The press coverage of the abduction of Madeleine McCann makes me uneasy. Since Blair first trembled his lip at the loss of Diana, Princess of Wales, we seem prone as a nation to impotent outbursts of un-English sentiment. I thought Blair was faking it at the time, but now I am not so sure. Has something really changed?
Blair didn't know Diana personally. We all had our "how sad" moment at the news of her death, but there are many such tragedies daily. I neither see how we can become emotionally involved in all of them, nor why the fate of one stranger should move us more than that of another. Coping with the tragedies in our own circle is surely as much as most of us can handle? Do we need to seek out more grief?
People I like and respect seem sincerely moved by Madeleine's fate. Nor do they see any inconsistency in being emotionally involved with her, but not with all those who have gone missing before or since. Ellee Seymour is currently kindly and sincerely engaged in a struggle to respond to my comments on this subject at her blog by writing about a missing child every day. I feel quite guilty about it.
Compare all this human warmth with the cold tone of the Telegraph article to which I have linked. Why is little Madeleine's fate so touching, while poor Charlene's is clearly not? It is alleged that Charlene was used sexually by one or more men who then killed her. There is no hint of any feeling for her in the published account. The story is about the alleged killers, not the alleged victim. Whatever happened to Charlene, she is - like Madeleine - missing without trace. Why does her fate excite no similar emotion?
Is it because Madeleine is the middle-class daughter of two doctors, while Charlene was working class? Is it because Madeleine is an innocent, while 14-years old Charlene was somehow not? Is it that "Charlene" is a "common" name, while "Madeleine" is tasteful? Is it that Charlene was dark-haired and plain, while Madeleine was blonde and cute? Is it that Charlene seems to have met her end in a seedy Northern back alley, while Madeleine was abducted from a sunny Continental resort?
These are no doubt distasteful questions, but I think they should be asked.
Please don't misunderstand me. Charlene's fate is sad but is only a tragedy for her and her family. It is nothing to do with any of us who would never have heard of her but for this cold, sad tale. I expect no reader to emote on her behalf. I am simply baffled why people can remain aloof from her fate and that of thousands of others, while apparently feeling so much for one particular family.
Something is not right here. Maybe it's me.