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After the Catalonia Attacks: Hate Messages and Social Network Confrontations

Altar at the Canaletas Fountain in memory of the victims of the attack on Barcelona's Las Ramblas street on August 17, 2017. Photo by Joaquimalbalate, published in Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

The internet never saw the moment of silence that many groups in Spain held for the victims of the attacks on August 17 in Barcelona. Moreover, many users took to Twitter and Facebook to vent hatred and spew inflammatory speech.

Alongside the grief triggered by the attacks that shook both Barcelona and Cambrils earlier this month, a wealth of views on the event surfaced in Spanish language-sections of social networks. While some attacked Muslim migrants in vicious diatribes, others called for reflection and criticized xenophobic displays.

Islamophobia made its presence known via the hashtag #STOPIslam as well as via the poor-taste humour responding to the #UnTaxistaMarroquí (#AMoroccanCabDriver) hashtag that trended in the wake of the violence. The hashtag initially referred to an anecdote shared on Twitter, in which a woman told of how a Moroccan taxi driver had taken her mother home without charging her shortly after the attack.

The tweet sought to make it clear that migrant workers are ordinary people rather than terrorists. However, a number of ironic responses reflected quite different feelings:

#AMoroccanCabDriver got me out of #LasRamblas on his winged unicorn.

#AMoroccanCabDriver took me to his house, fed me, tucked me in, and when I woke up, he had robbed me

To which other users reacted with indignation:

That 24 hours after the attack #AMoroccanCabDriver is trending and being joked about says a lot about the society we live in.

Beyond the Attacks

So-called “hate speech” has been a constant in Spanish social networks in recent days. So much so that the authorities, in addition to publishing confirmed data and debunking other information, have been forced to draw attention to the rhetoric:

Most seriously, the local press reported assaults, such as the one experienced by a minor who was beaten to shouts of “fucking moor,” as well as hostile graffiti on mosques and other public walls:

[The text on the wall reads: F*ing moors, you will all die] We found this painted on the doors on the Montblanc mosque. I do not want this act to go unpunished. #Barcelona #Cambrils

One judge warned:

Those who blame terrorism on all Muslims are dangerously approaching the irrational fanaticism of jihadists.

Among the hoaxes to make its way around Whatsapp was a text demanding the condemnation of the attacks by the Muslim community and accusing Muslims of failing to express solidarity in the aftermath of the attacks. In reality, different communities in Spain had already publicly condemned them in the street and on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, as had Karim Prim, a well-known Muslim activist and civil officer:

Those who many are calling terrorists have neither religion nor ideology: they are simply murderers

Also, on the streets of Catalonia citizens faced a march called by an extreme right-wing group, as shown in the video published by online media PlayGround:

“Not In My Name”

Dozens of practitioners of Islam came together last Saturday in Catalonia under the motto “we are Muslims, we are not terrorists,” while hashtags like #NoEnElMeuNom#NoEnMiNombre (translations of #NotInMyName seen in response to other ISIS-claimed attacks) responded to the hoaxes that had been circulating.

No comment. [In the image: The lady on the left carries a sign saying “Not in my name.” The lady on the left says: “Ok, sure. You reject Islamic Terrorism. Great. But then… WHY do you not also reject the veil, Ramadan, the kids being in the street all day long, the phone shops, the weird butcher shops, meal grants and all those other things that bother us so much, huh?”]

Also, in contrast to hashtags of hatred were various “counter-hashtags” and signs of respect like #YoTeAcompaño (#I'llGoWithYou) which emerged in Australia after the 2014 hostage crisis, with the aim that Muslims feeling scared would not have to walk outside unaccompanied:

One way of saying #StopIslamofobia is #YoTeAcompaño#TeAcompaño (#I'llGoWithYou): A sad and beautiful proposal. No one should feel frightened!

“What Are We Doing Wrong?”

Meanwhile, educator Raquel Rull, who worked with the young people accused of the Catalonia attacks during their adolescence, wrote a public letter on Facebook that was in turn published by the national newspaper El País. The letter was entitled “What Are We Doing Wrong?“:

Estos niños eran como todos los niños. Como mis hijos, eran niños de Ripoll. Como aquel que puedes ver jugar en la plaza, o el que carga una mochila enorme de libros, el que te saluda y te dejar pasar ante la cola del super, el que se pone nervioso cuando le sonríe una chica. Me duelen las chispas que encienden el odio en las redes… Donde se muestra la ignorancia, el rencor, la indiferencia, el no respeto hacia el prójimo, los tópicos, las fronteras, el girar la cabeza hacia otro lado, el no saber ponerse en la piel del otro […] Esto no debe quedar [como] una historia más. Tenemos que aprender de ella, hemos de hacer un mundo mejor. Practicando con el ejemplo, educando en la no violencia, transmitiendo el no odio, la igualdad.

These kids were like all kids. Like my children, they were kids from Ripoll. Like the one you can see playing in the square, or the one who carries a huge backpack full of books, the one who greets you and lets you go in front of them in the supermarket line, who gets nervous when a girl smiles at them. I am hurt by the sparks that ignite the hatred on the internet… Where ignorance, resentment, indifference, disrespect towards your neighbor is shown, the topics, the borders, the looking the other way, the not knowing how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes […] This cannot be just another story. We have to learn from it, we have to make a better world. Leading by example, educating in non-violence, conveying non-hatred, equality.

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