Hello Humans: Truth and terror

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God bless Evening Standard columnist, Simon Jenkins. I have spent the last 24 hours trying to keep my mouth shut about the Westminster attacks for fear of being insensitive. And then along came the BBC, brave enough to scrutinise itself in public, for the way it covered the incident.

Watch this video below (I’m not sure if the embed will do its job but clicking the link should do the trick)


Simon Jenkins, a columnist for the Evening Standard and the Guardian criticised the BBC for its decision to depict the incident at Westminster as a terror attack.

“The BBC today has made a choice, they have opted with the terrorists,” he said. “No one is suggesting we ignore it which is always what people say when someone like me protests about how much publicity we give these incidences, you have a choice of prominence. The prominence given to them now is aiding and abetting terrorism.Terrorism is a means of publicity and we’re the one’s giving the publicity.”

Calling a ‘lone wolf’ attack TERROR is not only a loaded decision, it is inaccurate. We don’t yet know the motives of this man and we should not be filling in the blanks without proper intelligence.

Last I checked, besides the fact the attacker was ‘known to police’, we still don’t even know his ethnicity or age. And even if we did, those two pieces of information still wouldn’t bring us any closer to a factual identification of motive. [Update: Police have identified the suspect as Khalid Masood, born Adrian Elms in Kent, a self-styled English teacher. Though he was known to police, they had no prior intelligence about his intention to carry out an attack, he also has no prior terror convictions. Though he does have others such as grievous bodily harm, possession of offensive weapons.]

It’s worth mentioning here that there have been more than just a handful of white terror attacks on Mosques, Synagogues and schools by men who were deemed mentally ill for few other reasons than they were white and violent.

You wouldn’t know it from the coverage but there have been 32 fatal white terror attacks committed since 1995.

This includes the Quebec Mosque attack last month, or the Charleston Church massacre where white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people, the Lafayette shooting in Louisiana in which a 57-year-old religious fanatic, John Russell Houser who had a history of anti-feminist beliefs shot and killed three women at a screening of the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck.

Then there were the Planned Parenthood attacks in Colorado Springs courtesy of white extremist, Robert Lewis Dear, I can keep going.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has the full list. It’s worth reading about the other history of terror in the west we hear about, but not in the same narrative way that we have come to understand terror.

For those crying censorship, please remember the press censors itself all the time, in both passive and active capacities. First of all: The press can’t run every story. (Arguably it could but doesn’t, for a whole host of reasons: time, money, people, not having enough fact checking resources and a legal budget already stretched thin). Second, you’ll seldom find publications self critical enough to run competing narratives. The ABC and BBC are particularly adept at this, but so few others are. (For all the claims of bias lobbed at the ABC, it does a pretty good job of criticising itself. It may not be sufficiently right wing but at least it is objective). This applies particularly to analysis on topics such as the economy, finance and business.

Even on shows like Insiders, phrases like ‘free markets’ and ‘free speech’ are thrown around without any clarification that markets are frequently manipulated and regulated on behalf of the private sector, often to benefit specific or individual companies, without any thought to what it might to do the overall health of the economy, and free speech is a term that protects MP’s privilege to lie in Parliament, not something that ordinary citizens are entitled to.

So half the time we are walking around using words and phrases we don’t even know the implications of. (If only someone were writing a book to help us make sense of these rhetorical red flags. :P)

Publications don’t like to look under confident in the ideas it publishes, and therefore tends to avoid publishing pieces that are critical of other pieces they have run. Arguably the strongest ideas are the ones that stand-up to scrutiny but I can understand this decision. But the result can often be narrative journalism rather than the kind of reporting that presents at least two or more competing ideas and lets the reader make up their own mind.

Thanks largely to social media, culture is fragmenting into ideological tribes, which, in order to stay in the black, many publications are bending over backwards to cater to. But I worry what permanent damage is being done for the sake of trying to stay afloat.

Post-truth might be the buzz-word of 2017 but this means actual truth, and commitment to accuracy, couldn’t be more important.

As an aside it’s not as though terrorists don’t have plenty in common with the left, and the right: They all seem to think they need protecting from ideas that might be dangerous. And they all seem to think their cause is noble. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, former undercover CIA officer, Amaryllis Fox (that name cannot possibly be real), said that if she learned one thing from her time undercover it is this: “Everybody thinks they are the good guy”.

Anyway, if you ever feel guilty for becoming indifferent to terror, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Maybe if we’re less scared, terror will buy less papers and our apathy will go some way towards getting it off the front page.

Claire Connelly is working on her first book, How The World Really Works, a guide to recognising rhetorical red flags and immunising yourself against bullshit. You should definitely buy it when it comes out. A podcast of the same name will also be launching in the coming months. Stay tuned!

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