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Another ‘too good to check’ media fail: the ‘illridewithyou’ hoax

Another 'too good to check' media fail: the 'illridewithyou' hoax

Media around the world swooned over the #illridewithyou hashtag, launched during the hostage crisis in Sydney to demonstrate solidarity with law-abiding Muslims.  The creator of the hashtag, Rachael Jacobs, said she was inspired when a Muslim woman sitting next to her on a train began nervously removing her headscarf, no doubt fearful that a crowd of Australian bigots would set upon her and exact revenge for the actions of the Muslim terrorist.  “I ran after her at the train station,” Jacobs wrote on Facebook.  “I said, ‘put it back on, I’ll walk with you.’  She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute, then walked off alone.”

This inspired a great rush of people to assert their moral superiority by declaring their willingness to ride with Muslims, shielding them against a backlash from benighted knuckle-dragging ogres.  Of course, no such backlash actually occurred; it never does.  The knuckle-dragging ogres are entirely hypothetical, which makes them very easy to stand up against.  The unseemliness of fretting so extravagantly about the imagined future backlash against a crime that was still in progress at the time did nothing to dim enthusiasm for this bit of posturing.  Neither did the mockery from skeptics who noticed that these courageous stands against violent prejudice tend to be awfully… selective:

In the end, there was no “anti-Muslim backlash,” and no Australian Muslims required protective escort from hashtag enthusiasts, while the very real Islamofascist terrorist holed up in the Sydney cafe got two innocent people killed.  

The epilogue to the #illridewithyou story is that Jacobs, in the course of telling her moving story of courage in the face of conjectured intolerance to the Brisbane Timesadmitted that she made the whole thing up:

Confession time. In my Facebook status, I editorialised. She wasn’t sitting next to me. She was a bit away, towards the other end of the carriage. Like most people she had been looking at her phone, then slowly started to unpin her scarf.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I was struck by feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness. It was in this mindset that I punched the first status update into my phone, hoping my friends would take a moment to think about the victims of the siege who were not in the cafe.

I spent the rest of the journey staring – rudely – at the back of her uncovered head. I wanted to talk to her, but had no idea what to say. Anything that came to mind seemed tokenistic and patronising. She might not even be Muslim or she could have just been warm! Besides, I was in the “quiet carriage” where even conversation is banned.

By sheer fluke, we got off at the same station, and some part of me decided saying something would be a good thing. Rather than quiz her about her choice of clothing, I thought if I simply offered to walk her to her destination, it might help.

It’s hard to describe the moment when humans, and complete strangers, have a conversation with no words. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.

But none of those words came out, and our near silent encounter was over in a moment.

My second status was written as a heartbreaking postscript to my first. While the woman appeared to appreciate my gesture, we had both left defeated and deflated. What good is one small action against an avalanche of ignorance?

Hours later, social media showed me good people can create their own avalanche of kindness.

Oh, it was an avalanche of something, all right.  

This woman invented an incident and used it to convict her entire society of thoughtcrime.  She’s not just a fabulist, she’s damn near delusional.  She’s not even slightly apologetic – her Brisbane Times piece isn’t an apology for leading so many people astray with a fabricated story, it’s a long self-congratulatory article about how wonderfully special she is for launching “a pre-emptive strike against racism and bigotry,” and providing a reminder that “we can overcome fear and ignorance with a pledge to treat each other with respect.”  It reads like a parody of what goes on inside the noggin of a Social Justice Warrior.  

According to her byline, Jacobs is a lecturer in education at the Australia Catholic University in Brisbane; if they have higher standards than American universities do, her career would end as the perpetrator of a worldwide hoax that she not only did nothing to stop, but reaffirms her support for.  It would be nice to see Western academia stand up for the importance of, you know, truth, instead of supporting politically correct lies.  

What never occurs to the Special Snowflake Brigade is that their crusades amount to vicious slander against the people they collective accuse of harboring the darkest thoughts, and hovering moments away from taking the most terrible actions.  While a real terrorist was subjecting his captives to hours of sheer terror that ended with gunfire and bloodshed, Jacobs was inventing an imaginary incident of cultural oppression to denounce her entire society for something it didn’t actually do.  

In fact, she was doing exactly what she falsely accused Australians of doing to Muslims.  She’s every bit as prejudiced as the imaginary bigots the #illridewithyou crowd took an ostentatious stand against; her bigotry simply has different, more politically correct targets.  She wraps up her Brisbane Times column by trying to exile her imaginary hobgoblins from Australia, in precisely the same terms that would doubtless drive her incandescent with rage if they were directed at the groups she favors: 

I am, however, the daughter of Indian migrants, and having lived all of my 37 years in Australia, I feel I’ve seen the best and the worst this country has to offer. I’d rather deliver a message to racists, bigots and anyone who dares to derive a message of hate from this tragedy – it is you who are unwelcome here. Your values have no place in civilised society, and if you spread intolerance, there’s an avalanche of kindness ready to take you down.

The entire global media swallowed this tripe hook, line, and sinker, without performing the most basic diligence to determine if Jacobs’ account of the sad, frightened Muslim woman on the train was true.  It was too good to check, so they didn’t check it.  In case you’re wondering, yes, Barack Obama fell for it, too, and anyone who didn’t was ripped as a heartless brute. 

It’s just like the Rolling Stone rape hoax, the casual slander in Lena Dunham’s memoir, and even First Lady Michelle Obama’s sudden decision that an encounter at a Target department store she used to describe as heartwarming was actually an example of thinly-veiled racism: It doesn’t matter if the story was a lie, as long as fashionable political ideology judges it valid.  Reality is clay to be molded by politics and emotion.  The minds of others contain whatever dark thoughts a liberal claims to detect, and all of society must be judged guilty based on the evidence they have telepathically collected.  Deeper Truth can be illuminated with lies when necessary.  Don’t you dare pester them with details such as the actual instance of campus sexual assaults, or what really happened on some train in Australia!  What’s important is how Rachel Jacobs feels about what might have happened on that train, not what actually transpired.

Update: It’s interesting to note that even the original version of Rachel Jacobs’ story was pretty thin, and relied heavily on her final encounter with the alleged “oppressed Muslim woman” for what little veracity it had; that parting scene confirmed that the woman had removed her headscarf as a concession to bigotry, and was grateful for Jacobs’ support to reclaim her dignity.  That’s the part that occurred entirely as a delusional breeze wafting between the windmills of Jacobs’ mind.  The #illridewithyou hoax only worked because so many people were eager to receive such confirmation of their prejudices, such validation of their feelings of superiority over the miserable cavemen who make up the quietly seething racist bulk of their societies.  As America has been learning to its cost over the past six years, it is a very bad idea to put people who feel that way in charge of your government.

Now, are the global media outlets who pushed the #illridewithyou hoax so energetically going to pay equal attention to the author’s admission that she made the whole thing up out of whole cloth?


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