The BBC gives an interesting insight into what people talk about, at least when it comes to news and current affairs of all kinds. As they say about their “Have Your Say” feature:
It is a powerful body of opinion, one larger than any focus group and one which can be viewed anywhere in the world.
It speaks volumes about people trying to make sense of the new world order post 9/11, trying to work through the relations between different religions and cultures and shed some light on what is increasingly a complex and difficult world.
The BBC’s analysis of what people read and commented on in 2006 shows that 5 of the top 10 topics were about the Middle East or relationships with the Islamic world.
(And another two topics of those top ten were reactions to the death and near-death of two celebrities, Steve Irwin and Richard Hammond.)
This comes in a week when the Archbishop of Canterbury and other religious leaders have been telling us that the world musn’t ignore the issue of Middle East peace.
Ignore? All my life the world has obsessed about it. And never more so than in the last five years. But there is a world of difference between not ignoring something, and having the slightest idea of what to do that will work.
The Archbishop’s answer, of course, is to promote reconciliation and understanding and goodwill between men. Perhaps grounded in the injunction to love your enemies, and others.
And this is obviously wise and good. And just as obviously, it has been said many times before, and saying it one more time is unlikely to make any difference at all.
Loving your enemies hasn’t become popular these two thousand years. As John’s Gospel would have it: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
So if just repeating it one more time will have little effect, what will?
I don’t have the answers, I’m asking the question.
Maybe what it will take is a Gandhi, a Mandela, or a Martin Luther King to emerge in the Middle East. And that is not something any of us can make happen, except the one out there that takes that task upon themselves.
. . .
Meanwhile, notice what the world is not talking about.
As I pointed out in my discussion of terrorism, in the UK during 2006, precisely zero people were killed by terrorism. While in the same year three thousand people were killed in road accidents.
We talk about what is dramatic, new and visceral, and forget what is chronic and ongoing.
We love stories with villains and heroes, where we can get worked up in righteous indignation about the evildoers, whoever we decide they are.
And if 3,000 people died in the UK in road accidents in one year, by comparison 3,000 people die of malaria in Africa every single day, most of them children. Of course, Africa is a big place, and we need to get a sense of the numbers in terms we can relate to. In a population the size of London or New York, that would be 30-35 deaths from malaria every day, or roughly 12,000 in a year.
And that’s just a fraction of the deaths every day associated with extreme poverty.
But the world doesn’t talk a lot about that. Except when there’s a rock concert or a tsunami to bring it momentarily back into public discussion.
I don’t think it’s that the world doesn’t care – just look at the outpourings after the tsunami.
I think it’s that the world has collective attention deficit disorder.