France has always been my favourite country.
I love the culture, the sophistication of the language, the wine, the climate, the quaint rustic villages, the open tree-lined roads, the music, the women… I could go on.
Up until last week, France, for me had it all — bar one thing. It’s people.
It’s often been said that France is a beautiful country wasted on the French. Some go further: that the French deserve only to exist in a unlovable, desolate frozen wasteland which no one would wish to either govern or to visit; somewhere even, a bit like Scotland.
But not any more.
The events of last Friday, unfolding before our incredulous eyes on rolling television news have catapulted the French to No1 in the Cool Parade.
Why? Because they will not stand for murderers who butcher unarmed civilians in the name of Allah.
Up with this they will not put.
Now I’m not going to enter a discourse about whether it’s morally any more or less acceptable to depict the Prophet Mohammad in a cartoon than to make a film about the Saviour cast in the role of a dullard called Brian. I really don’t give a damn. Nor do I give a damn that Those Who Cannot Be Named for Legal Reasons find the former offensive.
What I do give a damn about is that the French have demonstrated to the world how to defend the democratic principles of freedom of speech, and the right to be offended.
I am, of course, deeply upset that 17 innocent people were killed in the process. Their families have my sincere sympathies. But — and you may well say, ‘I’d like to see if you really would, in their position’ — I would rather go to my grave at the hands of a French marksman, or even a fundamentalist nutter, than be released in some form of hostage negotiation to spare the lives of the killers and mitigate their responsibility.
That’s the key word here.
We, in Britain have a pretty clear understanding of what is, and what is not, acceptable.
It’s OK, for example, for Jeremy Clarkson to write about his desire to strap Peter Mandelson to the front of his 4X4 and drive him around the countryside inviting people to pelt him with eggs because he thinks that more poor people should go to university. But it is not OK, apparently, for him to say: “This is a proud moment, but there’s a slope on it”, as a man of Asian descent walks towards him on a makeshift bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand.
Satire should be applied equally to anyone: politicians, public figures — even royalty — religions, and… oh wait… sorry… most, but not all, religions.
You know the joke about Jesus asking God if he could have an Iron Cross at the end of the Second World War? ‘No chance son,’ came the reply, ‘you couldn’t even carry the wooden one.’
Well try translating that into Urdu, with a few character modifications of course, and see where that gets you.
And, I’m afraid, this is where it all goes horribly wrong, because we have made a bed that we are all going to die in called Multi-Culturalism Fuelled By Political Correctness (or MCFBPC for short. No? OK, well let’s just call it NICE, as that works every bit as well as an acronym).
We do not — any more than the French — live in a multi-cultural society, but an ethnically and culturally diverse one, and so let’s stop kidding ourselves that we do. The definition of multi-culturalism is that you are tolerant of the laws, ethics and morals of co-habitants of your society and, I’m sorry, but Those Who Cannot Be Named for Legal Reasons simply will not accept this.
We support the rights of homosexuals, equality for women, animals and the handicapped. We champion the oppressed, those who have been persecuted and we welcome them to our shores, showering them legal aid, benefits and welfare.
But the moment one of Those Who Cannot Be Named for Legal Reasons is failed on a driving test or is challenged when taking a disabled parking space, they play their version of the PC game — you know, the one called the Prejudice Card.
And the worrying thing, as one caller eloquently explained on Radio 4s ‘Any Answers’ last Saturday, is that whilst very few of Those Who Cannot Be Named for Legal Reasons are yet radicalised fundamentalists, they are all in danger of becoming ‘… the sleep-walking foot soldiers’ of the coming — and you can bet your bottom dollar, it will be coming — Jihadist Apocalypse.
And if the murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby had met a similar fate to those who carried out the French atrocities, instead of being given legal aid, a political platform and being allowed to protest their innocence, then we, the British, who consider ourselves to be among the most civilized human beings on the planet, would have sent the massage loud and clear that we will not put up with this either.
But this will never happen on the streets, in the supermarkets or the print works of Britain because we are too damned afraid of reputational damage to Brand GB: too fearful of what the rest of the world may think of us.
So well done France — you are still my favourite country, and now you have given me a reason to love you even more. Your people have backbone.
Respect is due.