Truth must not be the first casualty of war

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Derek Bateman reflects on today’s murderous events in Paris

America did not end with 9/11, whether it’s an evil empire or not. Nobody we know of stopped flying after the Glasgow Airport attack. Madrid commuters travel by train and London workers by Tube.

IMG_8166Resilient and pragmatic people get on with life and most know almost as soon as the horror has been disseminated that the terror will be absorbed, will take its historic place in the public consciousness and will not deter the drive to travel, earn, enjoy and fulfil.

We have learned to rationalise acts of terror and to inure ourselves to them. But there is a particularly insidious aspect to the intimidation and murder of journalists and artists that creates a debilitating sense simultaneously of dismay and fury. They are the messengers and the depicters who convey meaning and give shape to the ethereal and the abstract.

It doesn’t mean they are special or more valued than anyone else but they are, or are supposed to be, the embodiment of expression and freedom that forms the foundation of the modern state. Democracy is meaningless without the echo of the people’s voice.

This in itself is a reminder to the those who traduce the trade of journalism through propagandising and artful omission here are home that they belong to an aspirational undertaking that too often falls short of lofty ambition.

Charlie-Hebdo-logoIn Scotland we are not asked to die for our trade. Elsewhere this is a daily reality. In 1990 I knew an Indian  editor of a paper close to Kashmir and covering the conflict there.

In Washington he explained how the local warlord would send political tracts to his office each week and insist they were printed. When I asked why he didn’t resist, he said simply: They will kill me…and my staff.

Social media protest today.
Social media protest today.

To import a version of this uncompromising death cult into western society displays the fanatics’ heartless contempt for human life in general, for Muslims in particular (they are also indiscriminate victims) and for Islam itself. Our societies allow for and often encourage dissent, protest and challenge and it is open to anyone of any faith or outlook to demonstrate against the content of a publication. We just don’t do it through the barrel of a Kalashnikov.

This is the part that troubles most, that whatever the issue, for those embedded in the jihadist culture, the answer is always the same – death. This is a creation of their own perverted analysis which finds in the Koran messages which do not exist in the texts.

To claim, as they do, that they are acting on behalf of Allah to avenge the Prophet is to assume to themselves the powers of their God. Who anointed them? Who made these killers the representatives on Earth of Allah? By whose right do they act as judge and jury on mankind? They are not denied access to the airwaves or the print pages if they articulate a case within the law. They have social media fully available to make their arguments. Yet the bloodlust of the zealots directs them only to the barbaric and ancient instincts of the cave.

On to fellow Muslims they pour the unthinking scorn of the anti-immigration lobby quick to identify, wrongly, the murderers with the wider community of Muslims. How do you imagine this week’s We Are The People marchers in Germany will react to the Paris massacre? Look. You see. This all started with immigration. They are not like us.

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Stephane Charbonnier: Editor was among the today’s victims in Paris.

So the case for decent people is set back again and somewhere in the back of their mind journalists, cartoonists and programme-makers will ask themselves if an editorial idea is worth the risk. Do they quietly drop it in self-censorship and allow a kind of purdah to evolve in which violent shadows determine what we read and see and what makes us laugh?

Freedom of expression really is a pillar of our world with all the acrimony and accompanying grotesque caricature that implies because it allows us to be who really are and lets us see clearly the world around us. If this is a kind of war, we must hope truth doesn’t become the first victim. But if it is, it is a war worth fighting because victory for the disciples of death will diminish something worthy that inspires us all.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Well said Derek.
    Religious facsism is and has been responsible for many of the ills that afflict human societies across the world and is currently manifest by the actions of sects in the Middle East and North America,although the latter are not overtly violent but rely on right wing politicians to implement their will.
    Failure and intolerance of diversity in nature,usually means that the entity has a short shelf life due to it’s inablity to adapt to change.
    A free press is probably the most important constituent of modern democracy and an attempt to shut it down is an attack on all of us who believe in a liberal diverse society where all people, acting within accepted laws,have a right to express their opinions without the threat of violence or intimidation.
    Thanks Derek.

  2. Wonderful article. These type of events should never stop us from taking a slanted, humerous and satirical view of all areas of life. It is, after all, what makes us human.

  3. Good piece, Derek.
    And so far i’m liking the improvements to the site, on the whole.
    I’m a little bit disappointed on the archives system, don’t know what i expected but i thought it would have been better than it is. Newsnet has done a lot of excellent articles on the BBC and the current system doesn’t allow for finding them quickly. But as i said, overall, pretty pleased with the improvements and the faster speed at which one can now negotiate the site. Room for improvement but thumbs up.

    • A search of the archive of “BBC” reveals all 1890 items (189 pages of 10).
      Can you check if this works similarly on your browser? We took a lot of care to move the archive – which includes around 250,000 items – to the new platform so you shouldn’t be missing anything.
      Please check and let us know. Thanks. The Newsnet team.

  4. I have a real problem with all religions. Whilst I accept the right to religion and expression. I just can’t understand the attachment some people place on what effectively is a club that believe in God. The club is not God’s club. It’s whatever club the man or woman who invents it wants to name it. I was brought up a catholic. I stopped being a catholic and kept being a Christian. I realised how ridiculous religion is. Most of us believe in the same god ,if we believe that is. Yet with all our sophistication mankind still behaves like a zealot when it comes to belief in God. Anyone who kills in name of religion is a murderer. Anyone who thinks their religion is the true religion is brainless and lacking in insight. Most wars in the world are fundamentally about religion of some sort or another. We can’t ban extremists we just have to accept that some people cannot think logically or clearly when it comes to religion.

    So we must have tolerance from all religions to each other.Even if we think they are the most ridiculous man made ,corrupt cults known to man. So the answer to extremism is actually not reprisals or violence. Its education. After all I managed to get away from the Catholic cult and became an unnafiliated believer!

  5. The murder of these French journalist/cartoonists brings home the truth that the pen is mightier than the sword. That sword must be wielded in defence of humanity and the freedoms that are necessary for humanity to flourish. It cannot be curtailed by barbaric acts of murder.
    That is why those who manipulate western media to support the case for killing people in eastern lands, and those who manipulate eastern religious belief to kill people in western lands must be brought to justice.

  6. “Most wars in the world are fundamentally about religion of some sort or another.”

    I don’t see how you reach that conclusion. The world wars of the 20th century were nothing to do with religion of any sort. They were about power and wealth.

    • From the beginning of time, the aggressors in wars and conflicts have always looked for validation and that’s where God comes in. I can’t think of a war at any time in history that wasn’t about power, wealth and/or influence

  7. How many Western nespapers and tv stood by the Danish cartoonist, the Dutch film-maker, Charlie Hebdo ? How many re-printed the cartoons or articles ? None. They all hand-wring at the sidelines going on about defending free speech, but when they were required to show solidarity they weren’t there. The fanatics in that respect have already won – and the western media is culpable in the deaths of these brave journalists.

  8. Sorry jock – you were making some interesting points, but ‘manged to get away from the the Catholic ‘cult’…!!! Somewhat offensive is it not?

  9. Where do these fanatical thugs get the idea that they have the right to murder 12 people just because they were offended by a cartoon? I’ve just heard on the news channel that they think the killers are heading back to Paris to die in a shootout. They must be desperate to become martyrs. Hopefully therefore, they’ll live and spend the rest of their lives in miserable confinement.

    No doubt the Westminster government will use this atrocity in Paris to further erode our civil liberties.

    Truth must not be the first casualty of war. Unfortunately, where the Scottish MSM is concerned, truth is already a casualty merely for political expedience, and no war was required to make it so. What did Scotland do to deserve such an abysmal, spineless, unperceptive, bewildered, brainless, feeble and indolent media?

  10. In response to one or two comments above:

    Arguably, all religions, ideologies, and philosophies (ie all “isms”) fall into the generic category of “belief-systems”, ie none of them are immune to some ultimate element of “faith”. As for “religion” (which I am not defending as such), the evidence shows that it did NOT in fact start the majority of wars – or anything like it. The Napoleonic Wars, for example? World Wars 1 & 2? The Korean War? Vietnam? The Falklands? Moreover, regarding killing atrocities, Alexander Solzhenitsyn estimated the death toll from Soviet State repression between 1917 and 1959 under Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev at around 66,700,000. As for Mao Zedong’s reign, a US Senate Committee (Walker Report 1971) put “the parameters of the total death toll within China since 1949 between 32.25 and 61.7 million”. Nazi Germany is reckoned to have caused 21 million “non-battle” deaths. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975-79) killed 2 million (more than a third of the populace).

  11. half the population of Europe was wiped from 15th to 17th centuries due to fighting between catholic and protestants – now we’ve got the same thing starting in middle east between sunni and shia , jew and muslim. IMO institutionalised state backed religion should be gradually eradicated by sensible education of the population in science and rational thought – that’s the only way to prevent future wars based on religions.

    • Leginge, none of these conflicts were about religion, they were about power and territory. Religion was the banner but never the reason.

  12. David it wasn’t meant to be offensive to the Catholic people. It is aimed at the institution. All religions are a form of cult. They indoctrinate their members with ideologies and fear of sin. Its the basic control mechanism of most religions. It was suggested that religion was not responsible for most wars. I disagree. Sure there are political wars over territory between governments. But wars between peoples are usually about religion. The second world war was partly religious driven. Hitler intended to eradicate the Jews from Europe. We can call that ethnic cleansing but it was religious based.

    The people of Pakistan and India have been at war over competing religions for many years. The middle age massacres in Europe during the reformation have already been mentioned. The middle east is a hotbed of mini religious factions and wars. Isis want to invade Europe and destroy the infidels. 9/11 was and anti Christian act against a western christian nation.

    What happened in Paris is at the heart of what is wrong with religious intolerance. Whilst not comparing modern Christianity with Muslim fundamentalism. At heart religion is all about division and mistrust of other religions. Its an antiquated ideology which is past its sell by date.

  13. Thanks jock, I appreciate that. My view id that people are at the heart of what causes problems and they may or may not use religion to justify that. How many Muslims in this country will utterly ashamed of what a few individuals have just carried out in their name? As you and I know it is not in their name any more than I would consider Irish terrorists during the troubles representing all Irish catholics. There are many regular attacks on the Catholic church but to suggest it is a cult and that those of us who try to live true to the catholic faith are simply indoctrinated is wrong. You made a choice to leave the church, I make the choice every day to stay – not through fear but through belief. I have never been taught anything other to try to see the good in others and help where I can. As for well its sell by date? You clearly choose not to see the good work that the catholic church and many other religions carry out. I would hope we could both agree to respect each other belief and live and let live so little.

    • I would agree with David. I left religion a long time ago but religion is used as a banner (or a blanket) to suit the purposes of some very unsavory people. The Catholic Church as an organisation is very different from devout believers. Big Jock, you and I don’t believe but we have to respect those who follow the religion rather than the organisation or its leaders.

  14. Great article! Like others, it’s a massive face-to-hand plant from me when the predictable narrative of religion is the sole (soul…) source of human conflict. If we have learnt anything from the last two years on the referendum trail it is that very disparate groups can work together for a common goal. Without wanting to sound trite I think a tolerant society is something that 99% of us want to live in regardless of our view of the cosmos and definitions of morality. It would be plainly ridiculous to argue that Pol pot, Kim Jong Il & Joseph Stalin’s atrocities meant that all human suffering was due atheism… reasonable people make reasonable Muslims, Christians, etc…

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