The Daily Mail, Middle England’s favouritest ‘news’ paper, decided to have another crack at paganism yesterday.
As you may know, the Daily Mail is a publication that seeks to profit through generating fear and outrage amongst its readers. It’s described by a contributor to the Urban Dictionary as, “a racist, sexist, slanderous, homophobic, unprofessional, sensationalist Hitler fanzine”. I’m not saying that myself, of course – but I’m not disputing it either.
The Mail has a stock of standard targets for its hate and mockery. Anyone its writers think they can present as being foreign, different, or just a bit weird is put on the list, and gone over at fairly regular intervals. Muslims are a staple because, in Daily Mail-land, ‘Muslim’ is basically only a fancy foreign word for ‘mad bomber’. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are marketed in the Mail as, at best, freakish and misguided objects of pity, and, at worst, devious paedophiles hunting your kids. And anyone even thinking of being anywhere near the Mail whilst being transgendered or transsexual had seriously better run for cover. Most foreigners are assumed to be pawns of the evil European empire, working to take over Britain and crush us under the jackboot of liberal lefty dictatorship (no, the Mail doesn’t see it as a contradiction, for some reason). Women and non-Muslim black people are less frequent targets, but can look forward to just as much uninformed vitriol when they are.
This time, the Mail’s ire is directed not only at pagans, but specifically at pagans working in the police. Paganism has been comically misrepresented in a number of the paper’s articles in recent years, most famously in columnist Melanie Phillips’ ridiculously ill-informed “Stones of Praise” piece from October 2010. But while paganism in general is simply a target for merriment and mockery (“look at the funny weirdoes in their silly robes”), it becomes a whole new kind of outrageous when it’s ‘revealed’ (again) that there are pagans working in the police. Then it’s not funny. Then it’s a conspiracy undermining the very foundation of British justice…
In July 2009, a Mail article by Stephen Wright howled: “Police officers who practise witchcraft to get Pagan Police Association and their own religious holidays”.
Wright went on to explain that pagan police officers and staff would “likely be given special dispensation to take days off on the eight pagan holidays of the year, including Halloween and the summer solstice, though these will have to come out of their annual leave.”
So, the ‘special dispensation’ actually involves taking time out of your annual leave allocation – just like everyone else does. The implication was that pagan staff would have special rights, but of course they don’t: police management can deny requests for operational reasons, even at festival time. So this was a non-story.
The same non-story cropped up again in May 2010, with an article bylined simply ‘Daily Mail Reporter’. This usually means they’ve either lifted the story wholesale from the newswire, or they’ve simply made it up and can’t get anyone in the office to put their name to it. It’s similar to the movie industry’s ‘Alan Smithee’ – the name used when a director or other prominent figure disavows a film. ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ announced:
“Pagan police officers have been given the right to take days off to celebrate festivals where they leave food out for the dead and take part in ‘unabashed sexual promiscuity’.”
The same story followed – and again, it amounted to nothing more than ‘police workers can request annual leave whenever they wish, although it may not be granted’.
You’ll note the quotation marks around ‘unabashed sexuality and promiscuity’ up there. You’re supposed to think that’s a quote, and the Mail uses that phrase regularly in its pagan-bashing pieces – but, it’s funny, they always seem to forget to attribute it. In fact, it’s not a quote: they’re merely using the marks to express a concept, in much the same way that I did at the end of the last paragraph. Perfectly valid grammatically, but it’s no doubt handy that lots of people will assume someone outside the Mail’s offices has actually given the quote.
And this time, the story is… unsurprisingly, the same story again: there are pagans in the police.
The article, by one Sam Webb, starts with the stunning revelation that the Metropolitan Police have admitted they have:
“[O]ne officer who was a druid.”
One. Count ’em. Only the paragraph before, the article pointed out that the Met has 31,000 officers. And one of them, according to Sam Webb, is a druid.
Four, he claims, are spiritualists and mediums who, apparently, “believe that there is life after death and that by holding seances, the dead can talk to the living”.
I didn’t know the dead held seances to talk to the living.
Two officers “list themselves as Pagans”, although we’re not told whether the druid officer is one of them; and we’re told that Pagans “worship a string of gods and festivals”. Well, I don’t know whether gods can be said to come in strings (“praise the God of String for His unfailing twisty bendiness! Let Him into your heart and he will tie together the… the… detached bits of your life, yea.”)
And I’m pretty sure pagans don’t worship festivals.
Finally, Sam Webb goes back to tread some well-worn ground:
“According to new European laws, employers will soon have to bow down to followers of ‘non mainstream’ religions and give them days off according to their religion’s calendar.”
Again, this is nothing more than a re-hash of previous discredited claims by the Mail: aside from the absence of any substantial information to identify these supposed ‘new European laws’, police officers and staff already get the same rights to leave as employees of most other organisations and corporations. Pagans, or religious people in general, have no additional rights beyond the requirements that their employers do their best to accommodate any special requirements. But this is not unique to pagans, and it’s certainly not exclusive to the police. This isn’t a story today, any more than it was a story the last time, or the time before that. And it won’t be any more a story the next time, either.
So. Any thoughts? Comments please below – I would ask you to send them scrawled on a used copy of the Daily Mail, but that’d mean encouraging you to buy a copy. Please don’t.