|A victim of the cult of paranoia|
A day ago, reports emerged that two men have now been convicted of murder and are awaiting sentence. While always involving tragedy, this particular crime had a particularly nasty element to it.
To précis: Bijan Ebrahimi, a disabled man living on the outskirts of Bristol, thought that he saw local youngsters vandalising his flower baskets and decided to take pictures of them doing so. Evidence, you might think.
But a neighbour saw him and decided that it was obvious that photographing youngsters meant that he was a raving paedophile. And the neighbour then spread the word. And other neighbours fell for it – happy to believe that taking photographs of youngsters means you’re a kiddy fiddler.
Ebrahimi told the police about the vandalism – and about the harassment that had started, but he was the one who was arrested on suspicion of breaching the peace, as a mob cried ‘paedo, paedo’.
More rumours were running around, with claims that he’d been burned out of a previous home.
Released from police custody with absolutely no charge against him – and the police had checked his camera and his computer and found absolutely nothing of a dubious nature – he was dead within two days, after being beaten into a state of unconsciousness before white spirit was poured over him and he was set ablaze.
Lee James, a 24-year-old father, has admitted murder, and his neighbour, Stephen Norley, has admitted assisting in the crime.
Various police and call centre staff are being investigated for their role in the entire debacle, because they ignored Ebrahimi’s pleas for help.
And at the heart of this horrific series of events is the apparent reality that merely taking pictures of youngsters or children is now deemed, by some individuals – who then become the mob – as absolute proof of paedophilia.
It is difficult to know where to start with this.
Salem, the Nazis, McCarthyism – we never seem to learn.
A widespread climate of paranoia exists about child abuse – even after the Paulsgrove riots and the case of the Welsh paediatrician who was driven from her home because some intellectually challenged individuals ‘thought’ that paediatrician and paedophile were one and the same, and then further ‘thought’ that they should do something about it.
Or to be more accurate, this is paranoia about child abuse by strangers – so-called ‘stranger danger’.
Yet the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of the abuse of children happens in the home and is perpetrated by family or friends.
Did you get that? The fact is that the vast majority of abuse is by someone known to the child – not a stranger.
So how do we deal with this? How do we stop it happening again?
Well, to start with, greater responsibility from mainstream news media would be welcome.
Part of the current culture of fear is down to sensationalist reporting of a very few cases where abduction has been involved. It can, at the least, create a perception of the dangers as being far more widespread than they are.
At worst, it helps to provide the climate in which the mob mentality can take over, and it can provide a sense of legitimacy for those who might want to move toward actual vigilantism.
But then we see much the same thing in coverage of other issues – not least at present, welfare.
As government has started a process of demonising the disabled and anyone else on benefits, so much of the media has been complicit: choosing, for ideological reasons, not to challenge statistics that, in some cases, have subsequently been shown to be fictions.
The joys of a ‘free’ press, eh?
Innocent people ‘monstered’ and demonised – dead as a result – and a point where merely pointing a camera at youngsters or children can see you branded a paedophile.
And the mob doesn’t even question it.
Indeed, some commenting online have sought to suggest that Ebrahimi was obviously ‘dodgy’ for photographing the youngsters or children from inside his house.
That’s right – blame the victim.
The police have categorically stated that there were no indecent pictures on his camera or computer, yet still people question why he was taking pictures at all – and suggesting that that in itself is now an inherently dubious thing to do.
What an utterly crazed idea. Do people really look at someone taking pictures in the street and think, if there’s a child anywhere near: ‘what’s that nonce doing?’
The facts of Ebrahimi’s death are hideous enough – and by god I hope that some people in that area are feeling some damned serious guilt and shame right now – but the fact that an entirely innocent action is being seen as an indicator of something as serious as child abuse is pretty nearly as sick.
The media need to show responsibility – but so do we, in stopping to actually think before we leap to conclusions based on anything the media tells us and anything any neighbour tells us as gossip.
And we need to constantly ask the question of why on earth anyone would imagine that pointing a camera is indicative of an act of abuse in the first place.
And we think we live in a civilised society?