In a throwback to its former glory, the satire website The Onion recently published an article titled, “Conservative Relative’s Description Of Chicago Clearly Came Directly From Dante’s ‘Inferno.’” Though sadly one could never expect them to be this erudite, this type of grandiose narrative about danger is what one hears from many on the American right. Certainly, liberals also have an irrational fear problem, they just fear different things. But regarding crime—and especially the border—conservatives have reached a level of ignorant fear that is some combination of comical and pathetic. They clearly feel personally threatened by circumstances they know little about, and which are overwhelmingly unlikely to harm them, much like the man who thinks all of Chicago is a circle of hell.
There is no better example of the entire nexus of ignorance and fear, and the ensuing hatred, than the commentary on a recent video from an “anti-human trafficking advocate” which portrayed friendly young men from Senegal as terrorist sleeper agents infiltrating our country.
The video in question is filmed by a man named Anthony Aguero. In it, he interviews a group of Senegalese immigrants standing in front of the border fence. The video itself is fine; I believe that citizen journalism is important and that the public should know what is going on at our border. He asks the men where they are going, and most say New York, though some say Philadelphia, and a few others who clearly have a personal connection name smaller cities. The problem is in how this was framed on Twitter, where he wrote, “Radical Muslims coming in at an alarming rate. It almost seems as if they received a sign on bonus and just splurged on randomness.”
🚨 They’re heading to different locations. What’s states do you hear? This was filmed yesterday. Radical Muslims coming in at an alarming rate. It almost seems as if they received a sign on bonus and just splurged on randomness. I’ll explain all detail today. Be sure to follow… pic.twitter.com/4uQBUxCvUL
— real Anthony Aguero (@AgueroForTexas) October 30, 2023
He is basing this on nothing; one of them has a nice looking ring and the rest are in normal, western clothing—a lot of the coats are new looking, probably because they were purchased in Mexico for the journey, given that Senegal is a tropical country. This was then shared by the popular account “End Wokeness,” informing its 1.8 million followers, “Large caravan of military-age men from Senegal (97% Muslim) at the U.S. border They all have plans (or orders) for exactly where to go once they are in. How many sleeper cells are among us?”
Bear in mind, the majority of these men said “New York,” the most famous city in America, perhaps in the world. A different tweet, which is no longer visible, informed us that the account had just discovered the one nice ring was a sign of allegiance to Allah! Of course, if true, it would be the equivalent of a Christian wearing a cross. Like the apocryphal reader of Dante, these Americans are clearly gaining their understanding of world events from fiction, but instead of classical poetry, they are instead influenced by TV shows from the mid-2000’s. Heaven forbid anyone be reasonable and see that these men are obviously economic migrants.
The absurdity of this all becomes extreme if you know anything about Senegal. Though it is suffering some recent political unrest (which has nothing to do with religion), Senegal is a very peaceful country that has never had a terrorist attack. It’s true the country is 97% Muslim, but 95% of those are Sufi, which is commonly thought of as the “mystical” kind of Islam by outsiders. It is described as a form of Islam where “peace and tolerance are important values, spirituality and closeness to God are more important than dogmas and strict adherence to religious rules.” They are known for their distinct form of dance, and have no modern history of terrorism. Voice of America, the famed U.S. propaganda outlet, published a video some years back explaining Senegal’s unique success in avoiding terrorism.
Perhaps more funny, the xenophobes always say “military age males” to make it sound scary, or perhaps that the men should stay home to “fight for their own country.” However, Senegal has no wars to fight; though, there is some banditry under the guise of “separatism” in its south. Instead, it is the largest provider of police to UN peacekeeping forces. The primary use of Senegal’s military is in supporting the so-called “International Community,” with no history of going around starting conflicts.
It’s true that there has been one story, amplified by scared right-wingers, about how a “Mauritanian or Senegalese” national was encountered at the border, and later found to be wanted for terrorism in Senegal. He was arrested without incident, but that entire episode demonstrates he definitely wasn’t a sleeper agent, as they wouldn’t use someone facing charges, he wouldn’t give a real name, and would have later worked to evade detection. This also seems to demonstrate that Senegal would inform us about anyone we might need to be concerned about. Further we know no details; if he even is Senegalese, it is possible he is not an Islamist but being persecuted for the recent political unrest, and thus the only one of them who perhaps has a legitimate asylum claim.
The contrast between the Twitter commentary and the truth about Senegal illustrates a few different things. The first is that perhaps you should bother to learn something about a country before assuming that everyone who comes from it is part of a vast terrorist plot to destroy the United States; it is objectively true that a citizen of any nation in Western Europe is more likely than a Senegalese national to be an Islamist terrorist.
It also shows that in the 22 years since 9/11, many Americans did not bother to learn anything about Islam, despite all we’ve suffered at home and abroad in the Global War on Terror. It’s fair to believe that the high volume of illegal immigration is a problem for a variety of reasons, including public safety, but conservatives screeching that these affable young men are a terrorist sleeper cell look extremely cowardly and foolish, especially if you take the time to learn anything about their home country. This marriage of paranoia and ignorance does, however, go quite far in explaining why the public tolerates or even supports the violent and foolish foreign policies our nation has pursued for decades. Maybe a lot of our problems really do come back to Americans being famously bad at geography and ignorant about the outside world.