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Stirring Up Trouble

The Internet is a great system for distributing information and there is no doubt about that. The problem is that information can cover a wide gamut, from pure facts to total lies. Neither of these extremes is usually a problem, its the information which is almost true or a little bit false which causes more trouble.

One of the best things about the Internet is that it makes it really easy to check the accuracy of information. Its rare for a subject to be discussed in just one place or for a fact to be presented on just one site. Usually there are many different perspectives on any subject and its just a matter of the person who genuinely wants to know the truth weighing up all sides involved.

The problem is that few people really want to know the truth. Most people will absorb and forward information which suits their political, religious, or personal beliefs and ignore anything which doesn’t fit. Also, many people don’t have great skills at investigating the accuracy of a claim so they can’t make a reasonable judgement even if they wanted to.

So where is all this leading? Well, as you might have guessed, it relates to a specific incident I was involved with this morning. A friend (I think he still is!) sent out some photos and a description which purportedly showed a boy’s arm being run over by a truck as a punishment for theft. The incident allegedly happened in an Islamic country and the commentary goes on to criticise Islam as a vicious and unforgiving religion.

The only problem is the picture doesn’t show that at all. It shows a “street performance” where a boy’s arm appears to be run over but he actually suffers no harm. There are several clues in the photo that this is the case and it took me literally 30 seconds to check the accuracy of the photo and find it lacking.

Yet this photo has been distributed around the world for 5 years now. It includes the following text: “This is very very disturbing whatever your religious beliefs. No religion can ever justify such hideous crimes Pass it on… let the world know what’s happening in the name of religion… Pass this to all, for public awareness. It must be sent WORLD WIDE! Even if this message is sent to you more than once, just keep on passing it on!” A variation of the text is “An 8 year old child caught stealing bread in a market of Iran is punished in a public place, in the name of Islam! His arm will be crushed and will lose its use permanently. A religion of peace and love, they say? How can anyone believe them when they commit such inhuman acts?”

The first version doesn’t specifically state the people in the photo are Muslims but its clear from their clothing and environment that they are. So this is an attack on Muslims with the specific encouragement to distribute it widely even though its a total lie! Do we not have enough problems with religious intolerance already without making things worse like this?

But its even worse than that. The incredible hypocrisy of the people distributing this stuff almost defies belief. For a start, many of them are either Christians or strongly supportive of Christianity. I thought one of the more positive aspects of that religion is tolerance and forgiveness. I don’t see many signs of that here. Deliberately stirring up hatred against another group is hardly an activity Jesus would approve of, I would have thought!

And the other incredible act of hypocrisy is that these same people strongly support severe punishment against people who break the law, including the death penalty in many cases. So if they think strong punishment is good should they not admire a culture which carries out these punishments? (remember that the story is untrue so I’m speaking from a theoretical perspective only).

Even if the punishment shown was true I don’t know if distributing the photos was justified. Actually, I have changed my mind about that. I think if they were true it would be justifiable to distribute them because the facts are always important. But before distributing such inflammatory material anyone should make absolutely sure its true. Sending out that sort of stuff without checking makes the distributor part of the cause of the intolerance we have in the world today. They’re just stirring up trouble.

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