When They Go Low…

Two months into the new year, I’m already feeling nostalgic for 2018. Yes, I’ve not forgotten that I once referred to it as an annus horribilis, but that was before I knew what 2019 had in store.

To be fair, so far this year hasn’t been all that bad for me personally, but on a bigger scale, it’s already turned into an out-of-this-world cringeworthy reality show. Except it’s no show, it’s all painfully real.

Yes, I am referring to the current state of affairs in Britain. This week, eight Labour MPs finally defected from their party, soon followed by three Tory MPs. It was a long time coming, and surely no one was much surprised when it finally happened. But the vitriol heaped from left and right onto these eleven defectors has been beyond belief. Social media is awash with trolls cursing the day these MPs were born, accusing them of every crime under the sun. Hate is all around us.

Meanwhile, Britain is hurtling at breakneck speed towards a no-deal Brexit in just over a month, unless the Prime Minister has some secret cards up her sleeve that will alter the course of events. Barely a day goes by without a car manufacturer announcing intentions to close factories in the UK, or a filthy rich Brexiteer making plans to ditch Britain for a tax haven abroad, none of which, we are supposed to believe, has nothing to do with Brexit.

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Michelle Obama famously declared ‘when they go low, we go high.’ If only that were a motto for the rich and powerful elites in Britain. Unfortunately, they seem to have adopted a wholly different one; ‘when they go low, we go lower.’

The other day the Home Secretary made public his decision to revoke the British citizenship of Shamima Begum who left her London home at the age of fifteen to join ISIS forces in Syria and now, aged nineteen and having just given birth to a baby boy, wants to return home. Never mind that Begum was born and raised in Britain, and has no other citizenship, the Home Secretary suggested she go and live in Bangladesh, her parents’ country of birth. The Bangladeshi government quickly put paid to such a suggestion, saying Begum was not welcome in Bangladesh, having never visited the country.

While I am in no way condoning the actions of Begum, I agree with Shiraz Maher, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, who appeared on Newsnight this week to discuss Begum’s case. Maher argued that the decision to revoke Begum’s British citizenship creates the impression that there is a two-tier system that is ‘frankly racist’, and which allows British-born children of (non-white) immigrants to be treated differently from white Britons who’ve similarly fought alongside ISIS but without losing their citizenship. Incredulously, Kirsty Wark, the Newsnight presenter, looked absolutely shell-shocked at Maher’s suggestion that racism was at play here, but I believe he was spot on.

Speaking of racism, my British-Caribbean husband was fuming yesterday on his return from a jewellery shop in our north London neighbourhood. Accompanied by a friend (white, as it happens), he’d gone to ask the jeweller to repair a precious necklace of mine that recently broke. On entering the small shop, he was immediately met by an all-too-familiar reaction; the shop owner and his assistant glared suspiciously at my husband as if to say, ‘what are you doing in here?’ It took my husband a good few minutes to defuse the tension caused by his presence.

‘I’m so sick and tired of having to deal with white people’s prejudice,’ he said to me later when recounting his experience. Having lived with him for more than thirteen years now, I know what he means because I’ve seen the looks he gets from strangers, the attitude of suspicion with which he’s greeted.

Brexit, he tells me, has made it even worse. With a Prime Minister that bangs on about the ending of free movement as if it was the best thing to ever happen to Britain, and with a government that doesn’t hesitate to make unwanted Britons stateless, it’s little wonder racism is going mainstream again.

 

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