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My best friend (let's call him Bob for potential answerers) whom I have been friends with since childhood (around 15 years) has become increasingly xenophobic recently. He's a great person and genuinely means no harm (also leans slightly to the left politically on other matters). But, he seems to be going to the corners of social media where anti-Muslim propaganda is rife (such as the Daily Mail / The Sun / Britain First) and facts are skewed. I've tried telling him to:

Ignore the nonsense that comes from those pages, Muslims in the UK do more good than harm. [provides articles to read]

But, he'll still share and talk quite hateful things towards them. I know deep down it isn't because he genuinely has a hatred for Muslims, it's because he's believing the lies that he's reading.

How am I able to approach this without losing a friend?

Note: I would like the answers to steer away from the mention of Muslims generally but more towards how I can approach my friend in this particular scenario.

Update: When writing this by the approach I wanted him to see that not only the material he is reading isn't credible on this particular topic, but for him to know that his views in this regard are controversial in our own discourse. But, I've now learned this requires love and patience from my end including that recommended in the accepted answer:

besides being patient, sharing your experiences, setting a good example, and hoping that Bob eventually has an experience that changes him.

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    Do you have Muslim friends in your circles? – NVZ Aug 19 '17 at 8:51
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    @NVZ No, we don't. (but I do have Muslim friends, outside of it) – Bradley Wilson Aug 19 '17 at 8:52
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    I've deleted a number of comments on the question and answers. The question's not about whether or not Bob's xenophobia and Islamophobia are justified; it's about how @BradleyWilson should respond to Bob. Any comments attempting to support either side will likely be deleted. – HDE 226868 Aug 19 '17 at 16:04
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    It's not clear to me what your goal is other than to "approach this". I'm not sure what this means. If he's your friend why do you need to "approach" a divisive topic? Is it because you feel a desire to change his attitudes or behavior? Because this aspect of his is not tolerable to you? Politics aside, love and/or deep friendship means accepting people how they are. In many ways one cannot simultaneously fulfill the roles of friend and political activist with an agenda – Brad Thomas Aug 19 '17 at 23:16
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    The question contains too many highly subjective terms, and seems to be less like a question about "how do I deal with Bob", but more about "look, I just want to post my political opinion and the same time call all who disagree to be evil and stupid, so please, confirm that my view is right". This question needs some serious editing to be really about "How do i deal with my friend who has an ideological view opposite to mine". It might also happen that the OP is biased, because I've seen plenty of times that even a slight criticism of Islam was handled as the most vile Nazism. – vsz Aug 20 '17 at 14:39
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+50

But, he'll still share and talk quite hateful things towards them. I know deep down it isn't because he genuinely has a hatred for Muslims, it's because he's believing the lies that he's reading.

This is no different from saying that ISIS members don't have a "genuine hatred" for the West, they just believe the lies they hear from other extremists.

NO reasonable person can believe the sort of lies that justify fear and hatred towards a large and incredibly diverse group of people, most of whom are kind and peaceful. I think it is more accurate to say that the emotions of fear and hate draw people to the sorts of lies that justify the fear and hate that they already have in their heart.

Why do people have that fear and hate in the first place? It comes from a very primitive place in the human psyche: an in-group vs. out-group instinct that says "people like me are good, people who are not like me are bad". From an evolutionary perspective, it is easy to see how this mentality is adaptive in a context where people live in small social units that must compete against other units for resources and survival. The more people feel that the survival of their group is somehow threatened, the stronger these tribal instincts become.

In my experience, people can change and recover from hate, but the only way to do this is by appealing to the same in-group vs. out-group instinct that leads to hate in the first place. The key is for that person to feel as if members of the "out-group" are now in their "in-group", which shatters the divide that they previously held in their mind. You mentioned in the comments that you and Bob don't have Muslim friends in your circle, which is not surprising at all. If Bob was actually friends with Muslims, and felt that some Muslims are in his in-group because they share many of his interests, values, humor, etc., it would become impossible for him to hate "Muslims" in general, and he would be forced to develop a more nuanced view on what it means to be Muslim.

I have had this experience many times in my life with homophobic people. I grew up in a very homophobic environment, including my immediate family and many friends growing up. Long before they knew I was gay, I used to argue with them about their homophobic views using facts, logic, science, etc. I thought that if I could just come up with the perfect, irrefutable argument, then I could change their minds. But it never worked out that way. It seemed like my arguments would only entrench them further in their views, as they would find their own dubious "science" and "facts" to support the idea that gay people are disgusting, unnatural, perverted, immoral, and harmful to society. It wasn't until I returned home as an adult and started saying two simple words, "I'm gay", that the vast majority of people I was close to actually changed their views on homosexuality completely. I have even heard some of these former homophobes standing up for LGBT people when they hear negative comments in their wider social circle, and it is all because when they think of gay people now, they don't think of some scary imaginary weirdos out there in the world threatening their sense of normalcy- instead, they think of ME, a normal person in their in-group who they care about. Thus, the same in-group vs. out-group instincts that made them hateful towards LGBT people in the past have now made them protective towards LGBT people.

All of this can be difficult to accept if you are a very logical person (like myself), but the key to understanding hate is to realize that hate is never based on facts and logic; hate is rooted in primal emotions, and it seeks out fake facts and bad logic to justify its own existence. The only way to change primal emotions is to appeal to even stronger primal emotions. By bringing someone from the "out-group" into the "in-group", a hateful person can become a defender of the group they used to hate. It isn't guaranteed to work, and it is important to recognize that this may take time and patience. It requires a real emotional connection to be established, and that can be difficult, particularly when Bob's attitudes could easily alienate potential Muslim friends. But in my experience, this is the only way to really change people who have hate in their heart. Arguing will likely entrench their views as they increasingly draw on the bottomless pit of bad information available on the internet, and trying to shame them or punish them for their views might lead them to suppress their views in public without actually changing them.

In terms of what YOU can do in the immediate situation, it should be clear by now that I don't think there is a quick and easy answer. It may be that there is not much you can do besides being patient, sharing your experiences, setting a good example, and hoping that Bob eventually has an experience that changes him. But if your goal is to help Bob change, I don't think that arguing endlessly or treating him with meanness is productive.

For further reading on this, reading the stories of reformed white supremacists is really helpful, and there is a lot of material out there (just Google, e.g., "reforming white supremacists"). There are also entire organizations dedicated to reforming members of hateful groups, e.g., Klansmen, neo-Nazis, etc. These are obviously extreme cases, but hate is hate, and it comes from the same place, so you might get some insight from these cases.

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    Excellent answer. Since the OP has stated in the comments that they have Muslim friends (who are not mutual friends of Bob), is it an idea for them to introduce Bob to their Muslim friends (if at all reasonable or possible) in order to break that "out-group" mentality? Or would forcing it be a bad idea? – sudowoodo Aug 19 '17 at 11:32
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    I actually thought of that, but I didn't want to say that because I thought there is something a bit odd about introducing a Muslim friend specifically for the purpose of reforming Bob... like if friend A introduced me to friend B specifically because they were hoping I would help teach A to not be homophobic, I would be offended. I think it could possibly be done, but would have to be done in a careful way and you should talk honestly to the Muslim friend about Bob before doing something like this, and make sure they are fully aware and comfortable with what is going on. – Slow loris Aug 19 '17 at 11:53
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Slow loris Aug 19 '17 at 21:46
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TLDR: the reasonable and responsible thing to do is to see if what he means really is indiscriminate hatred towards all Muslims, or whether what he genuinely is concerned about are the numerous negative effects of a growing Muslim (and increasingly Islamist) population in Britain. Responsible and charitable interpersonal behavior requires us to take each other's concerns seriously and see if and in how far we agree with them, and point out in a manner that has a chance of being heard where we disagree. Appeal to shared values, acknowledge pertinent facts and valid concerns, and be gentle, yet decided in objection to blatant falsehood.


Take his concerns seriously. Talk to him about what specifically he believes about Muslims, and appeal to valuing facts - and be willing to listen to the facts (or claims) he considers pertinent. You won't be able to change someone's mind by condescending to them, or by calling them bigoted, or by showing a disregard for their opinion that brushes away everything that seems relevant to them without genuine consideration. You will have to engage the ideas in a rational and empathetic manner, and concede cases where you see that you may not agree with him, but where he does have reasonable concerns. None of us has their thoughts sorted out enough or is able to articulate them clearly enough in all cases that we could have conversations about things we disagree on entirely without friction, so do your best to minimize the friction that comes out of sloppy thinking or speaking by being charitable in listening and interpreting his words; ask for clarification where you're not sure what he means.

Does he think all Muslims beat their wives and have sex slaves? Introduce him to some Muslim friends who clearly don't, and acknowledge that there are worrying trends in Britain in this regard. Developments like the child sex slave rings in Rotherham and other places (just one example of many grievances that could be amplified to an extreme position like "all Muslims do X" in tabloids) that were ignored in large part out of a fear of being labeled racist and bigoted show that condescending to someone in that manner has disastrous effects, and from an interpersonal point of view are necessary to acknowledge as valid grievances. Don't concede extreme positions like "all Muslims rape children", because they clearly don't, but don't swing to the other extreme of "nothing to see here", that can only be received by him as being delusional and a judgement of his moral character.

Does he think all Muslims hate gays? Introduce him to some gay Muslim friends, and together talk with them about why mainstream Islam condemns them and teaches that they deserve severe punishments, what reactions they experience from Muslims, where they see opportunities, what values their allegiance lies with, and how they reconcile themselves with Islam.

Does he think all Muslims are Islamists? Talk about what exactly he means by that - support for stoning adulterers, jailing/executing blasphemers/satirists, flogging people who have extramarital sex, implementing Islamic marital law, etc.? There are numbers on what proportion of Muslims say they subscribe to those notions, how many support sharia in general, etc. Those numbers are worrying, yet they also show that many Muslims do not support those specific demands. Acknowledge the concern and explain why you think it is less worrying than he thinks. If he disagrees with your explanation of that, recognize that it's a matter of anticipating future behavior of large groups of people, and that it's by no means clear whether a more optimistic or more pessimistic evaluation will turn out to be accurate, so disagreement on that point, to a degree, is perfectly fine - and you may actually be naively optimistic in your own views.

You may not be able to adjust his views to exactly yours, and you shouldn't aim to - he will see that as domineering, condescending, moralizing, and obstinate. He will see you as stubborn and as closing your ears to what he considers valid concerns. A friend that can't rely on you being willing to listen to his concerns and acknowledging that he may have a different, but also valid, view on things than you won't be your friend for long.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – HDE 226868 Aug 19 '17 at 16:02
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    I've created a chatroom, this isn't the place to have political discourse. – Bradley Wilson Aug 21 '17 at 11:49
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Is Bob really your friend?

What if the Bob asked this question. What should Bob do to convince you that he is right? What articles should he give to you? What should he say? That the articles you read are propaganda and it's proven by the facts in this articles? What would be the facts that he should reveal so you would believe his stance is the correct one?

I suspect that there is nothing he could do tomorrow to convince you to change your opinion. This is a huge topic and you can't change friends opinion just like that.

What you can do is argue with passion. If you disagree, simply exclaim

"What the hell Bob? That is just plain wrong!"

and argue your points. Friends are not only meant to agree on topics, discussions on topics where you disagree should be most beneficial to both of you. You might find some common ground here or there, you might disagree on other things. Over time you might convince him to join your side on some details and he will convince you on some other details.

The situation is not the same but you should approach it in the same manner as if you tried to convince him that the music by Justin Bieber is actually bad and no sane person finds it good while he kept sharing you articles from Justin Bieber fan sites.

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Whenever somebody close to me makes a discriminatory comment about any particular group, I tend to ask them why they think so. Once they commit to some apparently factual statement which I know to be not true, I try to show them that is either propaganda or traditional misconception. If needed I will explain the political or social agenda behind spreading such ideas.

I also point out how religious or cultural differences might account for it. Finally, I would ask them how it affects them personally: even if what they say is actually true I would try to make them understand how it is not a reason for them to feel hostile towards that particular community, and they often realise they have no reason at all to feel anything against that community.

It can take time to convince and you cannot use this method with a committed bigot, but if your friend is a reasonable person as you suggest he will surely eventually understand.

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If you talked this through with him already and provided him all the information to make him believe otherwise, then there are not many things to do. You have to accept his 'ignorance' in this case. How hard it might be. Sometimes we really love to show people logic. But not everyone wants your logic. They are mad and angry at something. The only thing you can do is find acceptance in his choice. If you both are good friends, then I don't see any problem asking him to respect your perspective about the matter as well.

Well, I've tried my best to convince you with evidence, but I am afraid I can do nothing but accept your view. Hope you accept mine. So shall we go on about something else? Don't want to ruin our friendship over this.

I believe you can always ask your friend to take into consideration that you are offended by his hatred. A good friend should respect that and avoid the subject with you.

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    This is the best answer here. Sometimes it's better to avoid a sensitive subject than to try to convince the other person of your own views (no matter how ridiculous theirs might be). See also Getting rid of differing political/ideological views? and its answers. – Rand al'Thor Aug 19 '17 at 13:21
  • Thanks, it works for me. It's really hard to avoid it, especially when you have a sense of justice and the person in question is a close relative or friend. But, I rather leave it alone, then creating any friction in the relationship. In this case, I think OP is also offended by Bob's hatespeeches. Nothing wrong with telling your best friend that you are offended by it. Mutual respect is the solution. Thanks for adding the link! – Tomas Aug 19 '17 at 13:37
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    I like this as an immediate solution and the accepted answer as a long-term solution. – Bradley Wilson Aug 19 '17 at 17:13
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In addition to what Slow Loris says about breaking the in-group/out-group mentality, you could (if at all reasonable or possible) introduce Bob to your Muslim friends.

If Bob was actually friends with Muslims, and felt that some Muslims are in his in-group because they share many of his interests, values, humor, etc., it would become impossible for him to hate "Muslims" in general, and he would be forced to develop a more nuanced view on what it means to be Muslim.

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    I commented something similar on my post above, but I think it is very important to also be completely honest and respectful towards any Muslim friend you are introducing to Bob specifically for this reason. Otherwise you are basically just using them for their minority status in order to better another person, which is messed up and unfair. If Bob gets lucky and makes such a willing Muslim friend, then great. But it is not right to take it upon yourself to put an unassuming Muslim friend in that position. It isn't their job to fix Bob. – Slow loris Aug 19 '17 at 11:56
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    I would also add that members of persecuted minorities often experience exhaustion from dealing with people like Bob. If you talk to a Muslim friend about Bob and they say "I deal with enough crap in my life, I don't feel like being intentionally put in the same room with someone like Bob", then you HAVE to respect that. – Slow loris Aug 19 '17 at 12:00
  • Agreed @Slowloris. This is also presuming that Bob's xenophobia is mild enough that he would not respond negatively to this encounter, or that he is not prone to rants on this topic, or that he would have the decency not to do so in front of said friend. I would not risk it if there was ANY possibility of making your Muslim friends feel uncomfortable. And rather than meeting with the particular purpose of reforming Bob, I was thinking more like if they should meet casually for other reason, eg. at OP's birthday party. Not like a "let's get a coffee and talk about Islamophobia" thing. – sudowoodo Aug 19 '17 at 12:53
  • But, yeah, it does seem like a bit of a stretch now that I think of it that way. – sudowoodo Aug 19 '17 at 12:54
  • @Slowloris I agree. But I feel the need to point out that even if Bob makes friends with said Muslim, that will not guarantee he will change his opinion towards all Muslims, he may just view that particular Muslim as an 'exception' and carry on as before, perhaps more privately. In fact, many people claim to support muslims/blacks/gays/etc in public to avoid upsetting their friends and to give the socially expected response whilst actually disagreeing in private to varying (sometimes extreme) degrees. What people aren't saying is potentially more concerning than what they are. – Pharap Sep 4 '17 at 18:58
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It would be best if you had firsthand experience with Muslim friends yourself. If you do have some, you might want to introduce them to Bob. If you don't, find a place in the community where interactions with Muslims are positive, make some friends, and report your experiences to Bob. The reason is, you will be much more credible (to most people) if you have actual experience than if you were trying to "debate" Bob in an intellectual vacuum.

What you want to make clear to Bob is that his views are limiting your social opportunities and that you don't want to accept such limitations. More to the point, they might not be in his best interest either, because his social chances are similarly "capped." At one point, you might explain that he shouldn't believe everything that he reads on social media because the people there have axes to grind, that he needs to try it for himself. But you won't be able to get him to do this until you've done it.

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Talk to them about it, and try to get them to articulate their views clearly, If they're reasonably intelligent a few well asked questions will sow some seeds of doubt in their mind, this can be very powerful. Avoid labeling the person as this will drive them deeper down the rabbit hole.

Also is your friend conflating Muslim with Islam? Just like all religions Islam has some terrible ideas behind it ( and some positive too ). I would be very explicit with this, It's very easy to find horrific ideas in religous texts, denying this will give them an out.

Keep calm, let them talk... and if they turn out to be a horrid racist then stop hanging around them. Losing friends you respect is sometimes the shock you need to reconsider things in your life.

Good luck :)

(Also mentioning your offended to someone who thinks they have facts on their side is argument suicide, your perfectly entitled to be offended but advertising it wont help your argument)

  • Solid post, but when answering a question it is important to take OP's word as truth. In this case OP said that it is not because the friend genuinely hates muslims and that he wants answers for how to do this and remain friends. So saying "if they turn out to be a horrid racist then stop hanging around them" is redundant and not helpful towards OP – Jesse Feb 20 '18 at 3:28

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