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World leaders and hypocrisy: Nous sommes a bunch of Charlies

Mass Unity Rally Held In Paris Following Recent Terrorist AttacksIt’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.


  1. swatantra says:

    Ok, Je suis Charlie too.
    But these meetings’ are good opportunities to hold ‘mini summits’ and knock heads together.
    For example, the World would benefit by knocking Bibi and Abbas’s head together, because they and those behind them are the root cause of all this unrest.
    And jounalist need to be a lot braver by publishing all the cartoons mocking bigotry and intolerance.

    1. swatantra says:

      …. and a good and brave article, because it expose the hypocrisy and excuses of the Friends of Israel and the Friends of Palestine.

  2. John reid says:

    To refer to people in a bad way, which is what is implied in the headline, is racist to call someone a charlie

  3. Chris says:

    Well, being a hypocrite doesn’t mean you’re wrong

  4. David Ellis says:

    If this march was a protest against bloody sectarian terrorist violence then the presence of Netenyahu on it completely undermined its purpose not to mention most of the others.

  5. David Ellis says:

    By the way, check out John Rees’s attack on free speech and his recruitment of the Islamists to the anti-fascist cause at his Counterfire site. Amazing stuff.

  6. David Ellis says:

    Oh, and I notice Stalinist Unity are leading from the front as usual. Not a dicky bird on their site about recent events.

  7. Sandra Crawford says:

    It is also suspicion rousing when Cameron returns and states that he needs more incursions in to peoples private mail email, online comments and general purge on civil liberties. A typical crackdown on democracy Milton Friedman style – never let a crisis go to waste.

  8. swatantra says:

    Perhaps incursion will make people a bit more aware of email protocol and conduct, and be more careful about what they say. So I’d support extra powers.
    But, nobody has raised an eyebrow when 2000 Nigerians are slaughtered by islamofacists like Boko Haram, but The Media go wild and we get wall to wall coverage over the deaths of a dozen French citizens. The Media are the problem. They simply publicise the attrocities and ISIS and Al Quaida feed on the oxygen of publicity.
    These incidents should be tucked away on p5, and not talked to death over days weeks and months; meanwhile the war on terror can be prosecuted more efficiently with tall this distraction. The Media are the problem.

    1. Robert says:

      Swat your a true and complete moron.

      1. swatantra says:

        I guess it takes one to know one. But I’m quite happy to be a Charlie: Je suis Charlie.

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