Neil Berry ARABNEWS
Published — Sunday 18 August 2013
GO Home or Face Arrest” — this is the thuggish message emblazoned on the side of vans that have been touring racially mixed areas of London this summer. The vans are part of a crackdown by the UK Home Office on illegal immigrants which also entails police spot-checks on people in public places. Many believe the Home Office is blatantly targeting racial minorities.
The most voluble critic of the initiative has been the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage, a right-wing English nationalist vehemently opposed to British membership of the European Union who has long deplored the laxity of Britain’s immigration policy. Farage speaks of “nasty Big Brother-style” tactics and protests that this is “not the way we do things in Britain.” Liberals are bound to agree, even if his outrage is hard to distinguish from self-interested concern that Britain’s Conservative Home Secretary, Theresa May, is seeking to upstage his own party’s commitment to stringent immigration controls
The fact is that the Conservative Party’s chances of remaining in power are seriously imperiled by UKIP’s growing popularity. Only able to assume office in 2010 thanks to the coalition it formed with the Liberal Democratic Party, the Conservatives will need every vote they can get in the 2015 general election.
In truth, Nigel Farage himself has done much to push British politics rightward over immigration, with toxic consequences for Britain’s ethnic minorities, not least Muslims whose standing has been gravely compromised by the savage murder in southeast London of a British soldier by British Muslim extremists. The hard-line Home Office stance on illegal immigration will be construed by some as a government endorsement of xenophobia, with a likely escalation in racial violence and instances of people informing against neighbors they suspect have no right to be in Britain.
What is especially repugnant about all this is that for the sake of crude party advantage the Home Office is exposing great numbers of British citizens to untold needless stress. It would perhaps be a mitigating circumstance if it had good grounds for believing that there were significant numbers of illegal immigrants in particular areas. Yet only a week ago a parliamentary committee reported that the government is working with statistics for net immigration that lack credibility, based as they are on a sample of a mere 5,000 people. That Britain needs a sound immigration policy is not in doubt but it surely requires one that is seen to be civilized, not one that smacks of a galumphing police state.
Only a year ago, the UK was preening itself on its hosting of the Olympic Games, with much being made century “rainbow nation” that thrives on the multiethnic diversity of its populace. Great pride was taken in the athletic feats of Mo Farah, a British citizen by politicians and the media of its status as a 21born in Somalia — though whether he would have been quite so affectionately embraced by the British media and British politicians had he identified himself not as “Mo” but “Mohammed” is an interesting question.
The trouble is that today’s UK is in tension with an older country, a white Britain whose attitudes and values were shaped by Britain’s imperial past. For the moment, the UK is furiously looking backward, with a government dominated by Conservative Englishmen of wealth and privilege and a conformist news media apt to encourage the belief that the nation’s ills stem not from subservience to the past but from predatory foreigners who ought never to have gained admission to the country.
It is not just illicit immigrants who are being advised to quit the UK. Contemplate the case of Trenton Oldfield, the ingenuous Australian political activist who pitched himself into the River Thames in 2012 with a view to sabotaging the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, the annual sporting contest between the two oldest English universities which advertises, he believes, the elitism of British society, its enduring democratic deficit. Sentenced to 6 months in jail under an obscure law, Oldfield found himself facing deportation to boot, even though he and his activist wife Deepa Naik are established residents of East London who have just become parents. There seems little doubt that the stiff punishment meted out to him was meant to intimidate other potential dissidents — especially if they are not British.
In a vivid account of his time behind bars, The Queen vs. Trenton Oldfield: A Prison Diary, Oldfield portrays a British prison system rather more concerned with incarceration of offenders than with their rehabilitation. The UK prison system, on his showing, epitomizes the chasm between Britain’s claim to be an advanced society and the actual regressiveness of its institutions. What puzzles Oldfield is why British people appear so quiescent, why there is not mass opposition to a status quo whose entrenched inequalities display an increasingly feudal aspect. His droll suggestion is that the British are afflicted by a national version of Stockholm syndrome, the pathological condition whereby hostages fall in love with their servitude, evincing a perverse loyalty toward their captors.
A harmless protester being criminalized and threatened with deportation, lurid posters warning illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest — such things hardly square with the picture of an open and inclusive UK projected by the 2012 Olympic Games. Yet Britain is a society in the throes of demographic upheaval of epoch-making proportions, with London, whose population rose by 600,000 during the last five years, now home to human beings of virtually every national and ethnic background. British politicians who pander to xenophobia may soon discover that they are making cynical calculations on the basis of a country that has ceased to exist.
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