#JeSuisChien: soppy not racist
The death of a French police dog called Diesel in yesterday’s raid in the St Denis district of Paris has prompted an outpouring of grief on Twitter. The hashtag #JeSuisChien – a play on #JeSuisCharlie that means ‘I am dog’ – has taken off for those mourning Diesel’s death. This display of emotion has attracted some serious ridicule, too.
If anyone is more interested in marking the death of an animal than of the 129 people who died last weekend, they need to take a long hard look at themselves. No doubt there are a few animal-loving (read ‘human-hating’) headbangers who seriously believe that Diesel was an unnecessary casualty in a fight between warring people. But most of those tweeting #JeSuisChien – yes, even Kay Burley – are just sentimentalists who have a soft spot for dogs and imagine their feelings if their own dog had just died. Soppy and a bit irrational, but not misanthropic, for the most part. Nor is it ‘the latest sign racist westerners care more about dead dogs than dead humans’, as one Salon scribe described it.
Any sensible person should recognise that a statement like ‘Diesel died in the service of her country’ is a nonsense. A dog doesn’t recognise its name as anything more than a cue for attention, has no sense of being an individual, can’t ‘serve’ because the concept has no meaning to a dog any more than ‘country’ does. Police dogs are trained, working animals – robots with a pulse. If one dies ‘in the line of duty’, the cops will just train another one.
But nonetheless, the idea of canine or equine gallantry has been approved by the authorities and wider society many times before. Why precisely have Diesel and other working dogs been presented with medals in the past? Why does Britain have the unofficial Dickin Medal to honour ‘conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units’ by animals? Why do we have statues to commemorate animals, like the Animals in War memorial by Hyde Park in London, unveiled by Princess Anne in 2004?
There’s often more than a touch of propaganda about such situations, as in the case of Sefton, a British Army horse injured by an IRA bomb in 1982. Sefton became an easy way to present republicans as evil doers, without all that complicated business of understanding why there was a conflict in Ireland in the first place. Even then, though, most people were much more angered by the human costs of that war than the fate of one horse.
We should feel free to take the mickey out of people who reach for a hanky at the death of a police dog or any other soppy nonsense. Most people recognise their sentimentality for what it is. Maybe blubbing over Diesel is easier for some to deal with than confront the full horror of the Paris attacks. But we shouldn’t accept the idea that this means that the majority of people don’t care about their fellow human beings or equate the life of a dog with that of a person.
Rob Lyons is a spiked columnist.
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