If we stay in the EU, our country will be exposed to uncontrolled immigration from Turkey, where 12 million people plan to migrate.
Imagine, a sudden influx of 12 million, mostly non-Christian people working and living in the EU. Isn’t that a reason to pack our bags and leave the Union? What about our values and traditions?
If you think that the first sentence is far-fetched, well think again. It’s taken from the front page of right-wing newspaper The Daily Express, May 22, 2016 edition – one month before the crucial Brexit referendum. A completely fabricated front-page article aimed at misleading the public before a crucial vote. The post was shared thousands of times and repeated throughout the campaign even though it was false. Then, a couple of days before the vote, when people had already made up their mind, somewhere hidden in the inside pages, the editor admitted that that article was “flawed”.
This is the world we’re living in. A post-truth life where bullshit sells, and sells fast, while facts take time to explain – and people don’t have much time.
The dangerous Happy Christmas game
This year, we got an early start to the silly season in the media with a prime example of how bullshit sells fast.
It all started with an article in right-wing Italian newspaper Il Giornale which, wrongly, accused Commissioner Helena Dalli of trying to cancel Christmas. The sensational headline spread like wild fire, as no-one bothered to check the facts before sharing it on social media.
Then came Jason Azzopardi who threw a Nigel Farage and shared the right-wing sensational headline, claiming that Helena Dalli doesn’t want you to use the word Christmas, and if your name is Maria, you cannot use it.
Azzopardi, an intelligent lawyer and experienced legislator, knew that the facts were different. He knew that it wasn’t an attempt by the EU to impose anything on its citizens, but an internal document suggesting inclusive language among Commission staff.
Yet, in a post-truth society, his devious action was a win-win for him: he got his 15-minutes of fame and the much sought-after Facebook hits; and he attacked his political adversary.
The document has since been withdrawn following internal EPP pressure on EPP Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Would you serve a tomahawk to your vegan guest?
So what did the document contain? To some, it contained the obvious, or what should have been obvious. It surely didn’t contain any ban on Christians to wish a Happy Christmas to each other. But you see, the European Union is made up of 448 million citizens. People of different nationalities, beliefs, traditions, gender identities and sexual orientations. The strength of the Union is explained in its motto – United in Diversity.
This diversity is reflected among the 32,000 permanent and contract employees working in the Commission. So why shouldn’t it be obvious that an internal document suggests inclusive language among staff?
Doesn’t Jason Azzopardi see it as ridiculous and disrespectful for a head of department at the European Commission to wish Jewish staff members celebrating Hanukkah, a happy Christmas? Or even a happy Christmas to Muslim staffers who will be on shut down in December despite them not even celebrating anything in December? Why not use phrases which celebrate this diversity, instead?
Let’s take another example. Picture Jason Azzopardi throwing a lovely dinner at home to thank his campaign donors. He knows that two of his guests, for whom he has high esteem, are vegans. Would he serve them a tomahawk steak or would he make an effort to respect their choices and beliefs?
If anything, Azzopardi’s game, and the deafening silence of other politicians, sheds light on how far behind we are as a country when it comes to discussing intersectionality and reflecting it in our policies.
Why is this a dangerous game?
Another reason why Jason Azzopardi and his conservative colleagues’ game is dangerous is that they are unknowingly contributing to an anti-EU sentiment. It may sound ironic but it really isn’t. David Cameron and most of his predecessors at 10, Downing Street were Remainers but they fuelled the anti-EU sentiment each time they blamed their failures on the EU.
In Azzopardi’s case, not only was this a desperate attempt at trying to win a tiny battle amidst a disastrous local political scenario, but his populist sharing of right-wing misinformation is a classic textbook case of how Brexit developed. This can be seen from the comments on social media which came from both PN sympathizers and right-wing followers, but also from Eurosceptic Labour supporters. All of whom took his devious statement as fact without checking the source.
The role of the media
That’s where the media comes in. Today’s main challenge for news media is no longer simply that of being first to report news. A deeper challenge is finding one’s way around Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm maze. The cheapest, easiest and most tempting way around, is sensationalism.
If a Member of Parliament gets a thousand likes in 30 minutes for posing with his cat, why not carry a sensational story about that politician’s cat? If that doesn’t work, why not try taking a dig at the EU and their “evil schemes to control our lives”?
This race to the bottom will have deep consequences on our societies, much deeper than a person wishing happy holidays to his colleagues.