Calling it all out
Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, a moment in which to remember millions murdered for the sake of ideology, the same day that our PM Theresa May rushed to be the first world leader to meet with Trump, the same day that he signed an executive order to ban refugees, amongst other terrifying orders.
I am calling this out as May colluding with a fascist. It is not far-fetched to say that fascism has its orange arse on the seat of power of the most powerful country in the world. Actually, it’s not just an orange arse. The colour of this fascism is black and shiny, the colour of oil, and these people surrounding Trump and connecting with him are legion.
The reason May rushed to meet this orange arse was desperation to show that we can make trade deals with other countries outside of the European Single Market. Next she went straight off to make deals (like a £100 million for fighter jets) with Turkey’s Erdogan, who has jailed tens of thousands of political rights activists and journalists without fair trial.
This is the dark context in which our Brexit is unfolding, this story that our media would like to be about nothing darker than Marmite and the nice dark blue of our old British passports. In truth, the darkness of our Brexit story began a while ago, before the murder of Jo Cox and the five-fold increase in hate crimes after the Referendum, but somehow now its implications are becoming manifest.
Both Labour and Tory parties believe they are trapped in a double bind, that they will lose votes if they do not respect the ‘will of the people’ so May is determined to push ahead with a Hard Brexit (to be able to end Free Movement) and Corbyn has committed not to frustrate the process. They could acknowledge that they violated human rights in excluding three groups of people from the Referendum. They could consider that the ‘will of the people’ might have changed given the new context. Only 26% of the population voted for Brexit, and a number of factors must surely be chipping away at that proportion: Discovering the Leave campaign was based on lies; being discomfited at the hate crimes that followed; the historic drop in the pound’s value; the plan for leaving the Single Market; the exclusion of the devolved governments from the Brexit decision even when Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s people voted against; news emerging about Russia’s intervention in Trump’s election and support for EU-sceptic nationalist parties across Europe; and May’s offers such as proposals to let US companies profit from NHS services. At least, if the public could be properly informed about these factors, many are very likely to change their minds. But we are not being properly educated about this. So I am calling out both Labour and Tory parties for dishonesty.
If you do chip away at that 26% of the population, and let’s imagine it’s happened with the application of some honesty, what might you be left with? Surely not much more than a hard core of people unashamed to threaten the integrity of the EU and risk the UK’s economy and unity in order to control our borders, because….other people. What would you call the actions and values of that hard core?
One particularly sore point between the divided camps is around Leave voters thinking they are accused of racism (for example, when commentators discuss how a third of Leave voters cited immigration as their reason). Blaming and labelling groups of people is abhorrent and unhelpful, so it’s no surprise that Leavers pick up any grenades of ‘they’re calling us racists’ and throw them back to the Remain camp. But perhaps we should think of both racism and difference in terms of existential actions rather than inherent identities. If you shouldn’t label someone as racist, you shouldn’t define someone as other-and-therefore-less.
There are some facts (and of course, as with all facts, you can challenge them): Free Movement was evidenced to have a net benefit to our GDP; Far right groups across Europe are gaining influence, in part funded by Russia wanting to weaken the EU; the right-wing Murdoch press and the Leave campaign issued hateful material about migrants and refugees. All this added up to more people feeling they have licence to scapegoat migrants and refugees as causes for their grievances. Some people felt licence to physically attack people, and to issue death threats to both migrants and Remain campaigners. Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the appeal to ensure Parliament was involved in triggering Article 50, has been told by attackers that because she is a coloured woman, she is not human. It would not be fair to equate the majority of anti-migration Leave voters with those few who commit these hate crimes. But there is always a case for calling out actions that cause harm, including creating an atmosphere of anxiety and hostility.
It seems to me there is a spectrum of people who at one end enact hate crimes justified with ideology and on the other end people who practice boundless compassion for all living beings. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, hopefully aiming towards the compassionate end, but swaying all the time. Our behaviour is influenced by the extent of social licence that we see in our communities or in the media. When hateful actions are applauded not condemned, others are more likely to get drawn into carrying them out.
If you do not actively practice egalitarian compassion, protecting rights and freedoms of others when you see them threatened, if you fall down too far into the soggy middle of the spectrum, you are helping racism gain ground. It is problematic when making judgements about others to elevate any distinguishing characteristic (e.g. skin colour, passport colour, dialect, avowance of faith) above their traits of common humanity. As a shorthand we can call this practice ‘racism’, and because people are behind their actions, people feel labelled when you call it racism. But to say that we should all strive not to be racist is not the same as labelling groups of people as racist.
Actively practicing egalitarian compassion is difficult. It doesn’t take much for society to slip into a toxic morass. When we have a powerful world leader bulldozing so many public institutions and laws, and living his own rotten racist values in global technicolour, he is setting off a landfall down into that pit. We all need to keep our fingers in the cracks in the dam shoring up our altruistic values, to keep remembering the consequences of xenophobic tyranny and explaining why ‘othering’ actions can be harmful. Yes, I’ll be called Politically Correct and a Snowflake, but I’m prepared to take that if it helps resist.