How can Anti-Muslim Rhetoric cause Dehumanization?

On Monday, October 2nd, I was sitting in Math class when a friend came to me with a look of relief on his face. I asked him about it and he told me in short words, “Yesterday´s shooter was not Muslim.” Up until that point, I had heard about many hate crimes that Muslims experience in the United States because of previous terrorist acts conducted only by a small group of people, but I had never been a witness of the day-to-day concern for the othering of Muslims. I came across this article in Vox called “The dark psychology of dehumanization explained,” by Brian Resnick. In this article, Resnick describes some of the experiments conducted by Nour Kteily, a psychologist at Northwestern University, and his colleagues. Through a series of experiments, Kteily, Emile Bruneau, Adam Waytx, and Sarah Cotterill attempted to “measure people´s levels of blatant dehumanization of other groups,” and some of the correlations between current anti-Muslim policies and their dehumanization.

According to psychologist Nour Kteily, dehumanization is the ability to see fellow people as less than human. This so-called “ability” allows people to think about murder and torture, universally considered taboo, as things that can be justified provided that they are used against a group considered not fully human. Kteily and his team created the following tool:

picture 1
Ascend of Man tool

This image shows inaccurate representations of human ancestors slowly evolving into a modern human. With the sliders shown in the picture, participants who were mostly white Americans were asked to “[rate] members of different groups ─ such as Muslims, Americans, and Swedes ─ on how evolved they are on a scale of 0 to 100.” *It is important to note that these categories contain mostly nationalities, with the exception of Mexican Immigrants, Arabs, and Muslims. Mexican immigrants are a group of people classified by their immigration status and precedence, Arabs are the group of people who belong to the Arab states (22 Arabic-speaking countries), and Muslims are the followers of Islam.

Overall, their findings show the following:

picture 2Through the Ascent of Man tool, the scientists rated the different levels of dehumanization given to the previous categories. The scientists write, “On average, Americans rate other Americans as being highly evolved, with an average score in the 90s. But disturbingly, many also rated Muslims, Mexican Immigrants, and Arabs as less evolved… We typically see scores that average 75, 76 for Muslims.” *It appears that the target groups are ordered from high to low score, however, note that “American” is placed on the top of the target group column even though the “European” category was rated higher.

SELRES_e9d7b82e-e54a-46cd-9dc6-52dbcdf0f257SELRES_2e7145d0-f955-4a2b-82bc-877fd6b7bd2eSELRES_24005a8b-b15a-4621-bbf4-384fe6d87e7bSELRES_b67637c3-e7c4-4bb1-b576-070d15e16a7cSELRES_c3c80ccc-1cc6-49a7-a21e-ea31eb3a1271SELRES_fd21e23a-d7d1-4799-9c7f-fb6614e43ab2Correlations SELRES_fd21e23a-d7d1-4799-9c7f-fb6614e43ab2SELRES_c3c80ccc-1cc6-49a7-a21e-ea31eb3a1271SELRES_b67637c3-e7c4-4bb1-b576-070d15e16a7cSELRES_24005a8b-b15a-4621-bbf4-384fe6d87e7bSELRES_2e7145d0-f955-4a2b-82bc-877fd6b7bd2eSELRES_e9d7b82e-e54a-46cd-9dc6-52dbcdf0f257to Dehumanization

Nour Kteily, Emile Bruneau, Adam Waytx, and Sarah Cotterill found some interesting correlations (they are too many so I will just list them). They found out that people who show more willingness to dehumanize in the test above are more likely to:

  1. Show aggressive attitudes towards the Muslim world.
  2. Blame all Muslims for the actions of a few perpetrators.
  3. Support policies restricting the immigration of Arabs to the United States and the “Muslim ban.”
  4. Score higher on a measure called “social dominance orientation”, which means they “favor inequality among groups in society, with some groups dominating others.”
  5. Agree with statements such as:
    – Muslims are potential cancer to this country
    – The attacks on San Bernardino prove it: Muslims are a threat to people from this country
  6. Support Donald Trump

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

This article also mentions that hate crimes against Muslims in the United States are at their highest levels since 2001. So this brings us into the discussion of all the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been going on since this last presidential campaign. Between February and March of this year, four mosques were burnt in America, but we do not call this terrorism. While Trump places temporary bans for refugees and for people issuing tourists visas in six Muslim-majority countries, the misconception that Muslim immigrants are dangerous keeps spreading.

Kteily and his team did their “Ascent of Man” scale before, during, and after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013:

picture 3
After the attack, all Muslims were dehumanized more significant than 2 months prior and six months after the attack. These results show that we tend to think of certain groups as less human when only particular members commit atrocities. Differently enough, in another study, Kteily and Bruneau created a fake article that highlighted Dalia Mogahed´s research. She is the director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonprofit that studies Islamophobia. After reading this article, “mostly white participants that read that Muslims actually admired Americans, [didn´t] dehumanize them as much on the Ascent scale.” They also tried to make many participants who harshly graded minorities in the Ascent of Man tool realize how extreme it was to blame all Muslims for an act committed by few. Emile Bruneau found that if white people are asked, “Are all Christians responsible for the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church?” they are less likely to dehumanize Muslims.

Going back to the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st, I was stunned by how relieved my friend felt that the mass shooting was not committed by a Muslim. This fear is only experienced by some people because our current political climate and all of its anti-Muslim rhetoric tend to naturalize dehumanization. The writer of this article, Brian Resnick, interviewed a number of experts on dehumanization and othering and writes that they all came to the same conclusion: “The No. 1 way to combat dehumanization is simply getting to know people who are different from us.” I think it is really important to understand that all the anti-Muslim news we see on social media and all the hate we are exposed to can lead us to judge others as less human and affect our decision-making. Anti-Muslim rhetoric, in the form of policies and publicity, cause dehumanization in the sense that it gives others a reason to believe that minorities in America, such as the Islamic community, are dangerous. Resnick ends his article with the following thought: “Just as we have the mental capacity to dehumanize, we´re equipped with the mental programs that forge trust and understanding. It´s up to us to turn them on.”

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