Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Votre Nom ne est pas Charlie

United we stand”, puffed the headline of The Times on Monday morning, a chorus of agreement chirping from the front pages of both its quality and tabloid rivals on the newsstand.

We are all CHARLIE” echoed a crumpled Metro a little later in the day, its bold message sallying upwards from the soiled floor of a Number 7 bus.

They were all reporting on the enormous Unity Rally in Paris, two-million strong, with almost almost fifty world leaders (as they like to style themselves) at its head, marching in defence of liberty, and in defiance of terror.

Not Really
What an embarrassing spectacle of self-aggrandizing cant it all was.

How many in these crowds would be brave (or rather, foolish) enough to wear a t-shirt bearing the “Je Suis Charlie!” legend while walking alone through Seine-Saint-Denis by lamplight? Not too many, I'd wager — but I suppose there's safety in numbers, especially when the anonymous crowd you're swirling through is protected by enough armed soldiers and gendarmes to re-occupy Helmand.

As for the gallant “world leaders” pretending to be in the vanguard, are these not the same people who roundly condemned Stéphane Charbonnier and his colleagues while they still walked among the living, every time they actually exercised their supposedly inalienable right to free speech by cocking a snook at the Holy Prophet?

Our own Deputy Prime Minister managed, in a crowded field, to come across especially sleazy, waxing lyrical on LBC that “You cannot have freedom unless people are free to offend each other.”

“We have no right not to be offended”, he continued, explaining how “That fundamental principle of being free to offend people, and not saying somehow that you have a right not be offended in a democratic, open society such as ours is exactly what was under threat by these murderous barbarians.”

This is utter dribble as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, of course, as the case of Michael Overd (charged with "causing offence" under Section 5 of the Public Order Act after comparing Muhammed to Christ unfavourably) or any number of other Christian street preachers will readily attest.

Indeed, had the late M. Charbonnier tried to publish his cartoons in this green and pleasant land, it seems a pretty safe bet that he would have been arrested for some species of “hate crime” long ago.

This is the country, after all, which barred the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders from visiting to screen Fitna, a short film critical of Islam, with the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband justifying this on the grounds that it was “hate-filled” (though he had not actually seen it) and dismissing any question of free speech out of hand.

(This was a pretty singular denial of Mr Wilders's right, as a “European Citizen”, to freedom of movement; a right which has not been refused even to convicted rapists and murderers such as Marek Harcar and Arnis Zalkalns — with fatal consequences.)

But particular scorn, it seems, should be reserved for the press. How can they have the gall to proclaim “Je Suis Charlie” when none of them — or their recreant colleagues in the broadcast media — have dared to publish a single one of Charbonnier's cartoons?

Clearly these images were absolutely central to the story, so why self-censor? Have our famously savage pressmen suddenly discovered religious convictions, or at least sensitivity? Not if the almost gleeful coverage of works such as Andres Serrano's tasteless Piss Christ is anything to go by — or, for that matter, the ghoulish manner in which the final, desperate moments of the late cartoonists' police protection officer were splashed across their front pages.

The broadcasters and journalists who have been indulging in unseemly displays of vicarious heroism this past week have, in fact, been terrorised into conformity, in the most literal sense of the term.

Charlie Hebdo refused to be silenced, and paid the ultimate price. That is what separates them from, and elevates them above, the rest of the commentariat.

So put down your silly pencil, monsieur. Votre nom ne est past Charlie.

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