Hashtag Bravery

Try as I might, I just cannot shake the anger and frustration that stirs in me each time I see hypocrisy writ large. And this week I have seen it. It hit a crescendo yesterday (Janaury 11, 2015) when I saw the scenes of the estimated 3 million people, including world leaders, uniting in a rally of love and peace in Paris. Across the world, in other major cities including here in Toronto, similar rallies were led in solidarity. All this in support of the massacred at the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Add to this the fact that every day for the last week my Facebook newsfeed has been cluttered with pictures of individuals holding “I am Charlie Hebdo” signs. And let’s not forget the ubiquitous hashtag bravery (if I may borrow a phrase from Rex Murphy’s January 10, 2015 National Post column) of “#we are Charlie Hebdo” currently infecting the Twittersphere.

Time and again in recent years, from Benghazi to Joseph Kony to Boko Harum, to Syria, Israel, Gaza, and now on to Paris, those of us in free and democratic Western societies wake up to the terror and the atrocities in the world after a catastrophic event just long enough to copy, paste, post, repost, tweet and Instagram our “support” for the cause in question and/or the victims of the injustice. Then a celebrity dies, or is accused of some historic crime, and our focus immediately shifts- either to an outpouring of faux emotion for a stranger whose death moves us to crocodile tears more than one in our own extended family, or to mock outrage as we look down our collective noses at the alleged moral failings of the celebrity in question. A few days later, we all go back to sleep while the real problems in the world continue unabated.

There are evil people in the world. People whose religious zealotry incites them to kill all those who do not believe as they do. We all know that in every religion there are extremists. We also know instinctively that wherever an extremist act is carried out in the name of a particular god that the majority of believers in that god have no part of it. Pundits and their supporters on both the Left and the Right get it wrong. When talking of the recent spate of attacks clearly perpetrated by extremist Muslims, the Left bends over backwards to ensure we don’t offend the innocent Muslims, forgetting that if they are rational moderates then they won’t be offended. The Right, on the other hand, expects every act of Islamic violence to be condemned by the moderate Muslims. Why? Again, the innocents and moderates have nothing to apologize for. All of humanity should be condemning acts of violence that do not accord with our principles of freedom and democracy, regardless of our religious beliefs or those of the perpetrators.

There is hunger in the world. There is deadly disease in the world. There is crime in our own neighbourhoods. There is poverty. There is racism, sexism, and homophobia, despite all the advances we have made in terms of human rights. Sadly, hashtags and tweets and Facebook posts won’t solve a damn thing.

Let’s talk about the the fact that France created a culture where radicalism was allowed to thrive. Let’s talk about the fact that in Canada we too are allowing, as a result of our mainstream media, our universities, and our government policies, a culture where everyone hides behind political correctness on the left, or “conservatism” and “traditional values” on the right (again, Rex Murphy puts this much more eloquently than I in his aforementioned column).

Our democratically elected governments respond either by refusing to act for fear of being seen to be jumping to conclusions, or by passing laws which restrict the liberty of everyone in the name of security (but which provide only the illusion thereof). In this the governments of the Western world and the punditry of the North American media have much in common. A narrow world-view of either left or right, black or white.

Governments should not be cowed to inaction out of political fear, nor should they over-react out of physical fear. We must elect leaders who will not bend to either fear of terror or fear of censure. We must also demand of our media an equally nuanced approach that by now seems anachronistic and downright quaint- a news media that deals in facts, not in speculation; in delivering news, not spectacle.

But we must ask the most of ourselves as individuals. We must stop pretending to care and show our moral fibre and “bravery” (is there a more overused word in the English language?) by our social media presence. We must stop pretending that we really care when our average focus on these issues, many centuries old, is measured in mere news cycles, after several of which a new celebrity sex tape will exorcise all the caring and tragedy from the headlines.

Let’s stop using our social media selves to show our solidarity with the cause du jour. If we really want to be brave, if we really want to care, let’s start using this incredible new technology at our fingertips and in our pockets to have an intelligent dialogue, without invective, rhetoric, and personal affront, to better understand what is really going on the world. Let us use it to educate ourselves and to try and find a way that those of us who really care might, individually or collectively, might make a difference.