Friday, December 24

Charity, cynicism, and utter bollocks.

In my earlier post about Band Aid 20 (which I stand by), I linked to this piece by Joan Smith. While it makes a lot of very good points, it also contains some crap. In the spirit of journalistic balance, it's about time I laid into it.

Clearly something happens to people who buy singles at this time of the year, putting them in the mood for repeated doses of sugary sentimentality as they prepare to spend several trying days cooped up with their relatives.


This is true, but not really why people bought the Band Aid single. You may disagree about whether it's a good idea, but the fact is that the reason the single did so well was that people bought it out of a desire to help the starving. Criticise the outcome of their charity, by all means, but their intentions were noble.

Even in the more innocent age in which it was first recorded, it seemed absolutely gob-smacking that no one involved in the project questioned the appropriateness of singing Do They Know It's Christmas? in the context of a famine in Ethiopia.

Not only was it difficult to believe that starving children and their parents had given much thought to Santa, but as Julie Burchill pointed out at the time, many of the intended recipients of Geldof's largesse were Muslims.


Julie Burchill veers wildly between brilliant insight and utter idiocy. This is one of the latter cases.

The idea behind Christmas is not to give generously but only to our type and not to them heathens. It is to give generously. I'm an Atheist myself, but have always regarded the festival as one of Christianity's greatest gifts to our civilisation. (Yes, I'm well aware that the Solstice was celebrated before Christianity appropriated it. The point of the Pagan celebrations was to get drunk, eat a lot, and hope the Summer was going to come back yet again this year. These are all good things, and I'm glad they're still with us, but it was Christianity that enshrined the ideals of generosity and charity in Christmas.) A time of year whose entire point is to give people things that will make them happy. It's simple and it's brilliant. Christianity has, in its time, had sects who have seen it as their duty to punish, even kill, unbelievers and heretics. Those sects have been in charge of the Church at times. No Christians I know of regard those parts of their history as something to be proud of. It's interesting to see how the multicultural leftists, who pride themselves so much on their sensitivity to other cultures, have so eagerly embraced the idea that Christians should ignore the suffering of non-Christians.

Two decades later, with Islam at the top of the political agenda, it would be reasonable to expect a greater degree of cultural sensitivity from even the most bone-headed celebrities.


Got that? For Christians to try to help Muslims at Christmas time is cultural insensitivity. Presumably, Muslim charities aren't allowed to help non-Muslims either. What a wonderful multicultural world we do live in, and no mistake.

What makes it even worse this time is that the proceeds of the record are intended for Sudan, where the Darfur region has become notorious as the site of a savage religious and ethnic conflict, prosecuted against the Christian and Animist population by the Janjaweed (Muslim) militia.


Yes, if there's one thing even worse than Christians giving to Muslims at Christmas, it's Christians giving to Christians at Christmas. Is there no end to their perfidy?

Apart from that, I have to agree with everything else Smith writes (except that I think the verses of the song have a rather good tune, though the chorus and middle-eight are shite). The Band Aid project is fundamentally flawed. If the reason you have no food is natural disaster, then a gift of food will help you. If the reason you have no food is that men who want to kill you have burned your crops, then a gift of food is less help. It might help you survive for a little while, but, sooner or later, the men are going to come for you, and, at that point, what you'll need are guns. And yet... and yet....

Bob Geldof is not a stupid or an ignorant man. He knows the problems in Africa are largely caused by dictators. He knows that a lot of the aid he offers won't do what he wants it to, won't go where he wants it to; he knows that some of it will be counterproductive. He knows that Band Aid didn't work perfectly, and made plenty of mistakes. But he does make one simple point. There are people alive today who would be dead if it weren't for Band Aid and Live Aid. You can argue back and forth about whether a lack of charity would make revolution more likely and whether charity therefore leads to a greater number of deaths, but not everyone can always look at the big long-term picture. Sometimes, you have to act like a human — and a good thing, too. So you give food to the starving. And it doesn't always work, but, if you give enough food to enough starving people, then some of it will work. And you end up with people — perhaps not as many as you'd have liked, but some people — who would have died but instead have lived, thanks to you.

As Fran Healy said, they're just musicians, and all they can do is sing. Bob Geldof & Midge Ure have found a way to turn mere singing into saved lives. Sometimes, your duty is to help those who need your help, to the best of your abilities. I think I'll buy a copy.

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