Media Hysteria

The top story on the news this morning is still the story about the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that Sharia law in the UK is ‘unavoidable’. Needless to say you actually need read beyond the hysterical headlines as what Rowan Williams is saying is a lot more complicated, and a lot less cut and dry than some of the news reports may imply.

For a start, you have to bear in mind that his audience was an audience of lawyers, so it’s not exactly pitched for the man on the street. Also the idea that religions have their own legal courts in the UK is not new – an Orthodox Jewish Beth Din (meaning House of Judgement) is based in London and can be used for legal matters relating to the Jewish faith.

Bishop Alan has produced a good overview under the title Abdul the Bogeyman, which first off highlights that as with most events, this isn’t the first time it has happened. Back in 1829 the English had much the same hysteria over whether Catholics could live under English law, and that the English are great at getting worked up into an unfounded massive hysteria. Bishop Alan highlights the hysteria in 2000 when paediatricians were hounded from their homes by vigilantes who didn’t understand the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile.

Recently, Ekklesia ran a thought provoking article discussing how people can often be distracted from the shortcomings in their modern societies by quick-fix solutions that target particularly easy to define groups – you need look no further than this weeks headline grabbing attack on people in social housing who don’t work, which fails to address the real, and much more complex long-term issues highlighted by Shelter in their response. Indeed I highlighted the spectacular difference between the perception and the reality of youth crime in the UK earlier in the week – it doesn’t take much to realise the effect that these perceptions have in demonising large numbers of our young people.

The Muslim takeover hysteria has been around for a while, indeed I’ve had arguments with people at Church who at times seem convinced that it’s only a matter of weeks before Muslims turn up wanting to turn the Church into a mosque. The reality of course is somewhat different, and moving past the hysteria, as with so many things the facts really don’t match up to the hype.

Bishop Alan finishes up with a great statement, that really about sums it all up:

Hysteria about Bogeymen is a great British Tradition. It gets people talking. But when they do, historically, they usually talk rubbish.

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