I don’t agree with Aly when he says he would just be spinning the Gravitron of Outrage by telling Kruger that the “UN has attributed Japan’s low crime rate to low inequality and low gun ownership,” not a small Muslim population, and that “as a woman in Australia, she has a much higher chance of being murdered by a man she knows than a Muslim from another country.” I see value in that kind of earnest, substantive back-and-forth. But Aly has a point in arguing that you might accomplish more by first trying to understand why Kruger and her supporters are calling for an immigration ban, and then presenting the relevant facts and figures.
And yet Aly’s idea of radical empathy looks weaker on closer inspection. He ends the segment with a call to “send forgiveness viral,” hashtag and all, which is pretty flimsy advice. What concretely does that mean, besides sharing the video itself? And how exactly would that make things better?
Aly also doesn’t dwell on the nature of the fear expressed by Kruger. Fear comes in many forms—prejudiced and unprejudiced, rational, irrational, and cynically manufactured. Over at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, Rodger Shanahan writes that the media, Aly included, have devalued the “currency of fear” and failed to place the terrorist threat in proper perspective. He wonders what Australian soldiers who survived bloody wars “would have thought of television personalities describing their fears as a result of a terrorist attack that occurred over 10,000 km away,” in Nice, France.
Then there’s Aly’s suggestion that those who are outraged by outrageous opinions—who stand up to bigots and public figures who prey on people’s fears—are somehow part of the problem. As the Australian lawyer Lydia Shelly put it on Thursday, in a rebuttal to Aly:
As an Australian Muslim Woman, I am expected to protest passively: wearing a ribbon on my blazer, offering cups of tea and luncheons with those who preach hate against me, whispering quietly in private spaces. In essence, I am allowed to protest as long as I do not offend those who peddle the erroneous and toxic narratives and discourses which affect me the most.
Voicing outrage on social media is especially important for minority groups, argues the Australian writer Omar Sakr:
People of colour, and people from marginalised communities, have too few avenues of power in society today, and social media has proven itself to be one of our most dependable and effective tools to be heard. This is not a “cycle of outrage”, Waleed, it’s a cycle of abuse, and while the stakes for media personalities and politicians are ratings and job placement, the stakes for the rest of us are too often life and death.
The truth of the matter is that we’re all afraid, some of us with more reason than others, but fear cannot, in and of itself, be legitimate or illegitimate. What matters is what comes after it, how it informs our speech and our behaviour, and it is precisely this which has been criticised as far as Kruger is concerned.
“Anger and outrage is a natural response to injustice,” Shelly writes. “Anger is not necessarily destructive. It can be as constructive as forgiveness,” particularly when it’s channeled toward changing society’s power structures.
“[F]raming forgiveness as the only appropriate response ... unwittingly contributes to the normalisation of the sentiments behind Kruger’s views,” Shelly adds. A policy that would be unthinkable in ordinary times, she says, shouldn’t be excused or explained away in extraordinary times.