Friday, December 04, 2015

Paris, online shaming and a hermeneutic of love

I've waited a while to post this, partly letting things cool and partly becoming apathetic about blogging. This cartoon represents some people's approach to the Facebook profile picture changing over the Paris shootings. I wanted to say a few things about this.

The first thing is, that people want to be able to respond to tragedies. Particularly in the absence of religious belief where you can say "I'm praying for Paris", even a simple act of changing a profile pic is an act of empathy and grief. I can understand the cynicism towards tokenism, but people want to find ways of expressing their feelings. Cynicism is overrated. Shaming is unhelpful.

The second thing is, any single act is not nuanced, and may occur in some state of ignorance. No, changing a profile pic doesn't change the political situation, doesn't acknowledge past foreign policy sins (Algiers), doesn't take into account the secularisation that wanted to ban the Burka or the wearing of other religious attire in government jobs. It's as simple act. It doesn't have to affirm or deny these things.

Thirdly, we relate to what we know and find familiar. Yes Beirut should have more coverage, as do other issues. But condemning support for Paris over ignorance of other tragedies robs Peter to pay Paul.

Fourthly, right wing reactions to Islam are ignorant, predictable and depressingly lacking in understanding. This doesn't mean that the sneering superiority of the left about other people's ignorance is any better.

Finally, the predictable condemnations of the evils of religion conveniently ignores the crimes of fundamentalist atheism in the 20th c, or indeed the French Revolution and the events that followed. The song Imagine is so wonderfully naive; the anti-religion crowd so wonderfully boorish.

And hence the turn to love. Love won't seek to shame, but inform or extend. If the press never reports about massacres elsewhere, how does the left know? Better to invite people to conversation than ridicule or shame them. What is your aim? Likewise, knee jerk reactions from closing borders to more bombs lacks love - both for those who suffer, and yes for the enemy. Jesus calls us to love our enemy, and no I'm not convinced love and justice are not mutually exclusive.

Social media is hard enough to use effectively without being driven by superiority from either side of the political spectrum - be it conservative jingoism or progressive hubris. No, changing my pic (which I didn't in the end) doesn't change the world. Maybe it's not "helping". It is expressing something of my shared humanity. Invite me to think more broadly, to act more effectively. But don't shame me for my efforts or look down on me. There is enough dehumanising of the other by those we label "the bad guys", for us to do the same.

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