News, Politics, Religion

‘Islamophobia’ Hoaxes and the Rush to Judgment

Two weeks ago, Canadians responded in horror to a disturbing news story in Toronto: before a bank of cameras, a tearful 11-year-old girl said that a man had repeatedly cut her headscarf with scissors as she walked to school.

Khawlah Noman, a student at Pauline Johnson Junior Public School, told the roomful of reporters that the brazen attack had left her terrified and screaming. She was flanked by a Muslim activist, her mother, and younger brother Mohammad. Mohammad confirmed his sister’s story, stating that he had witnessed the attack while walking with her to school.

Soon after, politicians at the upper echelons of the Canadian government rushed to express outrage at the incident, even though details remained scant. “My heart goes out to the young girl who was attacked, seemingly for her religion,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a televised speech. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promptly called the alleged attack a “cowardly act of hatred.”

Passionate reactions to the incident were swift on social media. Echoing a common belief, Twitter user @Sakira_writes said: “A no doubt white male monster did this.” Toronto police later described the suspect as an Asian male. Many others condemned Canadian and Western society for being “Islamophobic.” Police quickly announced that they would be treating the incident as a hate crime.

From Portland, Oregon, I watched the unfolding story with unease. Like most, I was horrified by the child’s report that she had been assaulted by a man in broad daylight. But I also wondered why the school and family were parading the young girl in front of the media when her testimony appeared to be rehearsed and inconsistent. Nevertheless, the story was duly sensationalized and uncritically reported as a confirmed crime rather than as an allegation.

Al Jazeera splashed with the following headline: “Toronto Muslim girl ‘scared’ after attacker cuts hijab.” Ali Chiasson, reporter and associate producer for CBC Toronto, described the girl’s headscarf as having a “12 in. gash,” as if this were akin to a cut into human flesh. The Guardian linked the alleged attack to the anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting, in which a gunman had killed six worshippers and injured 19 others. Amira Elghawaby, an Ottawa-based Muslim activist, made the media rounds, declaring that, “For those of us who wear a head scarf, it’s like we have a target on us.” Elghawaby warned that this kind of hatred affects every level of society: “Hatred, ignorance and xenophobia,” she announced, “can really lead to divided communities and end up harming all of us.” The recklessness and haste with which this unvetted story was sensationalized was unsettling, even as the suspect – generally described as an Asian male with black hair and glasses – remained unidentified and at large.

But then, three days after the family’s emotional press conference and the collective rush to judgment, Toronto Police released a terse statement: “After a detailed investigation, police have determined that the events described in the original news release did not happen. The investigation is concluded.” Khawlah Noman and her brother, it turned out, had fabricated the attack. They will not face legal consequences for falsely reporting it.

The prime minister’s response was also terse. Trudeau was relieved that the incident had not occurred but still found it necessary to warn about the “pattern of increased hate crimes” in Canada. Toronto Mayor John Tory, who had said that Islamophobia “has no place in our city, our province, or our country,” now stated: “It is good to know that this event didn’t happen.”

Apparently, inflammatory lies like those circulated by Noman and her family can serve a greater political purpose. Furthermore, while stories documenting alleged hijab-related attacks rapidly go viral, subsequent corrections exposing those that turn out to be hoaxes seldom receive the same attention.

Khawlah Noman’s elaborate tale is unfortunately not a one-off incident on the continent. A series of hijab-related attack stories marred the American media landscape shortly after the election of Donald Trump. In November 2016, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student claimed she was violently attacked and had her hijab torn off by two white men, one of whom she said was wearing a Trump hat. She later admitted to making the whole thing up. The same week, a student at the University of Michigan said a man threatened to set her hijab on fire. A Michigan police investigation subsequently determined that the incident did not happen. The following month, Yasmin Seweid, a college student in New York City, claimed she was assaulted by white men who tried to pull off her headscarf during a subway ride. CCTV footage later confirmed that the incident never happened.

While activists and politicians are keen to move on when these stories unravel, I wonder if anyone bothers to consider how much damage is left in their wake and who stands to benefit from “Islamophobia” hysteria. Khawlah Noman’s family has since apologized. I don’t expect (or want) the girl to speak further on the matter, but we should ask ourselves how such a young child realised her story would capture the world’s attention. Khawlah’s own televised testimony provides a clue: “I didn’t feel comfortable that people are doing this.” The sad and troubling answer is that she – and whoever else may have put her up to the hoax – had plenty of precedents from which to draw inspiration.


Andy Ngo is a graduate student in political science at Portland State University, studying the intersection of political Islam and women’s rights. Follow him on Twitter @MrAndyNgo


  1. This is incredibly common. See below:

    Remember the racist graffiti at EMU and the protests that followed?:…/racist-graffiti-spurs-disgus…/

    Turns out it was a Black man just trying to stir racial tensions:…/african-american-man-cha…/…
    Remember the Black church “burned in the name of Trump”:…/a-black-church-burned…/506246/

    Turned out it was a Black man just trying to stir racial tensions:…/…/us/mississippi-church-fire.html…

    Remember the young Muslim woman brutally attacked on the NYC subway by Trump supporters?…/yasmin-seweid-muslim-teen-verbal…/

    Turned out it was just a Muslim woman trying to stir political and religious tensions.…/manhattan-yasmin-seweid-false-hat…

    Keven Williamson very nicely summarizes “Fake hate crimes committed by progressives are by this point so familiar that they are practically a cliché…The Left desperately wants Americans to be indecent people who go around attacking Muslims and foreigners with funny names, but, by and large, we aren’t.”…/bogus-hate-crimes-trump-con….

    • Plus, there’s this:
      It’s one thing for a politician to make a few lousy calls here and there that span a variety of subjects. But too many of Trudeau’s blunders focus on the same issue: extremism and radical Islam…

      [1] A consensus is forming on Joshua Boyle… Boyle faces 15 criminal charges, all untested in court… he was previously married to Omar Khadr’s sister… he took a pregnant wife to Afghanistan… Justin Trudeau clandestinely welcomed him into the Prime Minister’s Office before Christmas, refusing to comment on what went down during their tete-a-tete.

      What exactly did Boyle mean, in his Tweet about their meeting, that he’d first met Trudeau in 2006 over “common interests, haha”. Hopefully, it was innocuous…

      If so, Trudeau should say so, instead of leaving people with no choice but to fill in the blanks…

      The Boyle story is only the latest in a growing tally of questionable decisions… the thing with this list: There’s a recurring theme…
      … too many of Trudeau’s blunders focus on the same issue: extremism and radical Islam…
      [2] The PM was elected on Oct. 19, 2015, a Monday. The very next day he spoke with President Barack Obama on the phone. Such calls are often just about exchanging niceties. Instead, Trudeau made his first decision as PM: He told Obama we were pulling our CF-18 jets out of the fight against ISIS.
      He never explained why this was necessary, not during the campaign, not since he became PM – never. Canadians overwhelmingly opposed it. Polls revealed that even two-thirds of his own voters were against it.
      [3] …Remember Trudeau’s famous line from 2015 that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”… It was about how Trudeau wanted to change the law so that dual nationals convicted of terrorism could no longer have their citizenship stripped.
      While hundreds of people have their citizenship revoked yearly for offences such as errors on their applications, Trudeau firmly advocated – amidst strong opposition from the Senate – for Bill C-6, which let convicted terrorists stay Canadian and passed into law last year.

      [4] The biggest outrage to date on this file though is Omar Khadr’s $10.5 million payment… At no point did the PM try to fight the pay-out and, perhaps more worrying, at no point did he voice genuine displeasure. It remains the rawest of wounds for many.
      [5] …his firm conviction that returning jihadists are prime candidates for rehab, almost as if they’re victims.
      [6] … Trudeau accused Conservative leader Andrew Scheer of Islamophobia for simply asking what the government was doing to deal with returning foreign fighters.

      How many more such incidents are there to come?
      Twitter: @anthonyfurey

    • perpetuaofcarthage says

      In the particular case of Yasmin Sewed, it seems more like she was trying to avoid getting in trouble with her parents. I doubt she was trying to stir religious tensions as her boyfriend was Christian. I think it became national news because others who did have the motive of stirring racial and religious tensions seized on it.

  2. Marshall Gill says

    “whoever else may have put her up to the hoax”

    Come on, dude. You study the “intersection of political Islam and women’s rights” but you are not sure if this woman instigated this on her own?!! Yeah, it might have been her and her sister and a female cousin?

    Let me rewrite that sentence for you. “The “man” or “men” in her family which undoubtedly put her up to the haox”. Women who wear hijabs are basically slaves to their men. If her father and brothers did not approve of this, they might beat or even kill her.

    Who benefits from these hoaxes? Hmm, I wonder.

    • PwnySlaystation says

      I wouldn’t be so sure. There’s no evidence for it, so we can only speculate, but the idea that a woman in the family put her up to it is at LEAST as likely (probably more) in my opinion. Just look at all the “racist/sexist” etc hoaxes that happen. Fake swastikas drawn, fake assaults, fake hate crimes etc. How many of these hoaxes are perpetrated by men? I can’t think of a single one. I’m sure there must be an example, but I can’t think of it. I don’t really think men lie about being victims of things very often.

      Either way it’s pure speculation. I have no idea who put her up to it (or if anyone did at all).

    • SweetPeavey says

      Wouldn’t it be more likely that the girl and her brother, goofing off on the way to school, accidentally tore her hijab and concocted the story as a way to avoid a tongue lashing from their parents, only to have the story spin out of control? This is usually why kids lie, to avoid getting into trouble.

      • P J Smyth says

        To escalate it it to where it eventually got to was not just some schoolkid’s prank. Victimhood is currency these days. There is only so much sympathy to go around and everyone is competing for that limited resource. Feminists, LGBT, BLM – they all want their slice of V-Hood Pie!

      • perpetuaofcarthage says

        Yes, very likely she was trying to avoid punishment and her parents believed the story because it fit their narrative. (She obviously knew their narrative or she wouldn’t have made this up.)

      • yandoodan says


        This rings a bell. In 1917 two young girls drew pictures of fairies and, as a game, them spread them about their garden and took pictures of them. They thought it would be funny to show the pictures to their parents — who believed they were real fairies. The girls couldn’t back out as it spun out of control. It got even worse as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle picked up the story as proof that fairies existed.

        The girls were much less honest, or felt more trapped, than little Khalwah; they didn’t admit to the fraud until the 1980s.

      • Kermit says

        Entirely possible – a lie that got out of hand. Reminds me of ‘The Crucible’ – see how that ended! The crucial point in the hijab incident is how the school, media and government responded to it. A police investigation before any statements would have been prudent but political agendas and hysteria took over and we are left with this mess – trust even further eroded. As we all know, retractions don’t have the same effect – the horse has bolted on this one and far too many people out there are left with the impression of an attack on a harmless little girl, much to the horror of the country’s president.

    • Peter Kriens says

      Shouldn’t we forgo to speculate lest we have facts and details?

  3. Carl Sageman says

    Happy Australia Day!

    Divisiveness, identity politics and intersectionality show their ugly face on a daily basis. These ideological philosophies are designed to fragment our communities.

    The question is how do you counter this fragmentation? Whether it be by sex, skin colour, sexual orientation, or religion, our leaders and media are committed to divisiveness.

    Australia Day should be a day to unite all Australians. Our government and media are declaring it a day of oppression, guilt, white supremacy, genocide. “Change the date” says Tory Shepherd, a feminist Australian journalist. “It’s ONLY about the date”. Until you do more research where terms like “white guilt”, “oppression”, “shame”, “Change the name”, “Change the flag”, “Change the emphasis away from white people” are headlined. “Wattle Day” is one proposal. People are being manipulated to feel ashamed for uniting as a nation. It’s simply divisiveness. Divide and conquer. It’s just a date, says Tory! “It’s the thin edge of the wedge” says I

    How do you pick extremist progressivism from extremist conservative (other than the overwhelming dominance of extremist progressive in the media)? That’s a great question.

    The same divisiveness has permeated the entire western world. From statue desecration in the US/UK/Australia to comparisons of holocaust and Australia Day.

    Please join me in celebration of Australia Day, for all Australians. Enjoy a cold beer (or lemon/lime/bitters), wear a broad brimmed hat and sun cream. Wish your neighbours a happy Australia Day.

  4. Deafening Tone says

    He’s simply not going beyond the evidence. I have my suspicions about who might have put her up to this–and who may be behind some or all of the other hoaxes–but it would be irresponsible of Andy and damaging to the reputation of this amazing magazine to say more than he did. It’s a well-written article.

  5. ZbOROVAN says

    Sharia Law: Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.

  6. John V says

    Could it be that the girl in question hated wearing the hijab and just wanted to fit in. Came up with the stunt herself in order to convince her parents that it’s too dangerous to wear in public so that they might allow her to go without. It’s a possibility.

    • nicky says

      Yes, that possibility occurred to me too. But we don’t know…

    • We need to stop viewing the baboon as a victim. Let’s be honest, she’s still a hero. If that wasn’t the case, then why are very few news websites pointing out the fact that the little terrorist is a liar? CNN reported on the story, why aren’t they at least retracting it? Al Jazeera (to be fair, is a poorly-sourced, poorly-written propaganda outlet) never put out the fact that they’re wrong.

  7. SamsaPDX says

    This is a beautifully written warning about the destructive powers of the media gaze.

    From Tawana Brawley, who scrawled racial slurs on her body and wrapped herself in a plastic bag filled with dog feces to perpetrate a fraudulent rape allegation against public figures; to Azalea Cooley, who walked out of her wheelchair to strew her lawn with burning crosses and bullet-ridden baby dolls; to Hannah Smith, who cyberbullied herself to suicide; the media-besotted world we live in seems not only to provide troubled souls with the means to project their self loathing onto others but, in the process, to magnify it to societal proportions.

    That magnification provides a troubling metaphor, for just as astronomers cannot use the map of a galaxy to decipher whose eye beholds it from the small end of a telescope, neither can a crude public spectacle explain the intricate personal sickness that it seeks its solace there.

  8. Greg H says

    In this hyper-tribalized, rush-to-judgement moment we’re living in there are so many insightful and illuminating ways that this episode could have been approached by a contributor to Quillette. This wasn’t one of them. I’m disappointed to read this here. It’s not to the standard I’ve looked forward to seeing in Quillette up to now.

    I suppose some people, including author Ngo, would be tempted to draw the conclusion that a 12 year old girl was motivated by the nefarious intent of those around her who were themselves inspired by similar false claims. Two points: first, if there were indeed people around her that led her to do this, then rather than being inspired by similar false claims, they must have been ignorant of the fact that those false claims were publicly revealed and, as such, were spectacular and damaging failures. Second, passing the kind of judgements necessary to reach such a conclusion requires a) a whole lot of assumptions, and b) a lack of curiosity — about this girl and about those that make up her world.

    This article is textbook insidious. It made no attempt to test assumptions or to act on curiosity in any genuine way. Instead, it posits a theory suggestive of some nebulous, fantastic conspiracy. And it’s here? On Quillette?

    For Pete’s sake. She’s a 12 year-old girl, offspring of a fallible family like every last one of us. Let it go. Or if you can’t, and you really want to do a service to truth, do the damned work and talk to the people involved.

    • While many of the comments have been suggesting the type of fantastic conspiracy you describe,which I am inclined to condemn as you have, the author at no point makes any sort of conjecture about the girl’s intent. It is simply acknowledged that others may have put her up to it, and that it is a part of a disturbing trend.

      The author is very clearly more concerned about the reactions of media and public figures to such hoaxes (and the frequency of them) than about the girl’s actions.

    • Chester Draws says

      You’ve completely missed the point Greg. It’s not the girl’s actions that are the problem.

      It’s the likes of Trudeau, who rush to judgement and who never slow down to get the facts first.

      So we have endless stories of hate crimes that turn out to be either false or normal crimes that just happen to have a victim class.

  9. Marshall Gill says

    Why didn’t the author mention the word Taqiyya? An entire article about Mohammadeans lying and never mention how it is commanded in their religion, even has it’s own word? Lack of curiosity? Because he had never heard of it? It really seems like he was engaging in it himself.

    Should I assume from the tenor of comments here that Ayaan Hirsi Ali wouldn’t be a welcome contributor? Only if she did not say anything bad about Islam?

    At Quillette, extremism in the pursuit of justice IS a vice? And moderation in the defense of Liberty is a virtue?

    • Sohan says

      Because the taqiyya is a mostly obscure doctrine permitting last-resort denial of one’s Shia Muslim identity when life and limb are under imminent threat, not a justification for kids to fib about being attacked for their religious practice. Maybe try reading some scholarly sources, instead of paranoid, bigoted crap.

  10. Caligula says

    “Apparently, inflammatory lies like those circulated by Noman and her family can serve a greater political purpose. ”

    Why do people commit hoaxes? For the same reason people commit terrorism: because they expect there will be a political payoff.

    Remove the payoff and the incentives to do these things goes way, way down. Not to zero, but, significantly down.

  11. “heartwarming note: A friend gave her another hijab to wear. ”

    I always knew the first and only insurmountable hurdles against gender equality are women themselves. Seriously, I’m so glad I’m not a woman.

    Why do women even have the right to vote?

  12. Becker says

    It seems the Muslims learned a quick lesson from MeToo.

  13. Charles Ingram says

    Not condoning this supposed attack, but perhaps Canada should hold a referendum to determine how their citizens feel about Hijab wear. Didn’t France recently outlaw it? Quisling politicians aside, maybe the majority of everyday Canadians feel the same way

    • The French have a tradition to never ask ‘The People’ anything of importance. The top always knows better until the top is chopped off.

  14. Hoax hate crimes occur over and over,with the same credulous reaction from school administrators, reporters and activists.

    That nobody on the left seems able to restrain themselves in these situatuations is pretty good evidence of their collective insanity.

    Or is it evidence of collective malice?

    Given that nobody could really be stupid enough to fall for this over and over makes me lean toward malice.

    The child PM of Canada comes across as an affilibe simpleton, but his vicious libel of his own citizens in the melodrama reveals him as a nasty SJW POS. But it’s Donald Trump who is the bigot.

  15. Peter Kriens says

    It feels as if the quality of comments on Quillette is going down quickly. I sure hope this can go back to thoughtful reactions on complex problems that I’ve seen before. First, the opposition always has a point. Arguing as if they are evil or stupid is available in the more mainstream press.

  16. @Peter. Exactly what point are hate crime hoaxers and their promoters making that isn’t deeply intertwined with stupidity and/or evil?

    They aren’t playing bean bag. They are evil enough to perpetrate the slander and stupid enough to think they can get away with it. Granting them less than malign motives for a clearly malign act does nobody any good, including would-be future perpetrators.

    You go ahead and pine for more nuanced, academic response to these attacks on Western civilisation, whIle you smoke a pipe in your dinner jacket.

    The rest of us will call a spade a spade, if you don’t mind .

  17. This has been happening in the U.S. for a long time. (SPLC is incentivized to find and report lots and lots of hate and makes millions off of it even though they’re supposedly nonprofit). This is basically a lucrative cottage industry here in America. If racism were ever solved, millions of pudents, journalists, administrators, Critical Race Theorists, ect… ect… would be out of a job.

  18. It’s basically economics, the demand for racism far exceeds the supply so hoaxers have to manufacture their own.

  19. Hoax hate crimes can rapidly spiral out of control. If people had checked whether Franz Ferdinand was actually dead before spitting their dummies out a lot of grief could have been avoided.

  20. nicky says

    I’m a bit disappointed in this article, like many others appear to be, albeit possibly not for the same reasons. It sounds like a promising introduction and then suddenly: the end, blank. No analysis, no hypotheses, no going deeper into issues.
    Don’t get me wrong, I have no chip with this article, it is just very concise, without a real thesis. More like a comment than an article.

  21. Jeff York says

    As a number of commenters have pointed out, we don’t know what her motivation was for conducting this hoax. IMHO, the overwhelming majority of hate-crime hoaxes are intended to gain sympathy for the group in question and otherwise advance their agenda. There should be tangible consequences for those deceptions.

    If your cause is just then you shouldn’t have to engage in deception to advance it. You shouldn’t have to manipulate polls & statistics, cherry-pick facts, shout-down your opponent, engage in ad hominine attacks or make straw-man arguments. Obviously you shouldn’t have to out-and-out lie. If you become aware that you and the other proponents of your cause are having to engage in the various forms of deception & obfuscation described above to advance it then maybe you take a long, introspective look in the mirror and question whether the assumptions that form the basis of your ideology are sound.

    • The lying scumbag should be arrested so that any future employer will see that she’s an untrustworthy baboon. Unfortunately, the idiot kid won’t face a consequence. She’ll be still paraded around as a brave individual. Already, people are making excuses for her stupidity, claiming that she’s the only victim here and deserves an apology. In time, people will ignore the fact that she’s a liar and will believe the story she gave.

  22. The obvious incentive displayed here is to generate headlines – true or false – that fit into the left’s agenda in order to be awarded with (literally) millions of dollars’ worth of free media attention (free of substantiation). When a headline contrary to the left’s talking points is run on a conservative news outlet, it is labeled as ‘extreme’. Whose biased behaviors are really extreme in this experience?

  23. perpetuaofcarthage says

    What if it wasn’t a hoax hate crime but a call for help. Has anyone wondered why the perpetrator is so specifically described as an Asian man with magnifying glasses and gloves? The may be a crime and perpetrator. The cutting of the hijab may be a metaphorical was of describing the actual crime. Hmm, what would the hood that Muslim women are required to wear to cover their sexuality represent?

  24. Oskar says

    There was a similar type of story here in Sweden a couple of years back when a Muslim woman claimed she had been attacked by an unknown Swedish man. The story spread like wildfire on social media and, of course, hashtags surfaced (hijabuppropet) with Swedish ‘antiracist’ activists and politicians posting pictures of themselves online wearing a hijab.

    The the Muslim woman claimed she had been attacked again by an unknown Swedish man but Police stted they were unable to find any evidence of any attack. Soon after the press stopped reporting on it and everything kind of peetered out.år-efter-hijaböverfall-xr

  25. I have no complaints about the post, but the last sentence was unclear to me.

    “The sad and troubling answer is that she – and whoever else may have put her up to the hoax – had plenty of precedents from which to draw inspiration.”

    Did the author mean plenty of hoax precedents or plenty of actual precedents of forced hijab removal? I don’t recall any reports of forced hijab removal in the US or Canada that were NOT hoaxes. They all seem to be hoaxes.

  26. Kropacsek says

    This was not a simple hoax. Fake stories like this are trusted, finely honed weapons in the arsenal of the post-modernist neo-Marxist radical left. Today their impact is greatly amplified by both mainstream and social media. Remember the fake Rolling Stone article from 2014, “A Rape on Campus,”? Or remember Tawana Brawley from 1987? The 15-year-old black girl who was allegedly kidnapped, tortured and raped by a gang of white men, some of them working in law enforcement? What’s interesting about this story is not the fact that it was not true, but what Patricia Williams, who claims that race is the fundamental determinant of the US legal system, wrote about it in her Alchemy of Race and Rights: “Tawana Brawley has been the victim of some unspeakable crime. No matter how she got there. No matter who did it to her – and even if she did it to herself. Her condition was clearly the expression of some crime against her, some tremendous violence, some great violation that challenges comprehension.” Autobiographical stories, narratives and testimonials of lived experiences are promoted by adherents of Critical Theory as legitimate replacements for rational reasoning and empirical evidence, as those are deemed to be oppressive tools devised by the white male dominated patriarchy. Truth itself is also irrelevant for the SJW-s, as they claim truth is socially constructed and is also an oppressive tool of those in power.

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