Sunday, 13 December 2015

The war on Christmas: Largely a load of balls

Come on, people. Are we really still doing this? Despite Christmas being in everyone's faces everywhere from Detroit to Dubai*, from Canberra to Cape Town, from Toronto to Timbuktu, people still insist on whining about the alleged war on Christmas.

Stop it. Please. Give it a rest. You are being ridiculous and childish. You are embarrassing yourself. If someone wishes you "Happy holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!", you are not being oppressed. If any location that is not actually a church does not want to display a nativity scene or hold a carol-singing event, you are still not being oppressed. Christmas has not been cancelled.

Unhappy about the commercialisation of Christmas? Er, don't buy any presents then. It's not compulsory. Upset about the festival of gluttony that is Christmas dinner in your country? Go spend the day volunteering at a soup kitchen. Nobody is forcing you to spend piles of money on presents or food.

If you are a Christian living in Daesh-occupied territory, in Saudi Arabia or North Korea, then yes, you are being oppressed if you want to celebrate Christmas. But these aren't the people who generally whine about the war on Christmas, probably because they are busy trying to survive if they live under the rule of the Daesh losers, King Salman or Kim Jong-un. They are three regimes where being a Christian can cost you your life. I am yet to come across a "war on Christmas" whiner who is in genuine mortal danger for being a Christian or observing any of the traditions of the festive season.

If you can decorate your house in lights galore, put up a Christmas tree, display a nativity scene, nobody has attacked you for saying "Merry Christmas", and you can freely attend Christmas church services and sing carols, you are not a victim in a war on Christmas. You are not a victim at all. Why don't you speak up on behalf of the real victims - the Christians who are not safe in brutal regimes - instead of carrying on like a spoilt brat who didn't get the right bike from Santa?

On Christmas Day, someone will probably be killed by Daesh for being a Christian or for being the wrong type of Muslim. On Christmas Day, there will be no church services in Saudi Arabia. On Christmas Day, there will be Christians in North Korea languishing in prison for their beliefs. That is real oppression.

To compare a cheerful "Happy holidays!" greeting and to bang on about "political correctness gone mad!" is to be revoltingly insulting to those who are in real danger, who do not have freedom of religion, who have to hide their faith for fear of arrest or worse.

Enough of the hollow whining about a war on Christmas. It's as tinny as cheap tinsel.

* I know Dubai is in the UAE, which is a Muslim country. Christmas is indeed a big deal in Dubai. I used to live there, I have never seen so many big Christmas trees in my life and there are plenty of churches for those who choose to observe the season.

Photography by George Hodan

Sunday, 6 December 2015

London and San Bernadino: A tale of two medias

In San Bernadino this week, two shooters, a married couple with a six-month-old child, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, murdered 14 people at a party at an environmental health department building. Farook was an employee of department so the disgruntled employee motive was considered. But US officials told the media that Tashfeen Malik posted a pledge of allegiance to Daesh on her Facebook page so the terrorism motive took centre stage, in both the investigation and in the reporting of the awful story.

It has not been shown yet that Malik or Farook had any direct contact with the sad morons of Daesh, but it was inevitable that Daesh would take credit for the attack. Of course, the media does a lot of Daesh's recruiting work for them by constantly giving their mindless bullshit airplay. The wretched cretins didn't need to seek out a quiet couple in California to claim they were the puppet masters.

And then members of the US media in San Bernadino exhibited astounding behaviour after Farook and Malik had been shot dead by US authorities. Cable news journalists overran the couple's house, where they lived with their child and Farook's mother. MSNBC, BBC, CBS News and CNN all broadcast live scenes of this media feeding frenzy. MSNBC shamefully broadcast footage of items that could identify Farook's mother, who is not a suspect, as well as photographs of children. That is a monstrous breach of privacy as well as being completely unethical and irresponsible.

Weapons and components which could be used to make explosives had already been removed from the house by the authorities, and reporters were not allowed into the garage where these items were found, so the footage that was broadcast was simply that of a mundane house with some religious paraphernalia. But even this was presented in a prism of breathless sensationalism, with reporters even checking the calendar to see if anything had been noted down for 2 December. The couple who committed this vile crime were clearly disturbed and their combined worldview hideously warped, but they were not stupid enough to write "Massacre a bunch of people!" as if it was an errand on par with "Pay the electricity bill."

While it did seem like a quick process between the massacre taking place on 2 December and the media being allowed in once the house had been returned to the landlord on 4 December, the FBI confirmed that the property had indeed been released.

But that doesn't make the behaviour of reporters, or indeed the landlord who let them in with their cameras, any less appalling.

Why weren't the producers pausing even for a moment to ask what such footage adds to the story instead of letting it go to air live? This is the question that needs to be asked regardless of whether a journalist is reporting on mass murder, Motocross or a mouse plague.

We are living in a culture where the priority of news outlets is to be first, even if being first is at the expense of accuracy, relevance or privacy concerns.

Compare this to the more restrained reporting by the British media on the Leytonstone tube station stabbing, which happened last night. Again, those dickheads representing Daesh will rush to take credit for the acts of a dismal would-be murderer because the attacker reportedly shouted "This is for Syria" as he stabbed his victim, a 56-year-old man. The victim survived, albeit with serious knife wounds, and another two people received minor injuries.

The suspect was Tasered and is in police custody. Personally, I think this is the best possible outcome of such an attack because it means the suspect can be properly questioned and more intelligence may be gleaned. That said, it is easier to subdue a knife-wielding suspect than one firing a gun at people.

It is heartening to see the British media reporting on the story responsibly, especially when compared to the mania that overtook reporters in San Bernadino this week. Even the Daily Mail, an outlet that has sensationalised similar stories in the past, is focused on the facts and on the stories of the ordinary people who behaved in an extraordinary manner in helping prevent more people from being injured.

It has been reported that police have been to the suspect's home as part of the ongoing investigation but we are not likely to witness a media scrum camped outside this residence. Sky News has even stopped short of sending Kay Burley, their resident ghoul, to stake it out.

Terrible floods in the north-west of England have, quite rightly, shunted the Leytonstone attack from the top of today's news agenda in Britain. Good. This event represents a greater threat to more people than the deluded rantings of an attention-seeking twat at a tube station.

We cannot deny that we are living in challenging times. And it is because of this that we need even-handed, responsible, accurate reporting more than ever. The 24-hour news cycle is a hungry beast that will always be fed - but even-handed, responsible and accurate reporting will always make for a better information meal than junk reporting.