One Day Without Us

Being a writer isn’t always the most dramatic kind of life.  Unless you’re out researching in the field, most of the drama takes place inside your head, and most of your day is spent looking at a computer.  This is pretty much how it was for me until the last day of the Tory party conference in Birmingham.  It would be something of an understatement to say that I had’t really enjoyed the proceedings.  Most of the time I tried to ignore them, but this became increasingly difficult, as politician after politician stepped forward with a series of jaw-droppingly spiteful policies that really made my skin crawl. .

Foreign doctors? No thanks. Foreign students? Get rid.  Name and shame employers who employ foreign workers – even though employer after employer insists that the British economy needs foreign workers?  Bring it on.  Depict people who call themselves ‘citizens of the world’ as unpatriotic and rootless outsiders?  Icing on the cake.

In a famous essay on the origins of World War I, Freud once argued that barbarism is kept in check by a certain set of moral standards that society establishes to control its worst instincts.  Individuals might feel certain destructive impulses, he suggested, but most people won’t give into them because they don’t want to be censured or criticized by the community they belong to.

This risk of censure, he insisted, is precisely what holds a civilised society together.  But these standards can also change – in wartime for example –  and then primitive and destructive instincts  that have previously been kept in check can explode into the open and create a new normality.

Here in the UK, Brexit has shattered many of the standards that many of us previously thought were taken for granted.  It wasn’t that people didn’t rip the hijabs off Muslim women in the street or screech at foreigners to speak English before the referendum – they did. But since the referendum large numbers of people – larger than we are prepared to admit – now feel entitled to do these things.  They now think it’s ok to tell foreign doctors that they only want a British doctor, to rant at strangers to go home, and recycle old racist taunts that many people had not heard since the 70s.

Rather than combat these tendencies, the cascade of xenophobic proposals oozing out of Birmingham seemed explicitly designed to pander to them.   This was not dog-whistle politics.  It was out-in-the open nastiness, a post-referendum nativist walpurgisnacht in which it was painfully and shockingly clear that the government is now prepared to pander to the worst instincts in the British population in order to manage the UK’s exit from the European Union.

In normal circumstances I might have expressed these opinions in a blog or ranted at the tv, but this time I did something different.  I wrote a brief Facebook post in which I asked what people thought of the idea of staging a mass day of action on the lines of the 2006 ‘One Day Without Immigrants’ protest in the US and a similar protest in Italy in 2010.  The essential idea of both protests was a 24-hour boycott, by immigrants and their supporters.

Some downed tools.  Some closed their restaurants and businesses.  Others took their kids out of school and didn’t spend money or go shopping.  The two protests took place in very different contexts, but their aims were broadly similar – to demonstrate the contribution that immigrants made in societies that were increasingly hostile to their presence, and which often marginalized or ignored their contributions.

It seemed to me that this would be a good idea right now,  at a time when similar sentiments were running rampant in the Uk both on the street and also at the political level. Within a few hours of my post, it became clear that many people felt the same way.  The post went quickly viral, and within a few days a group was formed with over two thousand members, and a broader discussion about the protest was unfolding across the Internet.

By the following Monday, One Day Without Us was firmly established.   It had a date – February 20 next year – and the nucleus of an organization.  It was receiving offers of help from individuals and organizations across the country, from a range of nationalities and political persuasions.  It had become the subject of national and international media attention.   By the end of the week at least fifteen groups were formed or in the process of forming in various towns and cities.

The idea of a mass protest has clearly caught a wider mood of indignation, despair and concern, following the national tragedy that has unfolded as a result of the referendum campaign.  Today some three million EU nationals, many of whom have lived here for decades and thought this country was their home, are now undergoing the painful experience of being described as ‘migrants’ – a word that has acquired almost entirely negative connotations in British vocabulary through decades of tabloid usage.   Some have already begun the extraordinarily convoluted process of applying to become naturalised British citizens. Others are preparing to abandon the country they thought was their home.

Many feel insecure and even despairing about their legal status and vulnerable in the face of the increasingly vicious mood of the British public, and a post-Brexit racism that makes no distinctions between EU national, between ‘migrant’ and ‘immigrant’, and which doesn’t care if you come from Poland or Pakistan.  Whether the xenophobes and racists see difference in skin colour, your language, your nationality or your religion – they have only one message for foreigners and people who look like foreigners – get out.  This is what happened in a London street only two days, when a gang of racists chased a young Portuguese woman down the street and told her to get back to ‘whatever hellhole you came from.’

Millions of British-born citizens – both Leavers and Remainers – are appalled and shamed by the alarming transformation of Brexit Britain into a xenophobic dystopia.   And that is why this emerging movement has taken off.  Its members all share the same common goals.  We want to remind the British public and politicians that immigrants have a past, a present and a future in this country, and celebrate that presence.

We don’t want to do this with a march.  These are extraordinary times, and we wanted to do something extraordinary to get our message out there.  Everybody involved in this project  is conscious that more dramatic, wide-ranging and inclusive was required than a single march or mass rally.  We wanted something entirely different; a peaceful mass protest, unfolding simultaneously in towns, cities, communities and workplaces across the country.  We wanted a demonstration of solidarity and unity that no one will be able to ignore, which might help burst the poisonous bubble that Brexit has created.

We know that some opinions will never be changed, but we also know that there are millions of people who are shocked and disturbed by the divisive and dangerous politics that are leading us all to disaster, and we urge them to join us on February 20 and make make One Day Without Us a day to remember.

 

 

 

The Archbishop’s Fears

One of the most depressing and inane themes in the great British ‘debate’ about immigration is the idea that there is no debate about immigration. It’s a refrain emanating mostly from the right, which has been replayed for years like a stuck record.  It goes essentially like this; ‘we’ aren’t allowed to speak about  immigration because the politically-correct, multicultural Islington elite won’t let us, and the public can’t even express its legitimate concerns about it because they’ll be accused of racism by the liberal/lefty hordes that control everything.

Such power the left has!  Anyone listening to this plangent lament would think that talking about immigration in the UK is equivalent to praising Trotsky in Stalinist Russia, and it’s as nonsensical as it is dishonest. There has never been any period in my lifetime in which immigration has not been discussed openly by the same rightwing newspapers and political forces that insist they aren’t allowed to discuss it.

I cannot remember a single period in which this discussion did not describe immigrants and foreigners as some kind of threat, burden or problem.  In the British media, immigration has been a political obsession for decades,  and the ‘debate’ about  it is dominated by a handful of viciously anti-immigrant newspapers that massively outsell all their rivals, and which routinely present immigrants and foreigners in the most negative – and frequently – demeaning terms.

Politicians have also joined in the fearmongering, and either pandered directly to the worst prejudices emanating from the rightwing media and the public, or paid more nuanced lip service to them through coded and guarded references to the public’s ‘concerns’.

So the idea that there is no debate about immigration is at best a fantasy and at worst a downright lie.  The right says what it likes about immigrants, just as it always has, and what it has to say is nearly always bad.   This is worth remembering, when we consider this extract from Archbishop Welby’s interview with The House magazine yesterday, which has generated a lot of headlines: .

‘Welby accepts that, politically, the debate around refugees and migrants is deeply divisive, and says concerns about the pressure new arrivals could place on communities and services are entirely legitimate.

“There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous,” he says. “Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis. This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable.

“In fragile communities particularly – and I’ve worked in many areas with very fragile communities over my time as a clergyman – there is a genuine fear: what happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services? There is a genuine fear. And it is really important that that fear is listened to and addressed. There have to be resources put in place that address those fears.”’

No one can be surprised that these pronouncements have been greeted with a hallelujah chorus by the likes of the Daily Mail,  Migration Watch, and even by the dim-witted monstrosity Ian Duncan-Smith.   To be fair to Welby, this may not have been his intention. His suggestion  that ‘resources be put in place that address those fears’ is not an argument that you are likely to hear from any of the people who celebrated his remarks yesterday, most of whom insist that no such resources are available or that they should be reserved for ‘our people.’.

In the same interview Welby also pointed out that local communities across the country have “demonstrated an enormous capacity” to deal with the refugee crisis at a “micro” level.   Nevertheless, the best that can be said about his shallow and uncritical recycling of the ‘those people are racist’ trope, is that it isn’t helpful.

Once you’ve choked back your hysterical laughter at the spectacle of Ian Duncan-Smith, of all people, condemnation  the ‘elites’ that suppressed the debate about immigration, you realize that the Archbishop of Canterbury has inadvertently conferred  the authority of the Church of England to the fake victimhood narrative that the right has made its own.

After all, it’s one thing to argue that resources will have to be put in place to cope with immigration – whether ‘economic migrants’ or refugees.  It’s quite another to argue that migrants and refugees come here to take away our jobs, our houses, our benefits, and our NHS, or present them as a ‘swarm’ or and invading ‘army’ of potential terrorists and cultural aliens who won’t or can’t integrate or be like us.  But these are the arguments that we’ve been hearing for a long time, and they are inextricably bound up with the fears and concerns that Welby regards as legitimate.

No, these fears may not be ‘racist’ in the old sense.  Usually, they won’t mention skin colour, but culture or religion or nationality.  The loathing and contempt that accompanies these ‘fears’ is equally able to project itself onto Polish plumbers or Bulgarians as it is onto  ‘bogus asylum seekers’ in Calais.

But these fears are not what Welby seems to think they are.  They are not legitimate, but steeped in xenophobia, nativism and – particularly when they are directed towards the ‘colossal’ refugee movements that Welby describes, they are based on racist assumptions that generally don’t like to advertise themselves as such.

There is certainly a discussion to be had about Britain’s ‘fragile communities’, but Welby does not address what makes them fragile in the first place.  If he had done this, he might have opened another debate about the immense damage inflicted on British society by two successive Tory governments – as the church once did when it published its ‘faith in the city’ response to Thatcherism in the 80s.

He might have raised questions about inequality, tax evasion,  zero hours contracts, stagnating wages, job insecurity, underfunding of public services, privatisation, lack of social housing, high rents, the exodus of doctors and teachers, and a whole range of other issues. All these things also make communities fragile.  They also make people fearful and concerned, yet politicians only ever seem interested in addressing these fears and concerns when they are directed towards foreigners.

And now the Archbishop of Canterbury has lent his voice to the chorus, and the government has praised him for his intervention, and the Daily Mail proudly proclaims that ” It’s NOT racist to fear migration’ ” in a piece on Welby’s interview that is followed by the usual rancid and bitter observations that you would expect from its readers.

Well no one can be surprised about that, but I can’t help wondering what Jesus would have said. .

Kamel Daoud and the Rape of Europa

I’m a big fan of the Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, which I read last year.  It was a brilliant deconstruction of L’Etranger, which movingly and provocatively imagined the voice of the Arab colonial subject that was missing from the Camus’s novel.

In doing so, it invited Camus’s readers to re-think the essential assumptions of a novel generally considered to a triumphant expression of 20th century humanism, and exposed the narrow prism through which Camus viewed colonial Algerian society, and which reduced its non-French members to props and bystanders in a supposedly universal existential fable.

The result was a combination of homage/critique and essential companion piece to Camus’s novel, which fused a profound meditation on the impact of French colonialism and French culture on Algerian society with an equally unsparing overview of the failings of post-colonial Algerian history, from the War of Independence to the Islamist surge of the late 1980s and the bloody civil war that followed.

To have achieved all this in 160 pages is no mean feat.  It was fearless, moving, and audacious.   All the more disappointing therefore, to read Daoud’s response to the Cologne sex attacks in the New York Times last week entitled  ‘The Sexual Misery of the Arab World.’.   To say that Daoud’s article is not helpful doesn’t really begin to describe it.   Where The Mersault Investigation challenged prejudices and received ideas, Daoud’s take on the Cologne attacks reinforces clichés, stereotypes and assumptions that routinely emanate from people far less intelligent than he is.

Daoud’s essential premise is that

‘The attacks on Western women by Arab migrants in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve evoked the harassment of women in Tahrir Square itself during the heady days of the Egyptian revolution. The reminder has led people in the West to realize that one of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim world more generally, is its sick relationship with women.

Daoud rightly attacks some of the brutal absurdities resulting from fundamentalist sexual repression in Algeria and other Arab countries and the obsessive fixation with female sexual behaviour at the heart of it.    But his notion that what happened in Cologne was a product of a uniquely Arab sexual pathology seems oblivious and even indifferent to what actually took place, or to the utterly spurious interpretations placed on the horrific events of New Year’s Eve.

When news of the Cologne attacks first broke, they were initially blamed on refugees, and on Syrian refugees in particular. Across Europe Cologne was cited by the far-right as evidence of the cultural and civilizational incompatibility of Europe’s refugees or the product of  ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim’ savagery.   In newspaper comments pages, twitter and Internet websites the outrage at the treatment of ‘our’ women was often combined with a morbid and gleeful condemnation of Europe’s ‘bleeding heart’ liberals, who had led these savages into the metropolis and been hoist by their own petard.

In various European cities, this outrage spilled into chivalry, as militiamen and motorcycle gangs established vigilante groups to defend the flower of European womanhood by attacking anyone who looked like a refugee.  The Cologne attacks also produced cultural commentary, such as this ‘satirical’ image from Charlie Hebdo:

In some German cities local authorities handed out leaflets informing refugees how women should be properly treated.  Personally, I suspect that the scumbags who carried out the attacks in Cologne know perfectly well how women should be treated – they simply chose to use their power of physical intimidation and domination, as some men will do pretty much anywhere when they get the chance.

Daoud sees these events as a product of an explosive collision between the repressed and forbidden desires of the Middle East and the continual orgy that takes place in the liberated West. After all

‘Paradise and its virgins are a pet topic of preachers, who present these otherworldly delights as rewards to those who dwell in the lands of sexual misery. Dreaming about such prospects, suicide bombers surrender to a terrifying, surrealistic logic: The path to orgasm runs through death, not love.’

Yeah, sure it does.  And Daoud also seems to believe that the path to orgasm also runs through Cologne Central Station.   Never mind that Cologne was not quite what it seemed to be, let alone what it was portrayed as being.  According to the Cologne public prosecutor only three of the 58 suspects arrested in connection with these attacks were refugees.  In addition, 600 out of 1000 reported incidents that took place in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were related to theft, and were not sexual attacks.

That still leaves 400 incidents that were sexually-related, so we are still dealing with a major incident of sexual violence and harassment perpetrated mostly by men of Middle Eastern or North African origin.   But that does not support Daoud’s crass notion of a cultural and civilisational clash that comes straight out of the counterjihadist playbook.

‘… today, with the latest influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, the pathological relationship that some Arab countries have with women is bursting onto the scene in Europe. What long seemed like the foreign spectacles of faraway places now feels like a clash of cultures playing out on the West’s very soil. Differences once defused by distance and a sense of superiority have become an imminent threat. People in the West are discovering, with anxiety and fear, that sex in the Muslim world is sick, and that the disease is spreading to their own lands.’

Tommy Robinson and Pegida couldn’t have put it better.   Neither they – nor Daoud – seem to care that  this ‘disease’ was already present before the refugee hordes came here.  As I’ve argued in another piece, women have been subjected to sexual harassment, rape and the threat of rape in liberated Europe for a long time.  Many women in Europe continue to experience ‘anxiety and fear’ at the hands of men on a daily basis.  German women are regularly assaulted at the Munich beer festival, amongst other events, yet such things only ever seem to become politically important when Arabs or Muslims are responsible.

Daoud’s intervention is no exception.   He notes that ‘ The West has long found comfort in exoticism, which exonerates differences’, yet he himself merely reinforces spurious notions of cultural difference and incompatibility that are already reflected in magazine covers like this one:

That cover ‘exonerates differences’ alright, even as it references long established cultural tropes about white women being sexually molested by brown-skinned savages as a kind of metaphor for the ‘Islamic rape of Europe.’

Daoud seems uninterested in why such things happen.  Where the likes of wSIECI have used the Cologne attacks to recycle racist imagery,  he  has used these attacks to support the notion of a cultural clash between a ‘sick’ Arab world and a presumably healthy and liberated West.

It’s shallow, crude, and dangerous stuff.  In The Meursault Investigation Daoud was an unsparing critic of colonial and post-colonial Algeria.  Here he acts like a ‘native informant’, telling a Western audience what too many of its members already like to believe about themselves – and about the others who can never be like us.

Cruel Britannia: Light Unto the Nations

This week, while our valiant prime minister was ‘battling for Britain’ amongst the bloodsucking Euro-hordes in Brussels, the Home Office approved the deportation of a 92-year-old South African widow who is blind in one eye.   These two events are not as unrelated as they might seem.  One of the key demands in Lord Snooty’s ‘battle’ in Brussels consists of persuading Britain’s fellow-EU members to restrict in-work and out-of-work benefits to European migrant workers and their families, and such actions are the stuff of patriotism in these bleak times.

So too is the deportation of 92-year-old Myrtle Cothill.  Cothill has been a widow for forty years, and for most of that time she lived in South Africa on her pension, with additional support from her friends and her local church.   When she became older and frailer she moved to the UK to be cared for by her daughter.   Cothill has an enlarged heart, poor hearing and she has lost the sight in one eye because of macular degeneration.  She costs the British state nothing and receives a £300 a month pension, but she is nevertheless physically and emotionally dependent on her family in England.

Despite this, the Home Office rejected her application to remain in the UK last December, on the grounds that her ‘condition was not deemed to be life-threatening’ and that ‘suitable medical treatment’ was available in South Africa, in the form of the Red Cross.  Cothill has been in the country since February 2014 -two years after changes in British immigration law drastically restricted the ability of adult dependent relatives to enter the UK.

Last October her application for leave to remain in the country on human rights grounds was rejected by an immigration tribunal, which declared that she had ‘obtained entry to the United Kingdom by deception, and that she and her daughter arranged their affairs with the deliberate intention of making her removal difficult.’

The tribunal vice-president declared that ‘Evidently neither of them is a person of credit and there is no reason why they should be believed…about the appellant’s circumstances.’ One can only assume from this judgement that Myrtle Cothill is not really 92 but a lot younger, that she can see with both eyes and she doesn’t have an enlarged heart, and that she does not require the emotional and physical care that a 92-year-old woman might need from her daughter.

Above all we should disregard her daughter’s insistence that ‘ My mother is in a terrible state.  She is just shaking and shaking….She should be with her family.  The heartbreak of leaving us at her age could finish her off and finish me off too.’

Of course no red-blooded British patriot can allow such blatant sentimentality and emotional blackmail to cloud their judgement, and we have learned again and again these last years that none of our institutions is more patriotic than the Home Office.

So on Tuesday a Home Office immigration enforcement officer informed Cothill that she was booked on Virgin Atlantic flight VS601 next Tuesday.   Cothill’s immigration adviser has described this decision as ‘contrary to every human instinct or duty to care for our elders’, but we have long become a country where human instincts that were once taken for granted have been revisited and reassessed according to other criteria, such as their cost to the taxpayer, or ‘hardworking families’ or simply British citizens per se.

Nowhere have these instincts been more conspicously absent than in our collective attitude towards the immigrants who have had the temerity to come to our shores.   I say collective, even though there are millions of people in this country who would be genuinely shocked and appalled if they were aware of the Cothill deportation and so many other similarly brutal decisions that have been taken over the years.   But these are not the people who are driving our viciously barbaric immigration policy, and they are not the people Lord Snooty is ‘battling’ for in Brussels.

Both Cameron’s flagwaving and the Home Office’s latest demonstration of ‘toughness’ are intended to placate a rightwing press that eats xenophobia as its daily bread.   Politicians – and Tory politicians in particular – have colluded with the tabloids in inciting that section of the British public that is most selfish, most paranoid, and steeped to its dismal core in hatred and contempt towards everything foreign.

Let no one be fooled by the fact that some of the most rabidly anti-immigrant tabloids have supported Cothill – whose father fought in the British army in World War I.  For these patriots individual cases are generally eclipsed by the generic portrayal of immigrants as parasites, terrorists, health tourists, rapists or invaders who take something away from ‘our people’,  unless they play in the Premier League.

Dripping with bile and whining victimhood about all the evils that immigration has perpetrated on our kindly, generous nation, these voices have drowned and smothered the better instincts of the British population, to the point  when the state is able to present even the most egregious acts of cruelty as just another routine demonstration of rigour and implacability in ‘defending our borders.’

The Cothill deportation is one more example of our vertiginous descent. Of course it’s shameful and disgraceful that our government should be even considering the deportation of a half-blind, 92-year-old woman.

But this is what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.  It’s what we’ve allowed our government to do in our name, and perhaps the most terrifying thing about it is that we don’t even seem to realize how shameful and disgraceful it really is.