Well, Baby P. We have been watching the stories of cruel torture and bureaucratic indifference leading to the tragic death of an unsuspecting toddler on the media for weeks now, which alarmed many and ashamed us all. As if we needed proof of the demons within, Baby P stood for many things that keep going wrong - abusive adults, an uncaring and violent mother and indifferent social workers - and gave us a reason to cringe and a symbol to hate.
But, then, hate it is what helped us arrive here in the first place. Because the people involved defied the normal human instincts of affection and love for a child. Because, they cared more for themselves and had little capacity to think about anything else. And, the namelessness helped us to construct a simple image - a nameless baby in computer imagery, a mother who seemed unlike any we have seen, and a group of people who acted with complete lack of human sensibilities. It was an easy picture to deal with.
But, suddenly, Peter Connelly, who? Or, more distressingly, we see ourselves looking at Tracey Connelly's face. Slightly disorientated, slightly drowsy perhaps, but a human face with a name that could be any one's. And, of Steven Barker - Tracey's partner in life and crime - who seemed like an average bloke next door. Suddenly, the disorientation of Baby P's case is complete, with real people, names and all. Suddenly, the pain is more intense and the possibility more apparent - closer home and more surreal at the same time. There is no more any escape in imagining shadowy people with cryptic identities. It is almost time that we start watching out for marks of abuse on our neighbour's child.
But is turning ourselves into a vigilante society is the answer to this cruel vulgarity?
The vigilante society as modelled after the American sex laws, where the sex offenders are put on a very public list and restricted from living a normal life. When a convicted sex offender moves in, the community goes into an overdrive into making him [it is usually him] an outcast, and in many cases, driving the person out altogether. Every once in a while, when we are shocked by a sex crime in Britain, we tend to look at the other side of the pond and demand the American style harsh punishments for the perpetrators.
But then, these laws not just change the life of the criminal but the community as well, and becomes permanent by creating a cruel system of exclusion and persecution. That may neither be ideal or even effective, and indeed, the officers involved in this case maintained that Tracey and Steven will be allowed to change their identities once they have served their sentences. Whether it is possible to leave the story trail behind them in this world of Internet and 24x7 media where one can see the MI5 boss in his swimming trunks and News of The World picks up royal voicemail is a different matter, though. But, whether we press for a lifelong persecution for this undoubtedly heinous crime or allow a redemption through switching of identities, we must now learn to look at these faces and names [and the changed ones] and live with them.
Which will eventually come down to live with ourselves at peace even after this incident. It is easier to live with enemies without than within, and identities, and the lack of it, has a deep relevance here. The media will keep reminding us of Baby P for years to come and usually point us to the wrong direction - demonizing these criminals and promoting a sort of negative exceptionalism - and goad us to look out for abuse marks on our neighbour's children. But the lesson of this identity outing should actually be just the opposite - so that we rediscover how precious our own children are and how much we treasure every moment of their presence. Small boring staff, indeed, but that's exactly why we should remember Peter Connelly.