Recently it became international news that an 11-year old Muslim girl in Toronto was the victim of a hate crime. She was on her way to school, we all learned, when a man attacked her and used scissors to cut her hijab. After initially running away when she screamed, the man even returned to attack her again.
Now Toronto police say the incident never happened. Yet the story was accepted as fact. News reports even named the apparent victim, as did the Canadian Prime Minister of Justin Trudeau, who tweeted out his sympathy.
Why was everyone so credulous? It’s not exactly esoteric knowledge that people sometimes make up stories. It’s not even the first time someone has made up a story about an attack involving a hijab. Just in 2016 a woman falsely claimed three men attacked her on the New York subway and tried to remove her hijab. At the University of Michigan a woman falsely claimed that a man threatened to set her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab. And at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette a woman falsely claimed two men robbed her and stole her hijab.
One might expect skepticism upon hearing a similar story, or at least a hesitancy to weigh in quickly and emphatically. But as Jason Manning and I talk about in our new book, the emerging culture of victimhood leads to credulity about certain kinds of claims. Skepticism about such claims of victimhood can get one branded an oppressor, while credulity is seen as virtuous. There is no penalty for being wrong over and over again, but there may be a penalty for any reaction that can be said to further victimize a victim. Thus will the Justin Trudeaus of the world keep believing and publicizing such claims, no matter the harm it does to the apparent victims or to the broader culture.