Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Shaykh ‘N Bake Shame Grenade

Brilliant article by Omar Usman (founding member of MuslimMatters and a number of other initiatives) on the various tecniques that are used (knowingly or not) by "keyboard warriors" to bully and emotionally blackmail people in online discussions.

Although written in relation to Muslim conversations, the ideas and behaviours described are applicable to many other scenarios.

You really need to read the full article (which, in case you forgot, is here) but if you are extremely time-poor, here is a very condensed summary of the points that particularly caught BFTF's attention:

Usman describes the "Shame Grenade" phenomena thus :
"The easiest way to shame grenade someone is to conflate two situations that are not mutually exclusive (or sometimes even related) in an attempt to guilt someone into a desired action. “How dare you spend $3 on coffee instead of donating $3 to my project.” Or, “how dare you watch a movie in Ramadan, you should spend that time in ibadah.”
One example (by BFTF, but derived from the original article)of how the phenomena operates is the "If I haven't seen it, it must not exist." mentality where a speaker may talk about, say, the need to be good citizens and not drop litter - and the grenade thrower will lob in a comments such as :
"Why doesn't this speaker talk about the suffering in Syria / Palestine / Kashmir instead of talking about litter picking?"
The fallacy here is that the grenade thrower usually has no idea whether the speaker has ever spoken on Syria etc. They might have spent 10 seconds looking on Google, and if that doesn't show up anything, they believe that the speaker has never talked about the issue at all. Because, of course, Google keeps a record of every khutbah of every Imam ever...

A derivative of this occurs when the speaker talks kindly of a non-Muslim population, or of Muslims in the West. For example, a speaker may say that it is sad to hear a (hypothetical) prominent supporter of social justice has died - and the grenade thrower might comment along the lines of :
"Looks like this speaker is too busy praising those in the west to pray for the suffering of Muslims in Syria / Palestine / Kashmir."
Usman hits the nail on the head, very hard, with the comment that:
"One of the ways these people operate is by convincing others that everything is zero-sum. If you comment on one tragedy, it means you've somehow taken away importance from another. If you make du‘ā’ for one thing, it means you can't make du‘ā’ for another. This point is critical, because their entire paradigm hinges on it. They have to convince everyone that if a scholar comments about one thing, it means he is ignoring another – and therefore must be attacked"

Another approach that is sometimes taken is for the grenade thrower to imply that the speaker is behaving unislamically in some way. Often the claim is that the original commenter is incorrectly dressed, sometimes it can even be that the commmenter left out something, or even that their tone was wrong.

The "take home message" is essentially that the speaker is behaving in a way that will take them straight to hell and should not, therefore, be listened to.The actual argument originally presented is ignored altogether.

In conclusion, Usman offers this advice:
"The most important lesson I have learned is to simply block these people out. There was a time where I used to engage and debate with people on issues like this, but life is simply too short. In the end, you don't win anything. At most, you might change someone's mind, but even that is unlikely. The most likely consequence is that they will kill your positive energy. They will make you hate life. They will make you wish you had never opened your mouth, about anything. If these people had their way, no one would ever accomplish anything good. In their mind, unless something meets their arbitrary level of perfection, it is not worth being done."
One of the most important posts that BFTF has seen for a long time, dear reader, if you haven't already, please read it in full.

Resulting Actions
BFTF wondered whether it might be a good idea for Muslim orgs (indeed any org) to have some kind of "code of conduct" that they recommend for people when conversing online, with a view to discouraging the deployment of grenades as described above.

A suggested starting list of items for such a list can be found in the "Lessons from Facebook" post below, and BFTF has passed this suggestion onto a bunch of national and local faith based organisations, just in case they might want to run with this, or indeed have already got something in place.

Related Links
Lessons from Facebook
How to Disagree - The Heirarchy of Argument
Talk on Conspiracy Theories
Some information on framing

Update 9th Dec 13
A rather wonderful graphical represntation of the original article has been put together by @SketchyMuslims can can be found here.

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