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Some online pundits are not fearless iconoclasts. They’re just dicks

PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Starve of attention those who can’t keep their mouths shut

This article originally appeared in The New European on May 26

As the aftermath of the atrocity in Manchester is being picked through both literally and figuratively, I don’t have anything useful, insightful or helpful to say on the subject. I could join in with the usual impotent chorus of condemnation, although I’d rather hope that my feelings on the matter of someone detonating a bomb in a concert hall full of little girls would be self-evident.

I know politicians and the like are somewhat obliged to issue statements condemning such nightmarish deeds, though the very act of making a point of condemning something like this seems to brook the possibility that one might not be outraged and heartbroken.

While I’ve nothing to add of any weight or value to the discussion, it is rather hard to concentrate on anything else in the immediate aftermath (I am writing this on the morning after the attack) and indeed to try to concentrate on anything else can feel glib and superficial. So I think, on balance, I’m going to keep my trap shut.

And while I’m always loath to hold myself up as an example of good behaviour, I wish more people in the media, both ‘trad’ and social, were doing likewise right now.

A certain failed game show contestant, who I will not name, went on the Twitter offensive early this morning with a call for a ‘final solution’, to which problem she didn’t specify. One trusts she meant ‘terrorism’, rather than Islam, or indeed Muslims, but in any event she hastily deleted the tweet (although not before it had been widely screengrabbed and circulated) before spending the rest of the morning expressing similar sentiments in rather more measured language (which must have taken some effort). And Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, who I will name – as unlike the aforementioned failed game show contestant she’s not merely pathologically addicted to attention, but is someone who’s supposed to do this for a living and as such should be utterly ashamed of herself – called for the ‘internment of thousands of terror suspects’. One would imagine that if MI5 et al actually have ‘thousands’ of terror suspects, they’re keeping tabs on them and are leaving them at large for reasons they don’t feel the need to explain to Daily Telegraph columnists…. unless of course Pearson simply meant the thousands of people who might be suspected of being terrorist suspects, by association, or because of their demographic profile, or, I don’t know, maybe their religion…

MORE: Hateful Katie Hopkins is sacked from LBC after ‘final solution’ comment

The one thing we know about the wave of Islamist terrorism which began on September 11 and which has been washing with varying degrees of intensity over the face of the world ever since is its overall aim, its endgame, its ‘final solution’: to turn Muslims against Westerners and vice versa. That’s what it’s all been about. Whether simply to punish the Great Satan and his little helpers for specific perceived offences, or to trigger global jihad and bring about the rise of the worldwide Caliphate, that’s what they’re trying to achieve. To make non-Muslims hate, fear and persecute Muslims and to ensure that the resulting resentment and anger among Muslims festers into violence, thus ramping up the fear and suspicion of Muslims. The most vicious of circles.

And every anti-Muslim statement a public figure makes, whether in grief and rage, or as part of a scripted stump speech or carefully crafted policy document, gives that wheel another gentle spin, helps that circle to keep turning. This is how they win.

But what we’re seeing here is a nasty confluence of societal malignancies. For if the buried lust for jihad, the desire to kick some infidel ass, is the dark impulse against which Muslim culture must constantly guard itself (successfully 99.999% of the time, one should point out), then the overriding desire for attention of whatever kind at whatever cost is the disease which is currently eating away at the flesh of western society.

The failed game show contestant whom I will not name may or may not harbour exterminatory feelings towards Islamist terrorists or Muslims in general; that’s not the point. The point is that by using language alluding to the Holocaust she knew she’d get the internet talking about her for another day. And look, it worked. The vast majority of people on the internet are calling her every foul name under the sun, and debating just what kind of skull-ringing psychosis it can be that makes someone behave that way, but does she care? I doubt it. They’re all talking about her, retweeting her, linking to her. That’s all that matters.

And this is not (entirely) her fault. She came to prominence by being a horrible person on television, and we’ve shown her that the more horrible she is, the more attention we pay her. If she could get this kind of gratification by being a great humanitarian and sage thinker, she might give that a go. But she knows – or believes – that she couldn’t. She may have fashioned herself into an ethical car crash… but people stare at car crashes.

This tendency is spreading into the ‘legit’ media too. We’re seeing more and more articles being posted purely for the clickbaity eye-catching awfulness of their headlines. There are ‘journalists’ fashioning entire careers out of identifying the worst possible thing to say and then saying it.

And we have a whole branch of the media devoted to covering the utterances of these Power Trolls with breathless excitement, as if they’re all acts of fearless iconoclasm, challenges to the stultifying norms of discourse, rather than just someone being a dick. As if being a dick is difficult, or impressive, or challenging. It’s not. Being a dick is the easiest thing in the world, if you’re a dick.

What can we do about this? Hard to say on a grand scale; the figures speak for themselves. Being a dick sells ad space. All we can do, I guess, is refuse to reward this kind of behaviour. Don’t retweet the failed game show contestant. Don’t click on the They Can’t Say That Can They? link. Don’t buy their self-aggrandising autobiographies or call their phone-in shows. Starve them of the attention they crave.

Pay attention to the things that actually matter. I’m off to hug my two little girls like I’ll never let them go.

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