FAKE NEWS, REAL BULLSHIT, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF AGNOSTICISM

I got talking to someone earlier, a woman called Rachel. We'd kind of run into one another before, but not properly engaged. Rachel works in a charity shop near me, called Mesopotamia. And what the charity does is rescue refugee children and women from unimaginable situations in Greece, in Iraq, and elsewhere. What I hadn't realised until today, as I passed her cash for a couple of books and a CD, is that it's Rachel who goes out to these countries, risking her life to save others. 

We talked about that. And she told me about the situations she goes into, which has been part of her life since she married a Muslim Turkish man and discovered what was happening in his country and others where words like 'refugee' have a richer and fuller meaning than they tend to in the UK.

Rachel has been featured in the media a few times, with a Panorama documentary and other television coverage. She appeared on a daytime show at some point, but it was virtually impossible to say anything either useful or true. She was asked not to mention ISIS or Islam, and not being able to talk about them makes it really difficult for Rachel to communicate just what she's doing, and who it benefits.

The people with the biggest reason to be scared of ISIS are Muslims. And that's something it would be good to be informed properly about. Instead, newspapers shriek hatred towards brown people and lump them all together. Noam Chomsky talks about the difficulty of expressing views within the media that don't fit in the framework of stories already put out there. If you've only got two minutes before the next guest comes on to talk about the latest diet, getting into the necessary intricacies of varied interpretations of Islam and just what jihad means isn't going to happen.

In turn, that means a good percentage of what we come across in the media is bogus. If informed conversation about what's going on in Syria is impossible, and debates about what can be done about it are framed largely in terms of coverage which omits much of the salient information, then the solutions proposed necessarily lack credibility.

The mainstream media is telling us to beware of fake news. It's hard not to raise an eyebrow at that point, in a week when the Daily Express has run an entirely bogus story about German leader Angela Merkel's plans for an EU army, not long after an equally bullshit front cover claiming a 'polar vortex' would plunge Britain into subzero temperatures and make it the worst winter for a century.

To generalise, significant elements of the media are encouraging us to be scared, and angry, and hateful, about people we haven't met. And we're told that those people have been radicalised to hate us, and destroy us in a holy war. Which doesn't make for a great conversation starter if you're convinced the family next door are tooled up for jihad and planning for you to be their first victims.

I met a Syrian refugee recently. Ahmed was cutting hair in Damascus at 13, then moved on to Dubai, and is now based in Birmingham. He's recently dissolved his first entrepreneurial venture, a very successful enterprise which saw him collaborate with manufacturers in China, where he said he learned a lot from the people he dealt with. Now, he has bigger plans with a social agenda - not least to be a good role model for other refugees. I believe he's capable of achieving that vision.

Right now, I could be getting caught up in the Tweet-tsunami of people exchanging vitriol about Donald Trump as he's sworn in. I choose not to engage. The guy plays social media in a quite brilliant way, and has skilfully turned the phrase 'fake news' against some of the media channels that disapprove of him, and done a great job of bringing out all the people who object to him in the open, where they will be even more vulnerable to state surveillance now that Obama has increased government powers for Trump to play with . 

Once talk turns to state surveillance it's easy to get disheartened. It happened to Rachel, who came to the attention of Special Branch because of her frequent visits to Muslim countries and activities in refugee camps. They found her phone number by dognapping her pooch, who has it written on his collar. Rachel reckoned it was like something out of Dad's Army. Which is a much more comforting thought than some of the apocalyptic scenarios conjured up by believers of all persuasions right now. A reminder once again that, as Robert Anton Wilson said, 'Convictions cause convicts'.