It would be fair to say that the Christmas period has provided a much needed break away from the world of politics. It all kicked off in last January with the inauguration of President Trump, and over the course of the year a combination of mercurial press conferences and macho Tweets has most certainly resulted in heightened tensions within the realm of international relations. Closer to home, the Brexit debate continued to drone; Theresa May decided to play ‘Deal or No Deal’ and called a snap election which backfired, and her promise of a ‘strong and stable’ Government seems anything but that, as senior cabinet members fall around her like pins. Amidst all the politicking, we witnessed terrorist attacks in Parliament square, Manchester arena, Borough Market and Finsbury Park, and the tragedy of Grenfell tower became a symbol of the impact that austerity has had in widening inequality within British society.
In addition to all of this, Muslims have also had their own minor mishaps to deal with in house. The Nouman Ali Khan exposé of his colourful private life on social media resulted in endless fruitless debates and discussion in Muslim circles. On our shores, the prominent academic Tariq Ramadan had rape allegations made against him and is currently on a leave of absence from Oxford University, and in the process of mounting a legal challenge. Meanwhile, the backdrop of intense media and political scrutiny persists and frustratingly, commentators continue to conflate South Asian cultural issues with Islam. Add to this the continuing rise of the Far Right, much of whose hatred is channeled towards Muslims, and on face value it seems there is little to celebrate as this year draws to a close.
However, is it all really that bad, or are we perceiving things to be worse than they actually are? Of course, the 24 hour news-cycle doesn’t help, which in recent years has moved away from television channels and onto social media. The persistent drip feed of negative news stories and all the debate that surrounds it on comment threads can make us feel that the apocalypse is nigh. But perhaps we need to re-examine this? It is difficult to conclude that the world is worse now than it was during the two world wars, or the nuclear arms race that took place during the Cold war. Our perceptions are generally shaped by the fact in a world of intense competition among news outlets, editors need to catch our attention by taking advantage of our natural negativity bias, and using language and imagery to add the shock and awe factor – The one with the goriest cover picture and the catchiest headline will win the race.
Perhaps we need to move out of the doldrums of despair, and acknowledge that we are living in possibly one of the most prosperous periods of human history? In an article for the New York Times at the beginning of 2017, Nicholas Kristof claimed that 2016 was the “best year in the history of humanity”, as child mortality fell by almost half of what is was in 1990, falling global inequality and 300,000 people gaining access to electricity. The Swedish Historian Johan Norberg has also expressed similar sentiments in his book ‘Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future’, where he chooses 10 basic indicators of human flourishing (food, sanitation, life expectancy, violence, poverty, environment, literacy, freedom, equality and conditions of childhood) to convince the reader that we are indeed living in an era of immense prosperity.
Of course, this does not mean that we simply dismiss the negative things in our society by saying things have never been better; what we must do is address the issues of the day in a purposeful manner without all the hyperbolic and fatalistic rhetoric. So whether its Trump or Brexit, we must realise that mankind has had to deal with political challenges far more complex than these in the past and pulled through, and there is little reason to believe that we won’t be able to navigate through the issues of the day.
Even when the issue of Nouman Ali Khan broke on social media, some Muslims lamented at how this was one of the ‘bleakest times’ for Muslims in the West; yet a further example of how influenced we have become by media hyperbole that we now use the same rhetoric in our social media interactions. Furthermore, if the exposé of someone’s private life is described as one of the ‘bleakest’ things that a community has faced, then things really can’t be that bad can they?
So as we embark upon a new year, let us be make a conscious effort to move away from hyperbolic, fatalistic rhetoric when discussing the difficulties we currently face; let’s remember that most of us have access to basic necessities such as food, clean water, housing and clothing; we have access to a world-class healthcare service; we have the availability of information at our fingertips with high speed broadband in our pockets; we have the ability to travel from A to B with speeds that previous civilisations could never have imagined. In fact, we have a great deal to be thankful for. So let us take this opportunity to glorify our Lord and give thanks to Him, for the amazing blessings he has given us.