This article by David Aaronovitch first appeared in The Times on 15 March 2017. It’s so good that I thought – at risk of incurring the wrath of his lawyers – it aught to be released from behind Murdoch’s paywall; it’s a superb reposte to the”intellectual” relativist apologists for racism, David Goodhart and Eric Kaufmann. The Socialist Party and CPGB/ Morning Star “left” Brexiteers should also read , learn and weep:
Trying to draw a distinction between ethnic self-interest and racism is a highly topical but fatally flawed argument
Let’s talk about whites. Readers of other colours are welcome to listen in, but this is really about us and our legitimate white self-interests, which are not at all the same thing as racism.
We owe this formulation to David Goodhart, head of the demography, immigration and integration unit at Policy Exchange, a think tank. An article by Mr Goodhart entitled “White self-interest is not the same thing as racism” was published on its website a fortnight ago as a curtain-raiser for a report by Eric Kaufmann of Birbeck College London called “Racial self-interest is not racism.”
Goodhart says the main aim of the report was “to distinguish between white racism and white identity politics”. Or as Professor Kaufmann put it, to create “space for ideas around ethnic interests to be more openly aired without accusations of racism”.
The contention here is an important one: that what might be called The Great Upheaval (Trump, Brexit, Wilders, Le Pen — add or subtract as you please) is partly explained by the resentment of majority white populations at the way their legitimate interests have been overlooked. The implied remedy is that their interests should now be factored into public policy, in areas such as immigration. As you might imagine, it has provoked something of an argument.
Broadly speaking, Kaufmann takes the view that liberals have got it all wrong. Wanting your neighbourhood to reflect your ethnic character, he says, is not racist. Feeling “discomfort” when your group “no longer sets the tone in a neighbourhood” may be inward-looking, Goodhard adds, but “labelling that feeling racist risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy, driving white resentment”. Both men cite the work of an American Muslim academic, Shadi Hamid, who has also written about supposedly non-racist “racial self-interest.”
Kaufmann cites some revealing responses when American voters were asked whether it was racist or just “racial self-interest, which is not racist” to want an immigration policy that “maintain his or her group’s share of the population”. Nearly 73 per cent of Clinton supporters and 11 per cent of Trump supporters opted for “racist”. You may have already have spotted the flaws in this argument. The first is, how do we define “white”? To an extent, Kaufmann and Goodhard are guided by people’s own description. But if “white” is the classification, does that mean that “setting the tone” is literally the skin tone? Which, for many whites, could be expressed more honestly as “too many blacks”. Or by “white” do we mean “English-speaking”? Or “Christian”? Or “non-Muslim”?
A clue comes when, in Goodhart’s new book he talks of “white British people, especially those from lower income and educational backgrounds, [who] do still wish to retain a non-supremacist ethnic identity”. He assumes that this conveniently benign identity is threatened by the presence of others who are not regarded as sharing it. And since the top signifier is colour of skin it follows that the main threat to this group comes from non-white people.
As it happens I agree with Goodhart and Kaufmann and plenty of others that the soubriquet “racist” has been horribly overused. When a mild-mannered don is accused of racism for feeling that, on the whole, a statue of Cecil Rhodes is no great threat to humanity, then that’s an abuse of language. And it is also true that fear of being labelled racist has inhibited weak-minded public officials from doing their jobs, from the Victoria Climbié case to the British-Asian grooming gangs. Furthermore, as over the Satanic Verses, I support a robust defence of democratic values and rights — rights that have been hard won.
But when they talk about legitimate white “racial self-interest” in a society where 86 per cent of the population is white, I struggle with their argument. Kaufmann, for example, is indignant in claiming that “whites” must have their own interests if other racial groups have theirs. He cites a Zoroastrian (an ancient Persian religious group) as arguing against “marrying out” to preserve the existence of the ancient religion.
But this is an absurdity, There are nearly no Zoroastrians left. There are quite a few white people. And a similar read-across doesn’t work for minorities. Take my black nephew and my white nephew. My black nephew inhabits a society where he can witness us having an argument about whether there are too many of him. My white nephew has never encountered such a thing. My black nephew has an interest in dealing with prejudice. My white nephew doesn’t. Of course, if he were poor he would be disadvantaged and still white, but it would be the poorness that marked him out.
It is a feature of the times, of course, that a multi-millionaire aristocratic think-tanker, daughter of a 15th earl, can write to the Financial Times (as one did last week) complaining about a “liberal animus against whites” and not be thought eccentric.
White males were declared an “endangered species” in the same week that University Challenge managed a programme on which every person appearing was white and male. We are living through a moment of cultural reaction that has little to do with reality.
So let me spell it out. I find it very hard to imagine any “racial self-interest” that whites might have (in a country where they are, after all, in the majority) which wouldn’t have a negative impact on minorities. If, for example, we fashion an immigration policy that embodies the desire to “maintain” a white share of the population, then that policy will have to be racially discriminatory. Since we are never worried about white people moving into “ethnic” areas, a housing policy reflecting white self-interest could be aimed at keeping others off the list. More of my white nephew, less of my black nephew, just so that some people don’t feel “uncomfortable”.
And when Kaufmann writes, sympathetically, that “cultural conservatives hold elites responsible for enforcing antiracist norms — in the workplace, government and mainstream media — beyond the bounds of what they consider appropriate”, I reply “Didn’t they always?” Didn’t they first tell us that tribalism was natural, as was preferring your own, and that it was better to be educated separately but equally, to want your daughter to marry someone just like daddy, a human right to be able to let that spare room to someone you could identify with rather than a black or an Irish? I’m not racist. I have nothing against them. I’m just acknowledging my racial self-interest. Which is that I’m white. So give me the job.
- Eric Kaufmann responds in a letter published on 19 March by The Times, here
Andrew Coates nails the liars and fantasists of Socialist Worker:
Nothing to do with Brexit, says Socialist Worker Alternative News Factory.
Socialist Worker. 21.2.2017.
There’s no shortage of things to be angry about at the moment—especially when it comes to racism and attacks on Muslims and migrants.
It can be hard to keep track of the outrages committed by US president Donald Trump.
And in Britain many politicians think the vote to leave the European Union (EU) is an opportunity to attack migrants and end freedom of movement.
Yet Trump and Brexit are not the same thing—and we shouldn’t lump them together.
There are similarities between the two. They both happened because sections of working class people kicked back at mainstream politicians after decades of attack.
Some did swallow racist myths pushed from the top of society.
But there is a major difference. There could never be a progressive case for supporting Donald Trump—but there has always been a left wing and anti-racist case against the EU.
Socialist Worker campaigned to leave the EU because it has enforced austerity and locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty.
It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing.
It was a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politicians.
There’s an anti-establishment feeling in Britain that can be turned into resistance.
But to do that means connecting with people’s anger—not dismissing it as racist.
It is no doubt important to emphasise that Trump, who strongly backed Brexit, is not Brexit, nor indeed is he Paul Nuttall, nor was he present, like Nuttall at the Battle of Hastings.
Yet one suspects that the SWP are stung by the loud noises of celebration coming from the Trump camp, and far-rightists around the world, from Marine Le Pen onwards, at the British vote to Leave.
It would be interesting to see the data that shows that the main factor behind the Brexit was “a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politics.”
It would be also interesting to see a Marxist analysis of the ‘elite’, what class it is, and indeed what an ‘elite’ in the UK is.
It would be perhaps too much to expect an account of how leaving the EU, and attacking migrants’ rights (in the UK and, for UK citizens within continental Europe) and ending freedom of movement within its frontiers, is going bring borders down and help, “locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty”.
No doubt the “The EU’s Frontex border guards stop refugees entering Europe by land – forcing them to risk their lives at sea.” will disappear as the UK……. sets up its own border guards.
How Brexit was going to be part of the the fight against austerity by consolidating power in the hands of the right-wingers now in charge of the UK Sovereign state, opening up the way for future trade agreements with the pro-Brexit nationalist Trump, is one of those mysteries of the dialectic.
One that shouting that Trump is not Brexit, and an analysis based on “kicking back” at elites, is not going to unravel.
As for people’s reasons for the Leave vote.
This is a synthesis of many studies (Wikipedia).
On the day of the referendum Lord Ashcroft‘s polling team questioned 12,369 people who had completed voting. This poll produced data that showed that ‘Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the European Union was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.”
Lord Ashcroft’s election day poll of 12,369 voters also discovered that ‘One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”’
Immediately prior to the referendum data from Ipsos-Mori showed that immigration/migration was the most cited issue when Britons were asked ‘What do you see as the most/other important issue facing Britain today?’ with 48% of respondents mentioning it when surveyed.
In the SWP’s Alternative News Factory the third who were plainly anti-migrant have vanished, nor any consideration that this may have been a reason, if not the principal one, for a Brexit vote.
Perhaps the writers for Socialist Worker were asleep when the torrent of anti-migrant propaganda was unleashed in the country.
Now, how exactly is the SWP going to relate to the “anti-establishment” demand that motivated the others that “decisions taken in the UK should be taken in the UK” by these people ‘angry at the elites’?
By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)
Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Steve Bell, Guardian
Also published on the Workers Liberty website and in the current issue of Solidarity:
Organise, on the streets and in the labour movement! Argue for socialist, democratic, internationalist ideas which offer a real answer both to Trump’s rancid, right-wing, regression, and to the discredited status quo. That is how we can block Trump.
Trump’s “executive order” of 27 January has stirred up protests across the world. Trump’s “Muslim ban” halted the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees fleeing Assad’s butchery and the sectarian Islamist militias. All travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are not permitted to enter the US for 90 days, or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. Customs and Border Protection agents have defied the orders of federal judges halting deportations.
Besides this outrageous act of anti-Muslim and racist discrimination, Trump has also signed executive decisions:
• To build a wall along the US-Mexico border
• To withdraw US federal grant money from “sanctuary cities” in the USA which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants
• To advance construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines
• To order the commerce secretary to develop a plan (likely to breach WTO rules) requiring US-made steel for the pipelines
• To order public agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” all portions of Obama’s Affordable [Health] Care Act that create financial burdens on states, individuals, or healthcare companies
• To ban federal money to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions
• To withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. Trump has suggested that South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons and US forces withdraw from those countries.
He has courted Russian president Vladimir Putin, but talked of rescinding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Russia was an interested participant. He has favoured the use of torture, but suggested for now he will defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis on that. He has promised to build up US militarism. He has given a green light for more-or-less unlimited Israeli settlement and creeping annexation in the West Bank.
On 27 January, too, the Holocaust Memorial Day statement from Trump’s White House, unlike previous such US presidential statements, omitted Jews and antisemitism. Trump’s chief of staff defended the omission: “I mean, everyone suffering in the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected… is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad”.
Trump’s style is often fascistic: authoritarian, demagogic, militaristic, nationalist. The analytic difference between this and full-fledged fascism has importance. As Trotsky explained in the 1930s, when the Stalinists had the habit of describing all they disliked as “fascist”, fascism requires a street-fighting “movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file… a plebeian movement in origin… from the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialistic demagogy”.
The reactionary mass movement gives fascism the facility, which ordinary decree from above lacks, to crush the labour movement, civil society, and civil liberties, and to impose demagogic, nationalist, racist, protectionist, militaristic policies which even the majority of the bourgeoisie dislikes. “Such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots into his face”. In return:
“From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years”.
To declare a right-wing government “fascist” before time amounts to declaring that social civil war has been lost in advance. Trump’s turn, however, can do great damage, and build conditions for actual fascism after the next great economic crisis. Already it shatters complacencies. Already it breaks up the comforting assumption that even if things get worse under neoliberalism, not all of them do, and worsening is slow, so if you have an established citizenship and good jobs you can keep ahead.
The globalised neoliberal world order has resilience. It has negotiated and absorbed many shocks. A great swathe of top-level opinion considers Trump maverick and dangerous. Within a few days of Trump’s “Muslim ban”, over 9,000 US academics, including 50 Nobel prize-winners and 82 winners of Fields medals or similar, had signed a protest, and they included the doyens of neoliberal economics, Eugene Fama and Robert Lucas. Yet, as the conservative writer Jonathan Rauch pointed out last year, the system of political mediations, consultations, information-flows, safeguards for continuity and coherence, in the USA, had substantially fractured even before Trump, replaced by a chaos of demagogues negotiating an atomised and disinformed electorate and a welter of wealthy lobbyists. In this fracturing, and with the confidence of orthodox bourgeois leaders shaken by the crash of 2008 and the disarray since then, a militant and cohesive bourgeois minority — and Trump may be able to assemble that — can take the initiative. The rest will mostly adapt (as Theresa May and Boris Johnson are doing) or shrug ineffectually.
In the USA’s State Department (equivalent of the Foreign Office), top officials had, as a conventional formality, submitted resignation letters on the arrival of a new president. Usually new presidents ignore most such letters and maintain some continuity of management. Trump has accepted all the resignation letters and made a clean sweep.
Against a determined push by Trump, the liberal bourgeoisie will not safeguard the moderate extensions of women’s and LGBT equality, the modest opening of opportunities to ethnic minorities, the relative freedom of movement for some across some borders, the mild cosmopolitanism, on which it prides itself. Having already let so many civil rights be swallowed by the “war on terror” and the drive for “labour flexibility”, it will be no bulwark for the rest. The liberal bourgeoisie may not even safeguard the achievement of which it boasts most, the reduction of economic barriers between countries.
Before the USA’s Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930, which started a catastrophic spiral of protectionism and shrinking world trade, “economics faculties [in the USA]… were practically at one in their belief that the Hawley-Smoot bill was an iniquitous piece of legislation”. Over a thousand economists petitioned the US administration against it. It went through, and its effects spiralled. It falls to the labour movement to defend even the limited bourgeois ameliorations.
The labour movement cannot do that unless it mobilises; unless it cleanses itself of the accommodations to nationalism now so common over Brexit; and unless it spells out socialist answers which can convince and rally the millions of the economically marginalised and disillusioned. It falls to the left to make the labour movement fit for those tasks.
Above: incitement to hatred
The individual who murdered Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum shouted “Britain First” and similar slogans as he snuffed out her life. In court, when asked his name he replied “Death to Traitors.” We now know that in the bag he carried during the attack there was a leaflet about the referendum (from the ‘Remain’ side, but quite obviously not because that’s the side he supported).
Jo Cox was, of course, a well-known ‘Remain’ campaigner and had also been outspoken in demanding that the UK did more for Syrian refugees. She was murdered on the very day that Farage unveiled his notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.
At the time of the slaughter, it was pretty obvious that the killer was a ultra nationalist, driven into action by the extreme nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Farage/Banks wing of the Leave campaign (which the likes of Johnson and Stuart were, of course, quite happy to go along with). But the Remain side pulled our punches on this – mainly, I suspect, because it felt distasteful to seem to be making political capital out of a human tragedy. Even Shiraz Socialist was hesitant about making the link in plain language. The likes of the SWP and Morning Star, usually quick off the mark in pointing out that politicians’ racist language (eg Cameron’s use of the word “swarm”) can have practical consequences in the streets, avoided pointing the finger – for the obvious reason that they found themselves on the same side as Farage, Johnson and Stuart, however different their motives may have been
But now it can be said – indeed, must be said: although the killer is a far from being a typical ‘Leave’ voter (he is a neo- Nazi and may well be mentally ill), he was undooubtably stirred into action when he was by the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the wise words of Alex Massie (one of the few journalists to make the link at the time, though he stopped short of holding Farage personally responsible):
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen
Bland, but on the whole, not bad:
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, speech to National Policy Forum 19 November 2016:
Thank you for that introduction.
We meet at the most important moment in politics for a generation. Political upheaval is becoming the norm. The old certainties are dramatically falling away and we are coming to expect the unexpected. People know there can be no more business as usual. But the question is what will replace it.
Since the financial crash of 2008 it has been clear that the economic and political system is unable to meet people’s needs and deliver the prosperity and security it promised – not just here in Britain, but across much of the world.
So let us be very clear: It was not levels of public spending, it was the crisis of a deregulated financial system that crashed the economy across the western world and delivered falling living standards and led to swingeing cuts to public services.
Lehman Brothers did not collapse because we kept too many libraries open, had employed too many teaching assistants, or failed to cut disabled people’s benefits.
Not since the late 1970s have we seen such a dramatic collapse in confidence in the political and economic order.
People are feeling insecure and the ‘me-too’ managerial politics of the pre-crash era quite obviously no longer has the answers.
Voting for the status quo is not attractive to people, because they know the status quo is failing them.
Many feel their prospects – and those of their children – are getting worse.
We saw that reflected in this summer’s referendum vote.
Telling people that their continued prosperity depends on remaining in simply didn’t resonate widely enough when so many people didn’t feel they were sharing in that prosperity in the first place.
Did the nearly one million people on zero hours contracts, or the six million paid less than the living wage, feel they needed to vote in to be better off?
Or did they just simply not trust politicians and business people who have let them down?
The young people told they will have fewer opportunities in life than their parents’ generation; people who see their NHS being run down; or their library close or their social care package being taken away.
For a time our party became too complacent about runaway levels of inequality, about an economic system that delivered handsomely for the rich but ripped up security for millions of people at work – and for many has ditched the security of a home to call your own. Read the rest of this entry »
The following resolution was passed by the last Unite EC:
“On the back of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the decisions taken by the British Government on the shape of Exit could have profound implications on this [union]’s members. Therefore we believe nationally and locally Unite should be campaigning on the following:
– To ensure at the very least all workers rights currently in EU law come into force in UK law.
– To ensure European works council structures are not affected and we continue and we continue to increase our co-operation and solidarity with our sister trade unionists in the EU.
– To defend the free movement of people as it currently exists including our right to work in the EU and European workers rights to do the same here. The best guard against employers using Brexit as an excuse to attack pay and Ts and Cs not putting up new borders but strong trade unions organising all workers regardless of where they are from.”
Given that Unite continues to fund the Morning Star, which advocates a withdrawal from the single market, perhaps the union should make its democratically decided view known a bit more clearly – especially to the CPB and the Morning Star: and if the paper and the party continue with their reactionary stance, Unite should cease spending members’ money supporting them.
Above: the author’s choice of music to accompany this article
This post is important; never mind that it first appeared at Harry’s Place:
This is a guest post by Yasmin Baruchi
“You’re not the type of Muslim or immigrant the Brexit Leave or Trump Campaign targeted so why are you so upset?!”
This was the question my partner asked me, struggling to grasp why I would sitting in tears at 4.00am on Wednesday 9th November 2016 as “Brexit plus plus plus” became a reality and Trump was elected.
In the eight years we have been together, we have never needed to have a conversation about identity despite being an interracial couple. However, in the last week, it has never been clearer how as a South Asian Muslim heritage woman my experience of the world vastly differs from that of a White middle class man, despite how aligned and compatible we are in so many other ways. As my pain, despair and hopelessness grows on a daily basis, he became increasingly resigned. “It will be ok, it’s not that bad, you are being dramatic, don’t be so emotional” he said in exasperation reflecting the chosen attitude of our government that we must accept this, we need to give Trump a chance and this could be an excellent opportunity for a UK-US trade deal post Brexit.
What erupted as a result was a series of the most raw, passionate, and painful conversations we have ever had but also the most valuable. It allowed him to understand what few can unless they have experienced being part of a demonised minority and led me to overcome some anger and gain insight into why so many people are so resigned, even willing to accept what has happened and just get on with it.
I know people voted for Brexit as they did for Trump for a whole array of reasons, some complex and some simple. I still feel confident in saying that most did not vote for racist or xenophobic reasons. But the fact is that the extreme language, rhetoric and narrative employed by both campaigns was not enough to turn people away, that it was still acceptable, excusable or ignorable. If this same rhetoric was deployed against people we all personally cared about or we held in equal regard to ourselves, we would never have accepted it, no matter what great promises were on offer to compensate. It would have been condemned and rejected. And this has been at the root of my despair. When people are willing to accept these things being said about you at the very highest level in society, it devalues you as a human being and leaves you questioning your place in society.
“But that stuff wasn’t aimed at someone like you! People we know clearly identify you more as British as opposed to the immigrants in Farage’s poster or a Muslim” were my partner’s (failed) attempt to comfort me that I am wrong to question my sense of belonging. Besides the fact that as a society, we should never accept such scaremongering and scapegoating of an entire group of people simply based on their race or religion, no matter how unrelateable they are, I went on to explain why this is simply not enough.
Everything observable about how I act, speak, dress, and behave is what you would consider British. It’s how I have always identified. Yes, I am brown and obviously so but I am everything a “good immigrant” should be- integrated, educated, employed, not on benefits and I pay taxes. But that is not all I am. When my loving partner, friends, his wonderful family and even some of my own family look at the “breaking point” poster immigrants, or read the “Daily Mail” caricatures of “bad immigrants” and criminal refugees, they don’t see anything connected to them, and they certainly don’t see me.
But I’m reminded of my own history that makes up my identity and sense of self. Family members expelled from Burma with only the clothes on their backs, my grandfather who arrived in the UK, looking very much like those demonised, dehumanised young man in present-day tabloids, not knowing a word of English, wearing a karakul hat, and three pounds in his pocket. I’m reminded of my own father and uncles, similarly to an extent “good immigrants” if you ignore their choice of clothes on Friday that make them identifiable as Muslims- which due to blanket demonisation we know is not a desirable thing in the UK. They arrived, again not a word of English, their childhood interrupted to live in a country that was simultaneously welcoming and hostile to them in the 60’s and 70’s.
When I hear the rhetoric on Muslims and how it goes unchallenged, I think of my mother in her hijab and salwar kameez, her unconfident accented English and know full well that because we have let it get this far, there may be a thug on the street who could feel that she is a justified target of abuse. I asked my partner to consider how he would feel if the dress, and appearance of his own mother had been villifed to the extent that some individual could hurt her and the mainstream reaction was to rationalise it as a result of White extremism and carry on.
As we become immune and blind to the harm we are allowing to continue because it’s only directed to those that we feel we cannot relate to, it grows and it spreads. A case in point, is Steve Bannon’s comments in the US that there are too many Asian CEO’s in Silicon Valley. Suddenly the focus is no longer limited to what we have accepted to be dirty, poor, criminal, leeching immigrants, but “good immigrants”- the ones who are educated, talented, contributing to the economy, and why? Because they share characteristics in common with “bad immigrants”- their skin tone, their country of origin, the fact they are foreigners etc etc. How can this fail to alarm someone like me?
For those who perceive any of this as me making some sort of “bleeding heart” case for uncontrolled immigration, I want to be clear, this is not about immigration policy, or a denial of the issues that have arisen from immigration. This is about how we talk about human beings and the consequences of the language we gave a green light to by ignoring and not challenging. Not for a moment do I think everyone who voted for Brexit or Trump are bad, racist or xenophobic. Good, kind people were able to give their vote to a toxic divisive campaign because we’ve had a constant trickle of dehumanisation of certain groups of people that has not been challenged effectively and normalised.
What this normalisation has resulted in is a real panic in even people like me- who as a liberal secular, nominal Muslim has never before felt insecure or uncertain in her British identity. I now feel like my worth is not the same as my partner. Boris Johnson’s appeal for us to quit the “whingeorama”, the focus on how we can make Trump’s election a good thing for Britain’s economy, Theresa May just a week after Trump’s election, saying the “it is up to the United States what rules they put into place, in terms of entry across their borders, but we will be ensuring that “special relationship” continues…” without any comment or condemnation about Trump’s language on Muslims let alone the proposed Muslim ban itself has left me feeling hopeless. One wonders if May would be so pragmatic and willing to maintain the UK-US “special relationship” if Trump had spoken about a group she identifies with in the same way. It is difficult to draw a conclusion other than that to our government, some of us are worth standing up for more than others. How does this not devalue British Muslims- even the most secular, integrated, Muslims like myself.
And moving this away from myself and to the big picture, in this silence, this pragmatism, “business as usual” attitude we are pushing, things will get worse. For those that fear Islamist extremism, and for those like myself that counter and fight it, our work has become so much harder. The sense of isolation and alienation that is resulting amongst Muslims by turning a blind eye can easily be manipulated and turned in to anger, antipathy and violence. The victimhood complex Islamists have been peddling in our communities can now be presented as justified more and more by the day – they will say they warned Muslims that the “West” doesn’t truly care about us.
When will we start proving them wrong?