Skip navigation

It started with Sam Harris, moved on to Milo Yiannopoulos and almost led to full-scale Islamophobia. If it can happen to a lifelong liberal, it could happen to anyone

I am a happily married, young white man. I grew up in a happy, Conservative household. Ive spent my entire life save the last four months as a progressive liberal. All of my friends are very liberal or left-leaning centrists. I have always voted Liberal Democrat or Green. I voted remain in the referendum. The thought of racism in any form has always been abhorrent to me. When leave won, I was devastated.

I was curious as to the motives of leave voters. Surely they were not all racist, bigoted or hateful? I watched some debates on YouTube. Obvious points of concern about terrorism were brought up. A leaver cited Sam Harris as a source. I looked him up: this intellectual, free-thinker was very critical of Islam. Naturally my liberal kneejerk reaction was to be shocked, but I listened to his concerns and some of his debates.

This, I think, is where YouTubes suggested videos can lead you down a rabbit hole. Moving on from Harris, I unlocked the Pandoras box of Its not racist to criticise Islam! content. Eventually I was introduced, by YouTube algorithms, to Milo Yiannopoulos and various anti-SJW videos (SJW, or social justice warrior, is a pejorative directed at progressives). They were shocking at first, but always presented as innocuous criticism from people claiming to be liberals themselves, or centrists, sometimes just a regular conservative but never, ever identifying as the dreaded alt-right.

For three months I watched this stuff grow steadily more fearful of Islam. Not Muslims, they would usually say, individual Muslims are fine. But Islam was presented as a threat to western civilisation. Fear-mongering content was presented in a compelling way by charismatic people who would distance themselves from the very movement of which they were a part.

Read more: