In May 2007, along with several thousand other people, I was invited to join in the search for young Madeleine McCann.
The past two years has been an extraordinary journey, largely conducted on-line, with the occasional physical foray to Prai da Luz. I have learnt a great deal, of human beings, and human responses, to extraordinary situations.
I have learnt nothing of the fate of young Madeleine.
There are as many speculative theories as there are communities engaged in debating them. Passions are intense, and oft times vitriolic.
It has become the ‘Darwinian’ debate of our times. Those who engage in it risk ridicule, social exclusion, and worse. Daring to challenge orthodox social beliefs can be a lonely occupation, and there are behemoth social beliefs aplenty in the McCann debate. It is a proxy war for many things that we are scared to debate openly.
Are foreigners trustworthy? Should Britain pull up the drawbridge and leave the EU? You think that has nothing to do with the MCann’s? Try suggesting that the Portuguese Police are a professional force and should be left to conduct their investigation in peace, and you will soon find yourself submerged in in a deluge of xenophobic comment regarding sardine munching wine swilling incompetent foreigners who should leave it to the British police. We fear the level of immigration in the UK, it is considered impolite to refer to foreigners in our midst – yet perfectly acceptable to hold the most outrageous views on ‘foreigners’ beyond our shores. We use the McCann’s to verbalise our fears.
Is the state too powerful? Should government interfere less in our lives? You think that question has nothing to do with the McCann’s? Try discussing the media coverage of the McCannn case. You will soon hear verbalised the fears of media manipulation, the conspiracy theories to ‘hide the truth’, the involvement of government media manipulators. We use the McCann’s to verbalise our fears.
Should the government or the judiciary hold the power of life or death over us by withholding medical treatment from us? You think that question has nothing to do with the McCann’s? Try bringing up the theories of the Portuguese Police that Madeleine died in that apartment, you will soon be told that they are Doctors, and thus could not possibly do anything to harm their children, or by implication, anyone else. We need to believe that Doctors cannot be harbingers of harm, despite the evidence of Dr Shipman, or perhaps because of it. We use the McCann’s to verbalise our fears.
You believe that money is a goal in itself to be ruthlessly pursued or a community good that should be shared? I can tell you where you stand by your response to the controversial ‘fund’ set up in her name, whether that state organ the Leicestershire Police should be encouraging people onto a web site selling goods to swell the fund, or whether you believe in the name of charity that we should all contribute something to ‘help find that little girl’.
You think the class war is over, that equality has been successfully implanted in the UK? Try commenting on the fact that their obvious negligence in leaving their children unattended in unfamiliar surroundings should be investigated, you will be embroiled in competing arguments ranging from the defensive media articles – ‘we have all done it’ to ‘they’d be locked up by now if they came from a council house estate’. We all know in our hearts that the ‘class war’ is far from over, we carry in our DNA a secret set of codes to help us portray where we, and other, stand in that hierarchy; your views on the McCann’s ‘negligence’ pigeon hole you as neatly as anything else.
You believe that free speech is one of the basic tenets of the British ‘democracy’? Be sure to establish that you are addressing a like minded audience – for if you are not, you will find yourself howled down by raucous cries of ‘pitchforker’, ‘witch burner’, ‘fascist’. If you voice the wrong opinion in an internet forum, you may well find that others will devote their lives to finding out ‘who’ you are, ‘where’ you are, and publicising those facts so that you can be hounded into silence. If you voice the wrong opinion in print, you may well find yourself on the receiving end of a letter from Mssrs. Carter-Ruck. The McCann’s have become the front line in the battle to ensure/suppress free speech.
So what of Madeleine on this the second anniversary of her disappearance? of her physical well being or presence, we know nothing, but she is with us in spirit, for the ‘defective’ investigation into her fate, or the ‘defective’ response of her parents, both before and after the night of 3rd May, has become a metaphor for the many ills in our society that we fear to face.
Madeleine is the name of political debate today.