Obama is “a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” For this kind of straight talk, Senator McCain was booed at his own rally.

That’s the consequence of these kinds of chainmails. They put a chain around your mind. They are the political equivalent of a computer virus intended to clog and shut down your thinking. They should not be forwarded; they arise from the gutter and should be sent directly to the “trash” folder where they belong.