'Islamophobia' experiment goes wrong
November 1, 2014 6:13 AM   Subscribe

Actor spouts extreme views about Muslims to gauge reaction of public. In an attempt to test whether Canadians feel safe in the presence of Muslims following the fatal shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo by an Islamic extremist last week, director Omar Al-Bach conducted the experiment in Cirillo's home town of Hamilton to see how many people would defend a supposed Muslim from verbal abuse. (link to The Independent)
posted by glasseyes (62 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think it went right. The actors all seemed very happy about the result. It showed that Canadians in the street are so opposed to Islamophobia that they will resort to physical violence to protect a Muslim they don't know. That's pretty great.

I have to admit though that my absolute favourite thing about his is the guy shouting "It's a social experiment! It's a social experiment!" while being punched in the face.
posted by 256 at 6:18 AM on November 1, 2014 [78 favorites]


<3 Canadians
posted by Jacqueline at 6:29 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


People laugh when I say I want to retire to Canada. This is why.
posted by tommasz at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: a guy shouting "It's a social experiment! It's a social experiment!" while being punched in the face.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2014 [171 favorites]


Question: do Canadians feel comfortable around Muslims?
Answer: yes, but they would appear to be rather uncomfortable around racists.
posted by MattWPBS at 6:43 AM on November 1, 2014 [25 favorites]


They got punched for committing sociology.
posted by chapps at 6:57 AM on November 1, 2014 [18 favorites]


It very much went right.

I lived in Hamilton for 7 years. It is It was a steeltown, a heavy-industry center, and has a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges. But the place has a great heart. I'm not surprised at the reactions.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:03 AM on November 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's not always easy to stand up to a stranger like this! Very admirable.

In general, there is a good respect of people of different faiths and their respective places of worship here. However, Southern Ontarians love to believe that their home is an absolut utopia of diversity and acceptance, which is not the case. We're pretty good at recognizing our strengths but it's not easy to talk about the racism that does exists here in Toronto. Also true of my home Nova Scotia. Anyway, don't wanna be a downer, just realistic. Hell, the Toronto Sun just published a racist political cartoon about Olivia Chow.
posted by beau jackson at 7:11 AM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, it's good to see the consensus among the onlookers is so rational and sane (well, except for that one punch....). On the other hand, I really, really hate this kind of sneaky hidden-camera use of total strangers in a "sociological experiment" they have no knowledge of nor agreement to.
posted by easily confused at 7:16 AM on November 1, 2014 [47 favorites]


Metafilter: a guy shouting "It's a social experiment! It's a social experiment!" while being punched in the face.

Forever.
posted by goethean at 7:16 AM on November 1, 2014 [28 favorites]


"Actually it's about ethics in game journalism!"
posted by Artw at 7:20 AM on November 1, 2014 [46 favorites]


He should be punched again because that is not how you do an experiment.
posted by srboisvert at 7:22 AM on November 1, 2014 [48 favorites]


Anecdata on video, on social media.
posted by batfish at 7:28 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


So do they have IRB boards in Canada?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:35 AM on November 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Good for Canada, but yeah—I wish people would stop doing this. Don't ruin people's days with some obnoxious spectacle, staged or no. People and their lives aren't there to provide grist for your TV channel.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:39 AM on November 1, 2014 [24 favorites]




Teach tolerance, get tolerance.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:52 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


> People and their lives aren't there to provide grist for your TV channel.

I had enough university to get that, no, this video was hardly a well-structured and valid experiment... but, if the makers have faithfully relayed what they recorded, it's arguably valid as a quick taking of temperature.

Isn't this the natural turf, the breakthrough of the new media? Little dispatches from the ground? Bottom-up, instead of the top-down, processed, artificially-flavoured pap we get from most corporate large-scale news media?

Anyway, the stories are the nature of the reactions, not the process or media. Hamilton, Cold Lake - those were genuine reactions, and consistent with my own experience in Hamilton. (I've been to Cold Lake too, btw)
posted by Artful Codger at 8:04 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Experiment? Control group much?

Also:
In an attempt to test whether Canadians feel safe in the presence of Muslims following the fatal shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo by an Islamic extremist last week, director Omar Al-Bach conducted the experiment in Cirillo's home town of Hamilton to see how many people would defend a supposed Muslim from verbal abuse.
"Director", not researcher, means they really shouldn't call this an experiment. Stunt? Demonstration? Probe? I'm sure MeFites can come up with a good term.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:19 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Experiment" is a fine term. Words often have more than one meaning, and "experiment" doesn't necessarily mean "meticulously planned double-blind peer-reviewed epitome of the principles of science". Picking on the term as if it did seems cheap and irrelevant.
posted by Flunkie at 8:24 AM on November 1, 2014 [24 favorites]


While I suppose this video is heartwarming (or about as heartwarming as a prank can be), I also think it points out a certain smugness Canadians possess, as well as a stereotype created by Americans and the American media following 9/11 and the War on Terror, that somehow Canada is this nice, sane rational place north of the border.

Because while it may not be politically correct to hurl invective at a Muslim at a bus stop, I can tell you from experience that it's perfectly socially acceptable to talk about "Indians" (ie, First Nations, first peoples, Native Americans) at the bar, in letters to the editor in the newspaper, in social media, at barbeques. Whatever it is that you want to say you can say it about First Nations. Just not at a bus stop of course. There are many rural communities that are segregated between natives and non-natives, right down of course to the bars you drink at.

While I think Canadians are pretty decent, based on my travels elsewhere I can say that people everywhere are pretty decent. This sort of self-congratulatory mythologizing, however, is never going to allow Canadians to move forward to become a truly tolerant and inclusive society.
posted by Nevin at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2014 [44 favorites]


Yeah, what Flunkie said. I have a pretty big nerd-boner for science, but this obviously isn't intended to be an "experiment" in the scientific sense.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2014


I'd be fine with calling it a stunt, all the while thinking Hamilton comes across fantastically well. The team involved don't do too badly neither.
posted by glasseyes at 8:28 AM on November 1, 2014


it's arguably valid as a quick taking of temperature.

Rectally.
posted by dhartung at 8:28 AM on November 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


This sort of self-congratulatory mythologizing, however, is never going to allow Canadians to move forward to become a truly tolerant and inclusive society.

You said it much better than I did, Nevin. That captures it perfectly.
posted by beau jackson at 8:34 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


How can I possibly be agreeing with every single comment on this thread? It's confusing.
posted by bq at 8:35 AM on November 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


Also may I say how delightful it is that one of the guys who goes after the racist is wearing a red plaid lumberjack shirt.
posted by bq at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]




...but, if the makers have faithfully relayed what they recorded, it's arguably valid as a quick taking of temperature.

Problem is it can ruin a lot of people's day (and maybe even longer).

Imagine you had a chance to stick up for someone and failed to. You would feel like an asshole. Probably for a long time. It also often places you in a no-win situation. A lot of people are conflict averse. I saw one of these sorts of "experiments" and the woman was literally crying while she was sticking up for the actor pretending to be a muslim being berated by a bigot. All she wanted was a latte and instead she got humans being banal.

There's some fucked up TV show that does this all the time. They have some guy verbally abusing a woman, then they come in and ask the people sitting around why they didn't stick up for her. Because people are dangerous? I have had several police friends over the years and all advise not to get in the middle of something like this. Call the cops and let them deal with it. They are professionals and it's what they are paid for.

I've heard of stories where no one came to another person's aid. Those are depressing enough. Now we're supposed to make sure we come to another person's aid when there's a chance it's all a fucking act? Fuck these guys.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:41 AM on November 1, 2014 [28 favorites]


Good for Canada, but yeah—I wish people would stop doing this. Don't ruin people's days with some obnoxious spectacle, staged or no. People and their lives aren't there to provide grist for your TV channel.

Yeah, I'm not seeing any mention of whether they told the people involved about it being an experiment after it was over. Just watching it was seriously triggering. Many, many friends have experienced racist violence in public. None of them were defended by strangers (only by friends, when they were present; don't even get me into the story of a saxophonist friend who was punched unconscious and his only pair of eyeglasses crushed because he happened to be black and alone, ugh).

Watching this made me shake, remembering all the times people looked askance at a friend; wondering if/when it would go verbal; when it did, wondering if/when it would get physical. The things this guy said were things you hear when it's on the verge of getting physical. Ugh.

I do appreciate all the people who stood up against the racism. But damn. 38 years old and I still haven't seen that personally from strangers in any country I've lived in.
posted by fraula at 8:41 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not clear to me how correctly the people behind this anticipated what would happen. Maybe they hoped for, but weren't sure of, the outcomes they got? Seems to me if you knew your town you could choose a number of sites to do it and expect different results accordingly - but you would, surely, be ready to be surprised.

A while back a UK journalist team left a parked car with England flags on it near a pub in Glasgow during the World Cup and sat back to film what happened next and I do remember a lot of discussion after that about incitement and provocation and journalist ethics and media distortion (and self-fulfilling prophecies.)
posted by glasseyes at 8:42 AM on November 1, 2014


Yeah, the suspendies and bra don't come on until happy hour.

I can't discern nor do I feel it my place to offer unsolicited comment w.r.t. what kind, if any, of underwear they're wearing beneath their outer clothing. I cannot conceive of any more personal, intimate choice any individual could make.
posted by mikelieman at 8:42 AM on November 1, 2014


While I understand some of the reservations here about this "experiment", discounting or belittling the peoples' reactions here because they probably hold the wrong opinion on First People is a tu quoque fallacy. Everyone is capable of getting it right here and wrong there. Congratulations are due when we get it right.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


mikelieman: I think that notyou was playing off of bq's comment about the puncher wearing a lumberjack shirt by making a joking allusion to a certain famous song
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


I will say though, as a minority person wherever I go, I find this extremely heartening. And would do even more if Canada were one of my countries of origin.
posted by glasseyes at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2014


I do get tired of these provocative videos, but it is good to see ordinary people standing up to racists (even if they are just acting the part).
Our track record in Canada in dealing with the First Nations is terrible, but I am sensing a change in how both the government and individuals are tackling the issue. Aboriginal people are feeling more empowered than before and finding their voices. Silent no more.
posted by arcticseal at 8:52 AM on November 1, 2014


Teach tolerance, get tolerance.

Meanwhile, my fb and email contains a pile of ranting about how Canada now has the justification to stop allowing Muslim immigrants, and how the Qu'ran is the source of all evil.

My response is generally that if you want Canada to be a tolerant country like we claim, you actually have to practice tolerance with people you don't like. Even Muslims.

"Experiment" is a fine term.

The French word for "experiment" is "experience", which kind of puts a different slant on the video.
posted by sneebler at 8:54 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


> While I think Canadians are pretty decent, based on my travels elsewhere I can say that people everywhere are pretty decent. This sort of self-congratulatory mythologizing, however, is never going to allow Canadians to move forward to become a truly tolerant and inclusive society.

I don't disagree. And our relationship with our First Nations population is still largely shameful.

I don't think that Canadians are intrinsically 'better' people. I do think that Canada has, or has done something fundamentally better that fosters better relationships between different ethnic and cultural groups.

>Imagine you had a chance to stick up for someone and failed to. You would feel like an asshole.

That's called ethics or morality. You feel bad if you have acted (or not acted) in a manner inconsistent with your own ethics.

And, in a place without a plethora of handguns, intervention is maybe less risky? Anyway, most interventions - just saying something, are low-risk, especially when you're expressing a viewpoint that the majority of people around are likely to support.

[ and what Benny A said]

Sorry for prolonging the derail. I do think there's a place for positive reinforcement of genuine positive action.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:57 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lesson: The next time you get punched in the face for being a douchebag, remember to shout "It's a social experiment!"
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:57 AM on November 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


How can I possibly be agreeing with every single comment on this thread? It's confusing.

Nothing a punch in the face can't fix.
posted by fairmettle at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think that Canadians are intrinsically 'better' people.

It's politics of fear. Speaking as somebody who lived on the lower West Side, it's not like New Yorkers turned against each other after 9/11. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Furthermore, this attitude did not emanate from New York. All I'm trying to say is this event was co-opted to fit a pattern, so that your politicians could more easily manipulate you. This to me is completely undeniable. This is the archetype people are referring to. Negative characterizations of Americans beyond that are really totally off-base.
posted by phaedon at 9:29 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hell, the Toronto Sun just published a racist political cartoon about Olivia Chow.

Call me the day the Sun doesn't print something racist and/or homophobic and/or misogynist on every third page.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:33 AM on November 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Interesting experiment. The results are the exact opposite of my experience growing up in a small western Canadian town where hated of and violence against visible minorities is commonplace. I guess that's a sort of diversity too.
posted by klanawa at 10:04 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whatever it is that you want to say you can say it about First Nations.

In the rural parts of Canada, yes. In Toronto, not at all. And the same goes for almost everyone else. I grew up in rural Canada hearing kike and nigger jokes every day on the school bus and, when I go back, I can't say it has changed much. But in the cities, people really seem to have absorbed the melting pot idea. The nice thing you see from this video is that the sense of tolerance you get in Canadian cities isn't just a show, because people who were racist but knew that expressing that opinion would not be acceptable would never stand up to harassers like this.

The big difference with First Nations as I see it is that they are the one minority that exists in any real numbers in rural parts of Canada that are less progressive. And so, First Nations people have the pleasure of taking the shit of the most racist Canadians face to face.
posted by 256 at 10:29 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


But in the cities, people really seem to have absorbed the melting pot idea.

'Melting pot' has never been a Canadian ideal; 'cultural mosaic' is.

And believe me the racism is happening here in Toronto too. A muslim woman who was running for city council had a billboard defaced with horrible anti-Islamic garbage; the Sun regularly runs disgusting cartoons and articles; all of the anti-Islamic bullshit I see on Facebook comes from Torontonians.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:37 AM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


The big difference with First Nations as I see it is that they are the one minority that exists in any real numbers in rural parts of Canada that are less progressive.

There are (relatively) large Sikh, Japanese and Chinese communities on the rural West Coast that have been there for a very long time (internment notwithstanding). Canada also receives tens of thousands of farm and forest labourers from Mexico and the Caribbean (etc.) every year. The perception of rural Canada as lily-white is often misguided.
posted by klanawa at 10:57 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


This suggest to me that the dedicated group of hateful folks commenting in the comment sections of Canadian newspapers are a tiny minority.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 10:59 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Warning: Do not read the comments. The faith you have regained gained in humanity will quickly be lost again.
posted by el io at 11:16 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


First Nations racism is the "acceptable" racism in Canada. Growing up I would have caught hell from my parents if they'd caught me talking shit about [insert racial or religious group here], and generally speaking I didn't hear a lot of racist invective from my fellow WASPs in my smallish southern Ontario hometown growing up, even when I was in high school. The one huge exception to all of this was and is, of course, First Nations people, who, one could freely state without fear of backlash, were lazy drunks living large off the tax dollars of hard working "Canadians" and deserved what they got at Ipperwash. "They don't pay taxes! Free tuition! Must be nice!" The only effective comeback to this idiocy I've ever come up with is "Sounds like they've got it pretty good! Would you trade places with them?" Nobody ever says yes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:25 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


My experience of Canadian racism is the same... Its pretty free of racism towards immigrants, but there certainly is First Nations racism present in the country.

Belgium startled me as well; people weren't racist towards black people (eg: people from the Congo), but they sure as hell were racist towards Moroccans.
posted by el io at 11:31 AM on November 1, 2014


Huh, Hamilton has a fairly large Muslim population though, at least the area around McMaster does (Where I did my undergrad). It would be interesting to do this again in say, Vancouver (Much smaller Muslim community, at least based on who I'm meeting), Kingston, Calgary.....

Of course, you'd have to do it say, a dozen times a day over a week to get some statistics.....
posted by Canageek at 11:40 AM on November 1, 2014


The nice thing you see from this video is that the sense of tolerance you get in Canadian cities isn't just a show, because people who were racist but knew that expressing that opinion would not be acceptable would never stand up to harassers like this.

Well, if I may object, I have a longstanding beef with things like the "What Would You Do?" types of segments on ABC and elsewhere, because they conflate anti-discrimination sentiment with what are more properly social norms. (Inverted, they are conflating bigotry and racism.) Maybe put that guy in the kaffiyeh walking next to a steel mill, for instance, and he might get harassed without any prompting by a self-styled social scientist. The examples like the set-up segment in a Texas restaurant where a waitress is openly homophobic, or the real-life incident in a Texas airport this week, both point to public and direct nastiness and violence being socially deprecated in middle-class, normative public settings. This doesn't mean that, say, billboard graffiti, or some sort of job or housing discrimination, won't remain common. Those are acts that take place with much less social scrutiny. (So does internet commenting.) When you look at the US right's push for Voter ID laws and other means of suppressing minority political participation, it's notable that what has changed from a generation or two back is mainly whether you can say out loud what your aim is. In the infamous, inner-circle insight of Lee Atwater:

…you start out in 1954 by saying nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968 you can’t say nigger, that hurts, there’s a backlash, so you say stuff like forced busing, states rights and all that stuff.

I think a lot of the "Racism is over" argument is based on the long-ago achieved goal of making it politically difficult to use racial epithets and almost impossible to enshrine explicit discrimination in law. But that doesn't mean racism is actually over, as Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay on reparations makes abundantly clear.

If there's progress, yes, it's marked in no longer having crowds of white punks (no, not that kind) pouring ketchup and mustard over lunch-counter protesters with nary a pinky of the local law's interference, to having individuals stand up to open bigots; but certainly it doesn't mean that, say, Arabs won't continue to face incredibly high rates of scrutiny on international flights. As such, I feel such "experiments" serve a purpose of concealing and disguising continued issues of discrimination, largely tailored for a majority white audience.
posted by dhartung at 12:24 PM on November 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


largely tailored for a majority white audience

Perhaps there is a bit of blindness here that Muslim Canadians and Canadians of Asian extraction are also part of any public this video addresses? That they are an inherent part of the Canadian polity?
posted by glasseyes at 12:45 PM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Maybe put that guy in the kaffiyeh walking next to a steel mill, for instance

Hamilton is the the steel industry hub of Canada, and in fact is nicknamed "Steeltown". There is every chance that that guy was a steelworker.
posted by CaseyB at 12:47 PM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Missed edit window - of course I meant 'integral' not 'inherent'. Bloody Old Timer Syndrome.
posted by glasseyes at 1:07 PM on November 1, 2014


People laugh when I say I want to retire to Canada. This is why.

Canada was attractive until they started playing fast and loose with freedom of speech. They get a pass from a lot of otherwise sensible people who happen to not like the speakers or the speech being played with, but me, I'm there with Voltaire.

As to the stunt, it reminds me of the non-muslim girl who decided to wear a hijab for a while to see how what happened. She found that she was treated better than usual. The conclusion was that this too showed racism because people were over compensating for their inner racist.

Belgium startled me as well; people weren't racist towards black people (eg: people from the Congo), but they sure as hell were racist towards Moroccans.

Which suggests that perhaps it isn't the Moroccans' race so much as other factors. Worth investigation, in any event. I give you the woman who was harassed in Brussels as one reference point.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:22 PM on November 1, 2014


We're not 'playing fast and loose' with free speech. There are always restrictions on speech, and the Charter specifically requires legal tests for any restrictions enacted by legislation or court ruling.

Unless you're trying to claim there are no restrictions on speech in the USA, your opinion is uninformed and incorrect.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:28 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The word Islamophobia, defining the scope of the incident, contains no reference to race whatsoever.
posted by glasseyes at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


My grandfather instilled in me the concept that NOT interfering with racist/sexist/homophobic/child abusers is only a few steps removed from accepting those values oneself. Fortunately I grew up to be a physically fit, tallish man and could step in in most situations and stand a chance of being ok (but not always!). I can see why a lot or even most people would not want to get into the middle of such situations but for me, I feel I owe the memory of my grandfather to make it something I must do. It doesn't always involve punching people, or other such violence; oftentimes just inserting yourself between the two parties is enough to defuse the situation. Calling the police, filming the altercation with your phone, and yelling for help are also very useful tools for harm reduction.

Call it white-knighting, whatever, I'm not offended. If this seems like humblebrag, apologies. But please do take whatever steps you can to change the outcome, without placing yourself in immediate danger. It can literally save a life.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:17 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is a version of the Marine Todd meme. So much so I wonder if it is faked.
posted by srboisvert at 4:21 PM on November 1, 2014


I saw almost this same experistunt on TV (or maybe it was YouTube ) years ago, done in the U.S., with basically identical results. They interviewed the responding strangers after the reveal.

Ah, found it! Okay, so it was one year ago.
posted by El Mariachi at 6:32 PM on November 1, 2014


Hey, here's an idea: maybe let's not generalize about a country of 35 million people based on the behaviour of a few people at a bus stop.

I'm glad this situation played out the way it did. But one of the big lessons of the Rob Ford era in Toronto is that racism is alive and well in the city. I have a Muslim friend who, while not being called anything so simple as a terrorist, has experienced A LOT of overt and casual racism in Canada.

And since we're generalizing based on anecdotes, while I was reminding people to go vote for a Black city council candidate this week, I had a white resident say to me (a white male) "what's a white guy doing working for a black candidate?"

Another: a Muslim school trustee candidate in downtown Toronto was physically threatened at a debate and was accused of being a terrorist and "Jew hater." (Thankfully she won)

Canadians LOVE to think we're like the people in this video, and many of us are. But it does us no favours to pretend we're a post-racial paradise. We may not have Ferguson, but we have a lot of work to do.
posted by dry white toast at 10:11 PM on November 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


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