Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is not someone I am in the practice of quoting. However last week he got it so right in response to a belligerent phone in listener. He said on a local radio in one of many reactions to the terrorist atrocity in Paris:
“….in a free society people have to be free to offend each other. You cannot have freedom unless people are free to offend each other. We have no right not to be offended.”
In contrast the comment from UKIP leader Nigel Farage was the very last thing one might be, understandably, comfortable hearing “uncontrolled immigration” he said “a contributory factor in the shootings in Paris”, continuing that it was a function of “multi-culturalism” and that there was an aspect of the shooting which could be attributable to a “fifth column living within our own countries … out to destroy our whole civilisation and our way of life”.
In the fullness of time, there will be lessons to learn from last week’s events in Paris and it is going to take careful thought, comment and evaluation to come up with the right lessons. On this issue Mr Clegg’s comment was more appropriate than his political rival.
Events and comments last week brought to mind the words of an eighteenth century French intellectual prolific writer who once penned: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Salient particularly as the author, Voltaire, made many controversial comments on the worlds religious and political beliefs of his day.
While the people of France spent the weekend coming to terms with last week’s terror attacks in Paris that left 17 dead a considerably less well reported tragedy was unfolding in Nigeria.
Yet, reports of an estimated 2,000 casualties after an attack by Boko Haram militants in the remote northern province of the country did not make the headlines; Amnesty International described events as deadly and local defence groups complained they had given up counting the bodies found lying on the streets.
Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications.
Thus there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.
However, reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused intently its attention on Paris, some have questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored particularly as there were so many people murdered.
The answer has to be that despite advances in IT in recent years the national media now report more detail but about less. When a huge news issue ‘breaks’ our mainline media focus on the multiplicity of details, analysis and reactions from leaders to the point of exclusion of other events. It is ironic that in an age were information is so freely available one has to often self-search online to maintain a full picture of world events.
In addition to the Nigerian massacre there were reports on line from international agencies of the massive problems of the issue of asylum seekers - particularly when they arrive in southern Europe on mass mostly in stressed circumstances.
Most asylum seekers are “processed” from one EU nation to another until they reach the richer countries to the north Europe where they hope to settle.
According to the latest Eurostat figures, by far the largest number of asylum applications was in Germany, 126,705. France took on 64,760 and Sweden 54,270, with Britain taking 29,875. This is only the start of the problem because, even though many applicants may be rejected (62% in the UK), the host countries are virtually powerless to send them away again.
Another major contributor to the story of human misery “people trafficking” by the gangs that charge asylum seekers huge sums to board those “death ships” in the Mediterranean – has become a multi-billion-pound criminal industry.
And then there is the plight of those 2.9 million exiled Syrians, living in horrendous conditions in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere, or the half-million refugees in Kenya, or the Eritreans being slaughtered in camps in southern Sudan.
There is much to disapprove of, perhaps it is the role of journalists to encourage our world leaders to walk together arm in arm in the streets more often!
- Peter Troy can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org