WE TAKE for granted that the press shapes opinion, or, if not the press, at least mass media that are accessible to all of us.
In some respects this is tremendously mistaken: The Financial Times, in its piece about security ten years after 7/7, has one chilling paragraph: "Up until June 2013, the Government’s internet counter-terrorism unit, set up in 2010, had removed 6000 pieces of content and terrorist propaganda. In the two years since, it has had to take down 84,000. It now removes 1000 items a week."
It’s not clear to me how this stuff can be "removed" if it is housed on foreign servers; the only way in which it could is if it has been put on services owned by US firms, such as YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. The real "dark net" remains impossible to police. It is extraordinary that so few mainstream journalists monitor such stuff. I suppose that one reason, apart from language difficulties, is that you would have to read for days and weeks until a story came up, and this would look to a spreadsheet like idleness.
A LITTLE less expensively, The Independent on Sunday got Cole Moreton to look at the relations between gay people and the Christian Churches, in a piece suspended like a hammock from two pegs: the Pride parade and the General Synod.
It has to be said the Pride took most of the strain: his piece started and ended with the Revd Sally Hitchiner, who seems to have come out by accident on television recently. This will have come as a distressing shock to many Mail and Times readers, who remember when she first came to fame three years ago for doing fashion shoots. Then the disapproving subtext was that she must be a bad vicar because she was distractingly attractive to men. Sometimes a girl just can’t catch a break.
She also does Christianity, and it was in that capacity that Moreton quoted her: "We can’t move forward until lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people forgive their oppressors. That is the big challenge facing the LGBT community. We are never going to reach Utopia until we all get there."
Her group had handed out leaflets at Pride, saying: "We’re sorry if anyone has ever told you that God doesn’t love you. God loves everyone."
Moreton goes on: "Crowds cheered as the Christians — mostly LGBT but some straight — danced to cheesy songs such as ‘Living on a Prayer’, and held up banners saying such things as ‘Queerly Beloved’."
Ms Hitchener again: "‘It felt amazing to be such a positive presence within a community that has felt judged by the Church. The hostility that we have experienced towards us at Pride in the past was not there this time. . .
"There is a real sense of a sea change: that this is not a minority issue any more, it is something for everyone to care about."
Moreton writes, however, that she expects that the opposition from some parts of the Church will get stronger. "‘We’re bracing ourselves for a more bitter fight than we have had to face before. There is a fear building in conservative quarters that if they don’t do something now, they will lose the ground forever.’
"Then there are the people in the middle ground, who hold the beliefs they have always held — and that have been mainstream for centuries — yet who suddenly find themselves at odds with the way society is going. They are shocked, understandably, and confused at being called bigots."
MORETON goes on to mention the Archbishop of Canterbury’s trip to South Sudan, where he stood among unburied bodies beside a mass grave by a desolated church. But what the bishops there really wanted to hear from him was that the C of E would not countenance gay marriage. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof had a truly harrowing report from the civil war there.
Among the least harrowing, really, is this paragraph: "Nyakong Riek tells me that when government soldiers attacked her village, she ran with her two-year-old son. ‘I was trying to pull him along,’ she said. ‘But bullets were flying, and I couldn’t pull him fast enough. So I left him.’ Dazed and sleepless, she says wistfully that she just hopes that the boy died quickly."
The perpetrators here were the government forces, as opposed to the rebels under Riek Machar, who slaughtered the Christians whom Archbishop Welby saw on his visit. Both sides in this dreadful war are Christians, and I think it is worth rereading when the sympathy card is played about how these people are oppressed by the Muslims of the North.
The violence here, writes Kristof, is partly ethnic or tribal, between Nuer and Dinka; but our own tribal sympathies are also easily engaged with one side or another. Islamic State itself does not appear more brutal than some of the South Sudanese militias. It is just more imaginative, which makes its cruelty more likely to spread.