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Bigotry and baiting go viral

When the chain email EISENHOWER IN DACHAU arrived in my inbox blaring alarms about the University of Kentucky dropping a Holocaust class from its history curriculum to appease Muslims, I was tempted to send it on.

Passover was coming, and the annual observance of the Holocaust, Yom Ha Shoah, was a mere month away. The timing couldn’t have been more critical. The email urged me to remember the millions dead, defy the appeased and the appeasers, and know that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had been at Dachau and ordered photographs to be taken of everything so that, in future years, no one could say the camps had never existed, that what happened there never happened.

I was shocked! I was disgusted! I was outraged!

I was … suddenly very skeptical.

No mention of others eliminated
The text was very poorly written. The data given were hugely incorrect. Entire groups of the eliminated — the Romany (“gypsies”), the retarded, the disabled — were unmentioned. Catholic priests were listed at a count of 1,500, but there was a separate statement about 10,000 Christians. Twenty-thousand Russians, but no French. Certainly no political dissenters, no gays, righteous Gentiles.

Hold it.

I took my historian’s hat off — I had been working on a book manuscript — and put on my sociologist’s hat. Where was this piece of trash going, and where had it come from? What was the aim of its wretchedly garbled message?

The piece of trash was going viral. I received the same message three different times in the course of a day. One email, addressed to several dozen folks, had already been forwarded twice before to several dozen folks … each time. And this was just my mailbox.

Snopes.com told me where it came from. It started as a myth in the United Kingdom, the “U.K.” — and had mutated to the “U.K.” — the University of Kentucky — on this side of the big pond. And now it was spreading across the country like a disease. The human illnesses of bigotry, racism and baiting do just go on and on, it would seem.

Escalating the argument
The aim of the message? Let’s get the Muslims fighting with the Jews in the United States and we can take down both these wretched minorities at the same time by having the argument escalate to the point where they start taking each other out. Should work, let’s give it a try. Jihad! Woohoo!

Except this sad little Holocaust scam email was a clear cousin to the sad little Nigerian scam emails we all get: very badly written, almost laughingly inept, asking for an unworthy deed by an unwitting accomplice for an unscrupulous manipulator.

Well, I ain’t gonna play that evil game. I sent the Snopes URL back to all 62 previous recipients listed on my chain emails, notified by email my entire congregation by listserv, forwarded that email to a long list of Twin Cities clergy (all denominations), and forwarded that email to both the provost and the director of diversity at the University of Kentucky by way of an apology for the stupidity of humans in general.

Lord, the damage we do when we let our button-pushed emotions rule our nascent common sense. I’m as guilty as the next person. I was so very ready to move that mess on and – listen up folks – I have a vast collection of e-addressbooks. You want viral? I’ll give you viral.

Viral damage can’t be undone
And I would never be able to undo the damage to my Muslim friends and neighbors, and to those Muslims friends and neighbors in America not yet met. Nor to the unnumbered millions of people around the world who would eventually receive that trash, never knowing I was at the heart of the virus. Nor to the honored memory of my ancestors who, on both sides of the family tree, were taken from their historic Jewish communities in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia and sent to die in the camps.

Passover is almost here, and the story of the Jews becoming a people of exile will be told once again. The observance of Yom Ha Shoah will speak one more time to the deaths of uncounted millions and that we must never forget. Never forget. Never forget.

The viral email had the nerve to end with this phrase. I will rewrite it: We must never forget … that we are One.

All of us, every one of us, are children of God and have a right to be here, to live free and die free, to sleep in peace and know that no one will be breaking down our doors in the middle of the night and taking us away to a ghastly fate. Not in this country. Not while I’m able to help undo the damage of those who would have us live in hate.

Deborah Morse-Kahn is the director of Regional Research Associates. She can be reached at dmk@regionalresearch.net.

 


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 04/07/2008 - 11:39 am.

    This is just the tip of the “misinformation” iceberg. I have recieved this — and NUMEROUS other messages on the internet. It is a cesspool of false, damaging, and insidious information, that gets passed along exponentially…and is morphed into even greater lies.

    I have started a policy of not only NOT passing this stuff along, but also correcting those who did. I have not made many new friends doing this (I have been labeled the “debunker” by many of my associates); but I would urge others to take the same action if the internet is to remain a viable and useful source of FACTUAL information.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 04/08/2008 - 08:28 pm.

    I have a much simpler solution: I delete them and empty the waste. My general rule of thumb nowadays is that if I do not know the sender and/or the subject line seems odd, off it goes.

    While the internet continues to provide a wealth of useful information at one’s fingertips, it also has a dark side that continues to allow scam artists, phishers, perverts and other lower forms of homo sapiens to continue to try and share their garbage with as many people as possible.

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