All Muslims Are Often Blamed for Single Acts of Terror. Psychology Explains How to Stop It.Brian Resnick
You can’t fight prejudice with name calling. Here’s one strategy that actually works.
By Brian Resnick
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda videos from a known hate group. The videos — one of which has been revealed to be fake — purport to demonstrate the dangers Muslims pose to Western society: that Muslim migrants beat up white Europeans, threaten Western culture, and mock Western religious figures.
As my colleagues at Vox have pointed out, Trump’s retweets fit with a pattern: He feels that the whole of Islam, collectively, is a threat to the United States and the West. He treats Muslims as a monolith, a group of millions who deserve to be banned from the United States. There’s a psychological theory that helps explain this tendency: “collective blame,” when we punish the whole for the actions of a few.
In some ways, Trump is channeling how many people in America feel about Muslims. We see collective blame rear its head after an act of terror committed by a member of the Islamic faith. “Maybe most [Muslims are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible,” Rupert Murdoch tweeted after the 2015 terrorist attack in France. A similar sentiment often repeats on Murdoch’s Fox News.
There’s nothing logical about condemning millions of people — who are spread across the globe and are unrelated to each other except by religious tradition — for the actions of a few. You wouldn’t blame all white people for the actions of Dylann Roof, who walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine African-American worshippers. You wouldn’t blame all Christians for the meanness of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Yet collective blame happens, with ugly consequences.