BY MATTHEW CORRIGAN
The day dawned one of those nasty, dank mornings that thankfully only January can conjure up. 2014 had just given way to the new year but the holidays were already a memory. Shorn of the previous week’s gaiety, the free world was still shaking off its collective hangover. Reality bit hard as everyone knuckled down to get through the worst month of the year.
But the seventh was far from an ordinary January morning. By the time it was over, we’d have taken another year of winter – hell, another ten – if doing so could somehow have prevented the horrors that unfolded. Two hate-fuelled terrorists (let’s not name them or their cause; their evil deserves no recognition in this life) rampaged through Paris, murdering twelve entirely innocent men and women as they went about their daily lives. Who can ever forget the desperate manhunt that ensued, surreally playing out in real time on TV screens around the world?
France changed that day. France remains changed. Well-armed soldiers still patrol the streets of her quiet provincial towns.
The social media reaction was immediate. Facebook transformed into a sea of red, white and blue as profile pictures across the globe were turned into French tricolours. Someone, somewhere noticed the similarity between the Eiffel Tower’s outline and the universal symbol of peace. Artwork, some stunning in effect, was produced and shared throughout cyberspace. Finally, that most 21st Century embodiment of collective feeling, the Twitter hashtag made an entrance. #JeSuisCharlie was born.
Throughout those terrible days, as a shocked world mourned France’s loss, #JeSuisCharlie was everywhere. The Twitterati, wishing to demonstrate solidarity (a word, incidentally, I’d forgotten all about until jolly old Jeremy started shoehorning it into PMQs, which he does every single time public sector workers – except the military, natch – make the news) with a magazine they had probably never heard of, quickly sent it viral.
It was a powerful statement. Freedom of Speech lay at the very heart of the French ethos: Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood. Freedom, if I may paraphrase an oft-misattributed quote, implies that even if I disapprove of your views, I should respect your right to express them. A sentiment echoed, one would hope, by all who write or speak for public consumption.
How wrong we were.
#JeSuisCharlie is no more. It didn’t even last two years. Put to death on the pyre of Social Justice, it has been replaced by a frightening spectre. A spectre that threatens to end everything Charlie ever stood for. Twenty-two months after the Paris atrocity, a different campaign is gaining momentum. And, with an irony that defies comparison, some of its most powerful advocates are the very same people who solemnly shared #JeSuisCharlie with their peers, fans, friends and followers.
How many, I wonder, of the people who angrily shout #StopFundingHate have actually stopped to think what they’re doing: actively supporting a movement that is fundamentally against freedom of speech.
I dislike the Daily Mail as much as anyone. My solution is this: I ignore it. Most, I think, of what appears in The Guardian is rubbish; but who the hell am I to say it should be banned (part of me might even miss it if it disappears. Not that I’ll be coughing up my fiver; I’ll take coffee over Toynbee on any given morning)?
It’s exceptionally important to read things that exist outside one’s own comfort zone once in a while. It broadens the mind, opens one up to new possibilities. Is it really a good idea to place restrictions on what are, after all, only the opinions of others?
Apparently #StopFundingHate thinks it is. Just the other day one of the usual band of hectoring celebrities took it upon themselves to relieve an airliner of its complimentary copies of the Mail. Pictures were Tweeted showing dozens of copies lying forlornly in an airport dustbin. Though probably meant as no more than an attention seeking act of virtue-signalling, it actually represented the start of a slide down a dangerous slope.
And we’ve already seen what happens at the bottom of that slope, haven’t we? It ends with a pair of seething, murderous pigs bursting into an office wielding viciously-blazing sub-machine guns.
Matthew Corrigan is a Country Squire Guest Writer and a superb author whose excellent novel OSPREY shines a satirical light on a dodgy politician with a flying wind turbine scam. His books can be found here