Britain First and the Spotlight Fallacy

I’m lucky I don’t live in a war-torn country in the Middle East. Not only because I’d be forced into a situation in which I’d either be executed by an authoritarian regime/death cult, harshly repressed by an authoritarian regime/death cult, or coerced into fighting for an authoritarian regime/death cult – but also because I’d be inexplicably lumped into the same category as my oppressors by the political dishwater of British politics – that is to say, UKIP, Britain First, the “Tory right” and their plentiful followers. The nice thing about dishwater is that you can loudly declare “Fuck off!” to it, pull the plug and watch it go down the drain. The same can’t be done with Kippers and their chums, but I’ve spent many a dark night wishing I could.

But let’s not talk about dishwater. Let’s talk about lumping in – let’s talk about the spotlight fallacy. RationalWiki describes it thus:

The spotlight fallacy (or spotlight effect) is a logical fallacy that occurs when highly publicized data on a group is incorrectly assumed to represent a different or larger group.

Simple enough, and you don’t need to be Theresa May (with her Snooper’s Charter) to know where I’m going with this. Britain First has created a political behemoth out of the spotlight fallacy, by which I mean, Britain First has primarily duped ordinary people into liking its xenophobic, nationalistic, hate-filled cesspool of a Facebook page by posting highly-sharable patriotic memes to draw people in before flooding their newsfeed with racist guff. Its posts largely consist of pictures or videos of Muslims taking part in disturbing activities or committing horrible atrocities like marching through the street and rioting in Sweden, never mind the fact that the latter is actually a video of PKK supporters (Kurds) clashing with Turkish protestors and Swedish police, not just “Muslims rioting” – this fact is made more bitterly amusing when Britain First gives implicit support to Kurds fighting “Islamists” in London by posting this video. If you value the truth in any way, it’s worth taking anything Britain First posts with a pile of a salt and spending at least two minutes on Google making sure you’re not being tricked.

But I digress.

Britain First’s true believers engage in the spotlight fallacy all the time, by focussing on the terrifying/frustrating/disturbing actions of some people who follow Islam and generalising those beliefs and behaviours onto the entire Muslim population. Their “power” comes from associating the worst aspects of humanity with Islam as a whole, which is why Britain First’s response to the coverage of Labour MP Jo Cox’s murder bewilders me so much:

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Isn’t it disgusting how some people will exploit a tragedy caused by one person in an already emotionally charged political situation to smear an entire group of society and stir up hatred and tension?

This headline, and a lot of the coverage of the tragedy, focusses on the allegation that the attacker, Thomas Mair, shouted “Britain First!” as he attacked Jo Cox. Desperate not to be tarred with the same brush as just one fanaticBritain First has since angrily defended itself on social media, with its followers asking for the same kind of understanding and common sense that they’ve denied to Muslims, immigrants, state benefit recipients, left-wingers, Remainers, politicians, etc. It really is something to see Britain First supporters use arguments like this:

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Without a trace of irony.

While others continue coming out with crap like this:

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A glorious return to form.

Yes. Some of these people would literally rather believe that it was a Muslim pretending to be part of Britain First in order to incriminate the group than an actual real life non-Muslim who shouted “Britain First” or “Put Britain First” while they attacked a principled MP who stood up for the rights of minority groups, refugees, the disabled, and the poor, and whose voting record in Parliament contains everything that the Far Right hate.

Perhaps the attack was apolitical. Perhaps Thomas Mair didn’t shout anything at all and really did lash out at random. Maybe, just maybe, Thomas Mair was a covert Muslim trying to shut Britain First down, but this Muslim version of Thomas Mair would still be one man, acting on his own, for his own reasons – be they psychological or political, representing nobody else but himself under the umbrella of a label that covers a far more diverse set of beliefs than can be contained in just one person.

In the coming days, Britain First’s supporters would do well to consider that.

Tell me that Regressive Leftists like me will be the first to be thrown off of roofs or whatever it is you mouth-breathers think is going to happen when “the Muslims take over” Britain @camerondechi

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The Orlando Shooting Is A Reflection of the American Psyche, not Radical Islam

The deadliest mass shooting in American history. Orlando Pulse, “the hottest gay bar in Orlando.” 49 LGBT people killed, 53 wounded; countless more traumatised, scarred for the rest of their lives, terror-struck by the sound of a firework, made restless by a shift in the shape of a shadow, made victims again at every mention of a gun, by the next inevitable mass shooting, by every gun-toting Liberty lover whose solution is “more guns”, who’ll rally against mental illness or the socialists in the White House, but not against the cancer that has long since turned America into a hospice for its most vulnerable citizens. They live in fear of death, without care, without dignity, only a omnipresent dread – often justified quietly by the rants of politicians or the disdain of strangers – but sometimes manifesting violently, angrily, as rape, as assault, as death.

In this attack, that LGBT people are right to fear for their safety should become undeniable. Assailed by “religious freedom” laws, by laws that pre-empt local protections, by laws restricting their freedom of movement, their rights to a stable home, to stable employment, to use a fucking bathroom. These are laws protected and enacted by so-called social conservatives, who whip up a concession of moral panics and hatreds, blind in their bigotry to the damage they do, even when it visits – naked and grotesque and terrifying – upon their fellow Americans in a scene like this: in the LGBT community’s memory it will forever be a harrowing tableaux, for the conservatives just another excuse to grandstand; to appear tough – and just look at the farcical way they do it.

“Really bad shooting in Orlando,” tweeted Donald Trump. “Praying for all the victims and their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart, and vigilant?” And then, a few hours later: “Is President Obama going to mention the words radical Islamic terrorism?”

This coming from a man who refuses to identify the victims as LGBT; the site of the attack as a gay bar; the catalyst for this cataclysm as the sight of two men kissing – and there are people who will think of that scene and wince at the thought. The same people who support “traditional marriage”. The same people who support “the safety of women in bathrooms”. The same people who support correctional facilities where gay men are electrocuted until a hug from their own father will make them weep. The same people who believe Michelle Obama is a man. Or that AIDS is God’s punishment for sodomy; that trans teenagers are confused or want to be special snowflakes; that to be trans is to be worthy of hellfire or death. Attitudes fostered and cultivated by demagogues and bigots and people who don’t know any better and people who “don’t care, to be honest” and so say nothing. Into this world was the Orlando attack born, and those who made and make it possible have no right to claim it as their own.

Donald Trump won’t identify the Orlando attacks as a hate crime, nor will Rubio, nor Paul Joseph Watson, who prefers to refer to Islam’s violence problem, not America’s bigotry problem. To address the core motivation of the shooter, Omar Mateen, would be to recognise what they hold in common with the man – their homophobia and transphobia, separated only by their means of attack – and what part they, and those like them, played in a radicalisation that knows no religion, only the fears of the ignorant and the desire to cleanse. No LGBT person will feel stood up for by these men. No LGBT person will forget the spaces they’ve been forced from by them, or the rights they have had denied. The fear they live in is not Islamic, it is endemic in all areas, thrown into the spotlight by this spectacle, but when the camera pans their lives will still be cut short out of frame, by poverty, by discrimination, by mental illness and violence, by heartbreak and ostracisation, by people who care nothing of their losses and only for their own gain.