The Public Is Civil No More

The ‘cat in bin lady’ story made a lot of headlines in the UK over the last few weeks. For those unfamiliar with the story- a CCTV camera caught a 40 something year old woman picking up a cat and throwing it into a wheelie bin whilst she was casually walking past it. The owners of the cat found it some fifteen hours later, alive, but still in the wheelie bin. The matter was investigated and the CCTV footage was made public. And people got angry. Very angry.

The woman responsible made an apology and seemed sincerely remorseful about her actions. Unfortunately, that was not good enough for the public. This woman was brutally criminalized. She started receiving hate mail, then death threats and eventually, she was more or less ostracised by her neighbours. No one seemed interested in the fact that this woman had just visited her dying father before the incident happened, and that she may have been in a depressed state of mind. This woman has since then, lost her father, lost her job and is not in a very good place in life. But the people have not forgiven her.

It’s true that a civilized society is one in which animals are treated well. But should this be at the cost of fair treatment to human beings in that society? The public reaction to the wheelie woman’s actions was completely unjustified. I am all for animal rights, but to send death threats to a woman for throwing a cat into a bin- that I consider extremist behaviour.

Another recent victim of this extremism was Cheryl Cole. She received numerous death threats and hate mail, when she dismissed Gamu, a Zimbabwean singer, from X-Factor. Instantly, her popularity stats dropped amongst the twitterati, and many were keen to loath her in the blogosphere. Thousands of people voiced their dislike for Cole and her decision. Some in more violent tones than others.

There is also a quirky side to extremism in the UK. The best way to describe this is to tell the story of Pushkin the cat who was blessed by the Pope on his recent visit to the UK. Ever since Pushkin has had this hallowed experience, he has been receiving fan mail from across the world – from humans (including priests) as well as other cats. Call me narrow-minded, but writing letters to a cat? It seems just a tad bit odd to me and borders on fanatic.

Britain is a progressive and civilized nation, which reveres politeness, political correctness and self-control. A far cry from the emotional, reactive and irrational people of places like Pakistan. However, the reactions of the British public to these rather bland events have been quite shocking and quite like something I would expect to witness back home. This just tells me that there are fanatics here in the UK as well. Unfortunately, they are never branded as such by the media and it is only because of the UK’s fantastic law and order system that we don’t see these extremists burning tyres outside Cheryl Cole’s house or trying to set the wheelie bin woman on fire.

The truth is, words like ‘extremist’ and ‘fundamentalists’ are reserved for beard wearing, burqa donning, halal eating muslims. Now, I agree there are a handful of Muslims who do indulge in hate mongering and may deserve the label ‘fundamentalists’, but they are not unlike people at Fox News or in Tea Party politics. In fact, the two have more in common than they know. (Note: I don’t consider terrorists to be Muslims or representatives of Muslims).

Words like extremism and fundamentalism have become the legacy of Muslims world over. Others, despite their excessive behaviour, will never have the profound experience of being called extremists.

I say we change that. I think it’s time we re-evaluate words, labels, meanings and context. Every person who threatens Cheryl Cole should be labelled an extremist. Any person making a jibe at the wheelie lady should be called a fundamentalist. Anyone fighting violently over football or not bathing for ten days or corresponding with animals should be called excessive or extremist or fundamentalist or just plain crazy. It’s time we understand words and their consequences and become more sensible about using them.

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