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  1. Wealth
February 9, 2009

Comment is fraught

By Spear's

I was ridiculed as a privileged idiot, a liar, and an imperialist; they relished their ecstasy in my virtual burning in effigy.

‘Never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table,’ my parents warned me. Now I know why.

As a UK journalist for the past six years, I’ve learned to develop a thick professional skin, but I’m going to have to turn into a rhino shortly. My first bit of hate mail and nasty editorial (in The Scotsman) came in response to an August 2003 Notebook piece for The Daily Telegraph.

In it, I poked fun at the Sardinian social scene, ridiculed a Turkish wedding, accused Kofi Annan of genocide and recounted how I was not allowed into St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on the grounds of my Catholicism.

What got people hot under the collar? Religion. My recounting of the incident of St. Giles prompted my derision as an ignorant foreigner or a lying journalist. One nice person, though, wrote me a lovely letter saying I would be welcome in their church anytime.

But now it seems I’ve really done it: in a comment piece in last week’s Guardian, I took their associate editor to task and set the record straight on President Hugo Chávez’s ‘accomplishments’ in Venezuela.

The response was a ream of nasty comments on the website, where I was ridiculed as a privileged idiot, a liar, and an imperialist by most respondents, many of whom were repeat commenters who took turns and seemed to relish their communal ecstasy in my virtual burning in effigy.

Several people went a step further, though, and took down my listed email address and really went to town. My favourite email was the one that opened by calling me an anti-Semitic epithet (did I mention I’m Catholic?) and ended by calling me a c***sucking f***ing c***, much to my and my friends’ amusement at these frustrated Marxists.

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Who are these people who are so upset they are compelled to email me at 5 in the morning, sometimes several times within a few minutes? Ironically, they’re not Venezuelans, whose lives are actually deeply affected by the Chávez regime; they’re Brits and Americans who have never been to Venezuela or any part of Latin America, as far as I can tell.

‘It’s shocking: there are more chavistas in London than in Caracas,’ laughed Robert Amsterdam, prominent international litigator who defends high-profile political prisoners in Russia, Venezuela, Singapore and Nigeria.

He’s right: they’re armchair socialists whose understanding of Latin American politics is in black-and-white cartoon terms – and they are not to be swayed by economic statistics or first-hand accounts: they want to believe in their socialist revolutionary hero, their latter-day Che Guevara, and no one was going to criticize their idol, whatever the facts may be. In a triumph of faith over empiricism, they simply want to believe. And who says religion is out of vogue?

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