They came in their millions. Led by their political leaders, linking arms and walking down the streets of Nairobi. They were protesting against the slaughter of 2,000 people in the Nigerian city of Baga after Boko Haram went rampaging through the city killing women, children and the elderly who were too frail to flee. And they protested the death of 37 people killed by a car bomb in Yemen on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo killings. And the three people killed, two of them ten-year-old female suicide bombers, in the Nigerian town of Potiskum – one screaming in terror as she tried to run across the road before her bomb exploded.
And they came especially to commemorate Charlene. A lovely ten year old child from the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, who was not even aware she had a suicide bomb strapped to her – a bomb which would kill her and 19 others. And so a mass movement spread across the world, with political leaders and the media heading an emotive 'Je suis Charlene' campaign. Footballers wore the phrase on their shirts, 'Je suis Charlene' figured at the Golden Globes, and trended on social media. It was a time when the world came together to express unity and to work together for tolerance and change...In my dreams.
But meanwhile back in the real world something else was going on. World leaders (minus Barack Obama) linked arms in Paris and millions marched in memory of 'Charlie' – the 12 people killed in the Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine. Newspapers and Western media talked about how this show of unity demonstrated our humanity and the triumph of liberalism over the terrorists. 'We' fought for 'our' liberal values and demonstrated their superiority.
The truth is we don't know the ten-year-old girl's name. And we don't really care. Because there is a hierarchy of value. It was horrific that the 17 people in France lost their lives, but why do they deserve more attention from 'world leaders' than the 47 in Yemen, or the 2,000 in Baga, or 'Charlene'? Is it really the case that French cartoonists are of more value than Nigerian children? Whatever happened to the 'bring back our girls' campaign? The 200 girls are still missing, but we have moved on. Is it really the case that the right to publish offensive cartoons about Mohammed is more worth fighting for, than the right of a child not to have a bomb strapped to her?
And the hypocrisy of that rally was stomach churning in other ways as well. David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel walked with representatives from China and Russia, those bastions of free speech, and most incredibly a representative of Saudi Arabia, after a week in which the Saudis had just given the first 50 of 1,000 lashes to a young blogger who had 'insulted' Islam. Was the photo-op really worth that price?
There is also a hierarchy of values – and we are in no doubt as to whose values should supercede all others. What exactly were our leaders marching for? The death of the 17, including those shot in the Jewish supermarket was horrific. No-one in their right mind would condone such inhumane and evil actions. But what made these so horrific compared with the Nigerian and Yemeni massacres, if it is not racial? Is it really a concern about freedom of speech? But try publishing Charlie Hebdo on any American or British University campus – and see how long you last? Charlie Hebdo themselves fired one of their journalists for being antisemitic – even they realized that freedom of speech has limits.
France itself has a massive amount of hate law – it's illegal to insult, slander and defame, discriminate, incite hatred based on religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. Hate speech, as prophesied by George Orwell, is well on its way to being entrenched in Western legal systems. It won't be too long before it is followed by thought crime. And blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be replaced by the crime of blasphemy against the Holy State. The problem is that each society has its own shibboleths. In Islamic countries insulting Mohammed is out. But in Western 'liberal' countries we are not so 'liberal' when it comes to our shibboleths. American preachers who have been deemed homophobic purveyors of hate speech have been banned from entering the UK. Anyone who does not buy into the absolutes of the liberal elites in Western countries is condemned as extremist, right wing, homophobic, intolerant and therefore beyond the pale. At the moment we are allowed our freedom to think or say what we want, we are just prevented from being able to say it and participate in public life. Or at least that is the intention of our liberal elites.
An article on the Richard Dawkins website argues that parents of LGBT children who do not endorse the prevailing views of the elite should be considered as child abusers. It's beyond parody that our political leaders will march in order to allow cartoonists to draw cartoons of Mohammed that portray him as a gay porn star, but that those who want to bring up their children with the view that being a gay porn star is not an ambition to be cherished, should be considered as child abusers.
The truth is that our liberal elites think that their values are so right, so self-evident, so absolute that anyone who disagrees with them is either ignorant or evil. They could not wait to use the Paris killings to further push their own agenda – they have no qualms about linking Islamist fanatics with any religious person who dares to oppose their fundamentalist agenda – as I observed in my earlier article, two examples are letters/columns in the Sydney Morning Herald which equated the Paris killers with those who support Anglican schools in Australia, and the Glasgow Herald which managed to do the same for those who oppose euthanasia in Scotland. As for our politicians – they seem far more concerned about what columnists and editorials say in the Western media. And they appear to be driven by the image they present – hence the photo-ops, the 'on message' tweets and the media sound bites. They either don't think, or they are just callously self-focused.
So you will forgive me. Despite loathing the killings and being concerned at the attack on 'free speech', I won't join in the hypocrisy of our political leaders and much of our secular media. Principled pluralism and free speech have largely prospered in Western democracies influenced by Christianity. If we have withdrawn ourselves from the Christian roots/foundations of our culture then why should we expect to keep the fruits?
Even here in Australia I can't stop thinking about that ten-year-old girl, and the evil men who strapped that bomb to her and sent her into a crowd in order to blow her and them to smithereens. And I ask, how long O Lord, how long? Je ne suis pas Charlie, je suis Charlene...