Sunday, 11 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie and Hypocrisy

It's not often state-sponsored demonstrations take place in a liberal democracy, but that's what today's Unity March in Paris was. That isn't to deny it was a genuine popular upwelling of people disgusted by Wednesday's atrocity. No amount of establishment handwringing can bring 3.7m people out onto the streets if the sentiments weren't truly heartfelt. And it was a fantastic display of solidarity against those who would seek to capitalise on the attacks to foster divisions, though quite how a mobilisation of moderate opinion would blunt the efficacy of racist populism remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, what of the great and the good who took to the streets? It must have been quite a novelty for our Prime Minister to be on a demonstration instead of being the object of one. If the leaders looked a bit stiff while they marched, it's because of all the brass necks. Even then they weren't on the demonstration proper. Theirs was a stroll that looked impressive from the front but from above was as deep as the assembled's commitment to free expression. Je suis Charlie? A right bunch of Charlies, more like. Dave, of course, is willing to do anything to avoid exercising his free speech in the leaders' debates, while also presiding over a country with the most restrictive libel laws in the world. There was Benjamin Netanyahu, knee deep in the blood of Palestinian writers, as well as thousands of others. The Russian government had the cheek to send its foreign minister along at the very moment it arrested activists in Moscow for putting up Charlie solidarity posters. Even Saudi Arabia had an official presence. Have we reached peak hypocrisy?

The contrived spectacle of leaders ambling down the street says a great deal about the state of democratic politics in the early 21st century, or rather what you might call post-democracy. Here, in a PR stunt, you have elected leaders and stand-ins for tyrannies associating themselves with the values of revolutionary France in the full knowledge each and everyone of them are at best fair weather friends of liberty, fraternity, and equality and worst its deadliest enemies. And none of them care. Their mealy mouthed cant leaves them unscathed, even when they're exposed as such. They are happily and openly affecting a pantomime of democratic piety in plain sight, and it's almost as if the wider media and by extension us, its audiences, expect a ritual simulacrum from them.

This is symptomatic of a widening gulf between leaders and led. It's a concern across official politics, but not one that's causing them sleepless nights. Rather than polarising and destabilising current set ups, its insulating our leaders from pressure gathering below. This is how so many of them can doff the caps and whisper the homilies, how they can be so utterly brazen. They behave as they do because they can, because the mechanisms of holding them to account have withered. And this will remain the case until many millions of people take politics up themselves and render this rabble redundant.


Paul said...

It is possible, though, Phil, to look at this the other way round.

It can be argued that today's leadership show was created by the spontaneous (internet-based) outpouring of solidarity by ordinary people across Europe, indeed the world, and that the leaders were always hurrying to catch up with public sentiment.

Now, so a narrative can be developed, we have several world leaders who have - perhaps unwittingly - put themselves in a position to be held to account against the standards they publicly avowed to support, and that this is not primarily a show of disgusting hypocrisy, but a huge victory for the democratic impulse.

It's all (well a lot) in the narrative, as you know. If we choose to narrate defeatistly, we'll be defeated.

Speedy said...

Yes. The problem is this relativism (as we have seen in the comments on the other cartoon post) can go too far - in the end there is no difference between the "us" and the fascists.

The same arguments employed to excuse Islamism were once used to excuse Stalinism, Fascism and even Nazism. Because the Western democracies are decadent and corrupt, they are no different.

"Netanyahu, knee deep in the blood of Palestinian writers..." Really?

BCFG said...

You see speedy, the man who documents every every by Muslims to create the impression that Muslims neeed to be feared, jumps to the defence of the Israeli leader. Is any more proof required that with speedy with have a very unpalatable agenda going on here? What is sickening about people like speedy is that they take the moral high ground, show fake concern where and when Muslims are deemed the guilty party but absolutely stay silent and leap to the defence when this is isn't the case. What is so sickening about this is that it shows speedy actually supports murder, carnage when it suits his agenda.

The rogues gallery at the head of this march raises hypocrisy and irony to all new levels. Just when you think it is impossible to raise the bar they manage to do it. You have to hand it to them.

The attendance of the leaders is partly to do with the reaction of the general public but that reaction is shaped by the establishment, and of course they will try to make all the capital they can out of it as it neatly fits their agenda.

asquith said...

Waleed al-Husseini was imprisoned for atheism on the West Bank. After being disowned by his family he sought asylum in, erm, Paris. Imagine his surprise when no less a man than Mahmood Abbas turned up announcing his new-found support for freedom of expression!

Speedy said...

"jumps to the defence of the Israeli leader. Is any more proof required..."

What, that you are an anti-semite?

Actually I doubt it, but that's a taste of your medicine, Chris - the discursive equivalent of leaches.

If Phil had just left it at Palestinians I would not have said anything, I just wondered who these "writers" were?