Dammit, I really hate it when my most cynical estimations of the American public are proven true.
A couple of days ago we mentioned here how the mayor of Paris was planning to sue Fox News because the network incorrectly, ludicrously claimed that parts of Paris and the U.K. had become something it called Muslim “no-go zones,” where non-Muslims weren’t allowed to enter and where Sharia law superseded federal and local law. One expert on Fox News even made the shocking pronouncement that the entire city of Birmingham, England was one of these “no-go zones.” Just to make sure it’s understood what we’re talking about here, Fox News told its audience of epistemically sealed-off reactionary yokels that reactionary Muslims had taken over and sealed-off segments of free countries and cities and that those countries and cities had allowed this to happen. Try unpacking that inside your head for a moment and see if smoke doesn’t begin coming out of your ears.
Well, I realize it’ll be hard to believe, but everything Fox blithered into the ether on this was a giant steaming pile of horseshit. No, there are no Muslim no-go zones in France or England and, by extension, there aren’t going to be any Muslim no-go zones popping up in the United States anytime soon. Yes, there are pockets of the Muslim community scattered throughout the free world the same way there are pockets of every other ethnic, racial and religious background in exactly the same position; cultures tend to stick together in areas outside of their comfort zones. There are also almost certainly cases of these communities attempting to address civil concerns within their community internally in the same way, ironically, that orthodox Jewish neighborhoods sometimes do. There are even, to be sure, bad actors amongst these communities who take their desire for insulation too far. But to claim that Muslim enclaves, specifically, represent a threat in that they’ve been able to culturally terraform the land upon which they’ve set up, making it somehow toxic to outsiders, including law enforcement, is absurd. And for Fox News to say so is irresponsible and inflammatory (which is par for the course for Fox).
In response to being called out by both the French and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Fox News backed off the report, issuing a rare retraction and apology. CNN’s Anderson Cooper also apologized for furthering the rumor by biting down hard on Fox News’s bait and reporting its own story of supposed no-go zones. But the problem is that once the poison has been injected into the cultural and media bloodstream it’s impossible to eradicate. The misinformation becomes part of the conversation, because people — particularly those who are already inclined to believe it because it confirms their biases — disregard the retraction and remember only the initial story, even if it’s crap. We live in an age in which deliberate distortion and conspiracist nonsense spread like Ebola and can wreak almost as much havoc.
There never were any government “death panels” accompanying the Affordable Care Act, and yet the second that phrase was uttered it created a snowball that ultimately became an unstoppable avalanche of bullshit. No amount of shoveling would make it go away. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and yet there are still people out there who believe Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. People believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. Go on television and tell them something that feeds the foundations of their ideological bent and even if you tell them two seconds later you were wrong, they’ll find the retraction more dubious than the initial faulty report. This is what makes misinformation and outright disinformation so dangerous.
Case in point: Louisiana governor and world’s most embarrassing Rhodes Scholar Bobby Jindal is doubling down on his assertion that Europe is full of Muslim “no-go zones” and stoking the fears of his idiot constituency by saying that if we’re not careful we might soon see them in America. Jindal had already claimed that no-go zones were a real thing over the weekend during a speech in London, but despite the Fox News retraction, there he was on Fox News saying that there are areas in Western cities where the police won’t go and which are essentially off-limits to non-Muslims entirely. “If people don’t want to come here to integrate and assimilate, what they’re really trying to do is set up their own culture, their own communities,” Jindal said. “What they’re really trying to do is overturn our culture. We need to recognize that threat… We’re gonna see our own no-go zones if we’re not serious about insisting on assimilation and integration.”
And he’s not the only one picking up that ball and running with it. Family Research Council president and giant-penis-in-a-necktie Tony Perkins is now stating unequivocally that Muslim no-go zones aren’t on their way to America because they’re already here. “Dearborn, Michigan is one of the places. There are some places in Minneapolis,” he says. “I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as what we’ve seen in Europe.” Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who’s Muslim, has already written an official open letter to Perkins calling him a fucking lunatic, or at the very least offering to show him around Minneapolis where he can see for himself whether these Muslim no-go zones he’s so terrified of actually exist. Maybe not such a good idea considering that we’re talking about a guy who’s an evangelical preacher. Perkins obviously doesn’t need to see proof of something to believe it’s real.
This is only the beginning, I promise. When you combine our susceptibility to fear-based disinformation with our tendency to fixate on subjects that are easily memed and hashtagged, “no-go zones” is tailor-made to become the next big conservative night terror. Screw reality — everybody panic.
What’s interesting about this, certainly about Jindal’s fear of foreign cultures setting up camps in the United States and refusing to assimilate — spreading their culture with little concern for what existed before it — is that it’s already happened on a grand scale. And I’m not even talking about the original immigrants who arrived here in the late 1400s and basically took right over.
I’m from Miami, an entire U.S. city which often feels like foreign soil. This is by no means an insult to the Cuban and Cuban-American population that arrived and assumed every position of political and cultural authority imaginable, merely an acknowledgment that Miami is unlike any other city in America because of the awesome power a “foreign” presence has been able to wield. In Miami, 70% of the population is Hispanic, with many speaking Spanish as their primary language or interchangeably with English. The leadership of the city’s body politic often feels like it has corruption running through its veins the way real bodies have blood. The city has in the past exercised its own foreign policy, strong-arming the federal government via a robust and fearsome voting bloc and even refusing to cooperate with that government’s law enforcement when it disagreed with the laws it was obligated to respect and uphold. It was once a literal war zone for foreign drug gangs, rivaling a current Mexican border town. It’s been called a flat-out banana republic, even by the people who live there.
None of this makes Miami a bad place — quite the contrary, actually. It’s my hometown and it’s a fucking nuthouse; what’s not to love? But other than maybe Tom Tancredo, who was pretty much laughed out of the party, I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard one frightened peep out of the Republicans regarding the foreign takeover of an entire American city. (Not surprisingly, you’ll hear lawmakers complain about the invasion of Haitians, but I’ll leave you to reach your own conclusions about that.) Hell, some of those hiding in plain sight in Miami were even terrorists, and yet — nothing.
It might have something to do with the fact that Cuban-Americans have traditionally been rabid, rock-solid backers of conservative politics, honest-to-God fish in a barrel to be shot by eager electoral panderers. But Muslims, they’re so dangerous for so many reasons — some of which are political — that even a small community of them is enough to send the right into a frenzy, convinced that their specific brand of foreign religious law is already being imposed and the police are now forced to simply look the other way. (Nothing at all like when cops allowed for animal sacrifices in Santeria rituals in Miami because it was considered part of the accepted religious culture.)
Miami’s a whole city. Muslims congregate in a neighborhood and conservatives suddenly declare it a demilitarized zone.
Muslim “no-go zones” simply don’t exist in the West and they’re not going to exist in the U.S., whether you refer to them as no-go zones or something else. The only place they exist is in the imagination of shit-scared conservatives. Unfortunately, though, that’s enough to do quite a bit of damage. God knows there’s no getting them out of there.