This article is part of a collaborative series commissioned by altMuslimah and Jewschool to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between Muslim and Jewish communities experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
A brief tour of gaslighting:
- A thing happens, something is said or done.
- A person is told it did not happen, or that it did not happen the way she thinks it did. This telling can come from individuals, as well as groups, and is a means of seizing and maintaining power. (One can indeed be gaslit into believing gaslighting is not happening.)
- She knows what she saw and/or heard.
- She is again told that that is not what happened.
- She begins to wonder if she’s going crazy.
- Repeat 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
A brief tour of gaslighting in the modern political era
- Vocalized again and again: clarion call, dog whistles, code words, signaling to White supremacists that he is with them.
- She hears it. She knows what to look for, how to hear it, because after hearing it for years, she knows it all too well.
- But – “That’s not what he meant,” “You just need something to be angry about,” “Stop making trouble,” “You’re the only one who thinks that.”
- When something happens – a mosque or synagogue defaced, Muslims and Jews attacked in the streets, White supremacists converge and march, she is told it is merely an aberration, the work of a few, but certainly not the result of purposeful galvanization of hatred. Certainly not.
- Repeat 1, 2, 3, and 4.
In our current political era, those who use anti-Muslim and anti-semitic rhetoric are very aware of what they’re saying, and they know how to speak in covert terms in order to make it seem like they’re not doing it at all. Here are some examples.
A brief collection of anti-semitic code words and phrases
“Elites” – In 2016, Hillary Clinton was accused of being at the helm of “a global power structure” ( the term ‘elites’ was used earlier in the speech), whose goal was to destroy the working class. Anti-semitism has often relied on the idea that Jews are somehow separate from everyone else (see “Aliens” below), but the characterization of Jews as elite is a means of perpetuating the notion of a cabal that seeks to control the banks, the media, and ultimately, world governments. “Elite” perpetuates the idea that all Jews are wealthy and have attended prestigious colleges, where they have been welcomed into the aforementioned cabal.
“Aliens,” people from another world, etc – Jews are disloyal to the country where they live, that they are tricksters and interlopers who cannot be trusted. See: Roy Moore’s attack on George Soros (a lighting rod anti-semitism on the Right from not only non-Jews, but Jews as well), in which Moore accused Soros of promoting an agenda that was “not American culture.” “Soros comes from another world that I do not identify with,” Moore told American Family Radio in December 2017.
“International banks” – One particular clarion call to Neo Nazis is the use of the phrase “international banks.” “International” is key, connected with the anti semitic obsessions that Jew are not true Americans (their loyalty is actually to Israel), who are only interested in money, and the control of it. Therefore, Jews are responsible for any economic distress, vulnerability, and disparities affecting “real” Americans.
When it comes to anti-Muslim speech, the language is a little less coded. Unfortunately, we live in a time when it’s acceptable–in some political circles, even lauded—to disparage Muslims.
“Terrorists” – February 2018: 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. November 2017: 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley murdered 26 when he opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Texas. June 2015: 21-year-old Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. All of these young men committed acts of terrorism, but the media did not label any of them “terrorists.” That term is reserved for perpetrators who are Muslim.
“Radicals” “Extremists” “Fundamentalists” – There are members of every faith – and no faith – who interpret and apply their belief system in ways outside the norm. But how often do we hear about Christian extremists, Hindu fundamentalists, or Buddhist radicals? If any of those terms – “radical”; “extremist”; “fundamentalist” – comes without mention of a specific belief system, you can bet it’s being used to refer to Muslims, who are considered de facto “extreme.”
“Female genital mutilation” “honor killings” – The terms may seem like they are referring to specific practices that, in reality, span across cultures and geography. “Female genital mutilation” (used to refer to the partial or total cutting or removal of the external female genitalia) is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East but immediately evokes “Muslim” even though there is scant evidence that Islamic sources permit, much less require or encourage, the practice. Similarly, for “honor killings”—the murder of a family member when the perpetrator believes that person has brought shame onto the family. It is practiced in diverse cultures but also references, in coded terms, Muslims and Islam. Together, these phrases impugn Islam and Muslims of being against women’s dignity and equality.
It is happening. We are not wrong, we are not imagining things , and we are not helpless. We do, however, have an obligation to understand what we are hearing to call it out, to see to it that these are no longer regarded as secret codes, but as weapons. We must urge others to do the same, and no matter what, to keep listening.