The other day, I read an article which made me sad.
You can read the original, about how Kelvin MacKenzie, a former editor of the Sun newspaper, saw fit to publicly (in the Sun) criticise Channel 4 news simply for having a presenter who happened to be Muslim-and by virtue of her wearing a headscarf-visibly so, reporting on the recent terror attack in Nice, by following the link above, but although I try not to respond to things I have read on the internet, feeling that I rarely have anything to add to the discourse that hasn’t already been said, I felt that I needed to respond to this one.
I then read two other blog posts which got me thinking; there was this one by Rachel Bustin for Meet Other Mums, which voiced the common fear that so many of us have that the world is a more dangerous place for our children than it was for us, and this one by Triple The Dad, which although focused on the US, gave some perspective on those fears-much needed in the current climate where almost everyone seems to feel some degree of insecurity about the political situation.
I keep reading-in the news, on blogs, in the relentless stream of information and opinion that people are afraid, that the world is a terrible place; that people will no longer allow their children out to play in the street.
And it makes me sad.
Sad for those children, that we their parents believe that we are bringing them into a terrible, hate-filled place (and I am by no means immune to this angst, and have written about my own fears on this blog), but also sad that many of those fears seem to come from a place where the media and the access we have to the internet, to 24 hour rolling news at the touch of a button, to camera phone footage of terrible atrocities occurring in real time, makes us see those fears as heightened; makes us see the world as a scary place, not fit for us to raise our children.
This is not entirely true. For the most part, we are safe. We have homes to live in, food in our bellies and shoes on our feet, but it is easy to forget the mundanities of everyday life when all you see on the news is a constant bombardment of terrible tidings.
The prevalence of the media makes us see those far away bogeymen as real and present among us-and although this is of course to a certain extent true, no one claims that the world is perfect or that those things don’t occur-there appears to be little in the way of actual evidence to suggest that bad events in general are any more likely to occur now than they were in the past, despite the feeling that so many people seem to have that the world is in some way a darker and more violent place than it was during the golden years of their own childhoods; and although crime statistics are difficult to interpret and are influenced by a variety of factors, there is some evidence to suggest that in fact, overall levels of crime have fallen steadily to an extent that has caused scholars to speculate on why this may be so.
It is not my intention to discuss the truth or otherwise of those theories here, or to debate or question the statistics; the reasons behind things happening are complex, and of course even if violent crime has fallen that is no guarantee that it will continue to do so.
My point however, is this. The three very different articles and viewpoints that I have referred to in this post seem to me to be linked very much by a common thread. That thread is the power of the media to influence our thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the world.
The media is powerful. It influences our perceptions. When we hear about the kidnapping of Madeleine McCann. to quote one emotive example, it inevitably causes us to hold our children a little tighter; and in my case, to start an argument with my mother on holiday when she dared suggest leaving my son sleeping in his buggy outside the caravan, on the grounds that such escapades may have gone down in the 70s, but I sure as hell wasn’t playing them.
No one wants to be that one caught unawares, on those rare occasions that something DOES happen. It’s too big a risk.
But where does that perception come from? The perception that my son cannot be left outside a caravan for a few minutes because of what happened to one child nine years ago in a different country. The perception that playing in the street is not safe for children nowadays because paedophiles and n’er do wells could be lurking around every corner. From the media. The media is powerful. It influences our day to day actions in ways that we don’t even recognise, and that is why I return to Kelvin MacKenzie and his comments about Channel 4 news.
To say that it is inappropriate for a Muslim woman to be on TV talking about a terrorist attack, just because that attack happens to have been committed by someone who claimed that they were a Muslim and acting because of their faith is like saying that if, for example someone walks into an abortion clinic in the USA, shoots a doctor, patient or perhaps even a whole bunch of people who happen to be there at the time, as sadly has happened in the past on more than one occasion, and then claims that they are acting because as a Christian, they believe abortion is wrong, it must automatically therefore be inappropriate for any Christian person to then report on that event in the news. This would be regardless of that reporter’s own personal opinion about the shooting (which, one could reasonably assume, would be that it is wrong, because, like, MURDER and all. BAD STUFF PEOPLE, whether you agree with abortion or not, I think almost everyone would agree that the murder of actual living adults and children is a BAD THING). No one thinks all Christians are shotgun-wielding loonies just because a couple of them might be, so why would anyone react with pearl-clutching astonishment to the idea of a Muslim woman being able to report objectively on a terrorist incident? Presumably because some people think all Muslims are shotgun-wielding loonies, JUST BECAUSE A COUPLE OF THEM ARE, and we wouldn’t want to offend the delicate sensibilities of those ignorant racists now, would we, by putting a Muslim woman on television! Oh, the thoughts that could be going through their poor bamboozled heads!
The sad thing is, that however much the likes of the Guardian the liberal press, the NUJ and all of the other thousand or so people who complained about his comments may disagree with MacKenzie, the damage has been done. Those reading the Sun are unlikely to pick up a copy of the Guardian or surf the web and look at alternative views. Instead this sort of discourse, from a well-known and still relatively popular newspaper, will fuel the fires of hatred.
The sort of hatred that debates whether Muslims in general-a population of well over a billion people-are in some way to blame for the terror attacks happening on European soil.
Sit and think about that logically for a moment.
If a billion people suddenly decided to go around driving trucks into innocent bystanders based on their religious beliefs, I think it’s fair to say that there wouldn’t be many of us left to navel-gaze about it.
If Kelvin MacKenzie-or anyone else for that matter-decided to claim that it was inappropriate for an older, white man to report on the crimes of Jimmy Savile on national television just because of his ethnicity, we would see this comment for its true ridiculousness.
And, most tragically of all, we know that hate crime in Britain has risen since the Brexit vote. We know that those holding unpalatable views suddenly feel emboldened, and Kelvin MacKenzie is feeding right into that, to try to sell copies of his ailing newspaper.
The sort of thing that both alienates Muslims who may already be feeling victimised-and we know that disenfranchisement, isolation and a feeling of victimisation is fertile breeding ground for extremism in all its forms, including the kind that fuels further terrorism.
In short, he’s playing right into the hands of terrorists, extremists, racists and all of those who seek to divide our society further.
A Muslim woman has every right to read the news. A Muslim woman has every right to express her identity by wearing a headscarf, and Kelvin MacKenzie has no right to go around using his powerful platform to fuel hate speech and hate crime. And we don’t have to believe everything we read in the media.