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In defence of Hamas and The Observer

There’s been a bit of a fuss about a Hamas mass wedding.

Hamas has strongly denied Internet rumors and blog reports claiming the Palestinian Islamic group last week held a mass ceremony at which little girls were married off.

A video circulating on the Internet, titled “Hamas shocking mass wedding for 450 little girls,” purports to show children who appear to be about 8 to 10 years old being married off in a mass Hamas ceremony last week. Little girls in what appear to be wedding dresses are filmed arriving in cars and then walking down an aisle with the grooms.

The video and related pictures generated scores of blog postings making similar claims that Hamas was marrying off hundreds of little girls.

Tim Marchall, Sky News Foreign Affairs Editor, who actually attended the wedding, explains who the girls were:

The men and women are sitting, Most ignore the speeches, some even ignore the prayers. Then the fireworks explode, the cheering begins, and in march the Hamas scouts, bashing drums, looking every inch the future Hamas fighters many will be. Then the grooms, aged about 18 to about 28. They are holding hands with their young nieces and cousins, little girls aged from about 3 to 8, made up to the nines, wearing white wedding dresses.

Up they all go to the stage, the cheering and music grows ever louder. The girls were having the time of their lives, but, getting a little bored after a while, came down off the stage to dance with each other and play games.

Our report on this put it into context saying that it took place just a mile from the Israeli border and was a message from Hamas about its strength confidence and future fighters. Oh and that the brides were elsewhere. Pretty straightforward.

It never struck me for a moment that the little girls might later be described in the bloggersphere as the brides! How naive I am.

Dozens, and I mean dozens, of websites took the video of the event and wrote lurid stories about Hamas mass paedophilia with headlines about ‘450 child brides’, and endless copy about how disgusting this was, how it showed how depraved Islam is, et al, ad infinitum. Site after site jumped on the story, linking from one totally wrong load of rubbish to the next . I’ll give credit to Tundra Tabloids who at least took down the video, but most sites just ploughed on regardless.

I spent a few hours visiting websites and leaving comments where I could. To little avail. Instead I received a steady stream of vitriol. The best response was on a site run by a Debbie Schlussel . The guy who posted it said he wasn’t interested in the detail. The detail being the fact that the girls weren’t the brides.

He goes on to make the point that jihadists do enough bad things without having to make things up, and makes a point about bloggers:

Perhaps I was making up the fact that the brides were elsewhere. It’s possible. But who would you believe, the reporter who went to the event, or a desperately poor version of citizen journalist, sitting at home, making things up, not checking anything, and either unknowingly or deliberately, writing hysterical anti Islamic nonsense.

In recent days The Observer has been judged to be at risk of closing down, and newspapers are closing down all over America. Blogs are only supplemental to existing media forms. People who argue they get all their news from blogs are either reading news reports extracted from existing media outlets on blogs, or brainless morons. Without good responsible journalism society would suffer. Blogs may have pointed out failings of news media over the years, and there are many, but in the grand scheme of things these failings are only a miniscule part of the output of the media. If papers like The Observer are lost, there is no reliable, trustworthy, and economically sustainable citizen journalism to replace it.

I will be buying The Observer on Sunday, but that’s not a long term solution.