Racism and the British State

Looking back to the start of the Month, UKIP had just taken third place in the local elections in England with an estimated 26% share of the vote, and Farange was being lauded as the champion of the little guy, with the ear of the government and considerable sympathy on the back benches, until he came to Edinburgh and found the natives restless. But if a week is a long time in politics, a month is an eternity.  The killing of a soldier in a London street and the subsequent prominence of the English Defense League has further highlighted racial  issues and what it means to be a British Citizen.  For a country so steeped in colonial blood as the UK, these questions are both challenging and dangerous.

Nigel Farange, the leader of UKIP, must have thought that all his Christmases had come at once at the start of the month.  Despite a presence in the EU parliament, his political standing in the domestic politics of the UK was generally considered that of the “nutter fringe” – a bit like the Monster Raving Looney party, but without the silly hats.  A remarkable level of support in the local elections, driven by a lack of political alternatives in the mainstream, and for that matter, from the left – saw him being taken as a serious political force: his message gaining support on the government backbenches and Cameron giving a nod and wink to listening seriously to what he had to say.

And then he decided to visit Edinburgh.  What was supposed to be a quiet pint in a pub with fawning journalists started badly as students who wanted to ask the questions that the mainstream media never do, started to intervene.  As the question and answer session became more farcical, the landlord requested that he leave his establishment … and straight into the clutches of assembled supporters of Radical Independence, who told him in no uncertain terms what they thought of his policies.  With two taxis refusing to give him carriage, he was forced to seek return to the pub he had just been kicked out of until the police were able to organise a speedy exit in the back of a police van, his credibility in tatters.

And in an instant, suddenly the veil was lifted – the easy ride that Farange had got from the press turned to hard questions as he looked ever more ridiculous trying to portay himself as the victim of racial oppression.  An attempt to spin the story as a hate-fuelled racist,  nationalist mob viciously picking on a lone Englishman, simply looked absurd given the observable diversity of the assembled crowd.   The ethnic diversity was obvious, while English accents could easily be heard chanting.  Photos of the protest showed banners protesting the sexism, racism and homophobia of UKIP were prominently displayed, and the crowd, which included female, LGBT and disabled supporters of radical independence bore no resemblance to picture that Farrage tried to paint.

It was a spectacular protest – or perhaps more correctly an anti-spectacular protest.  What was intended was soft focus shots of Farrange holding forth to a rapt media audience, with a nice wee backdrop of a traditional Scottish pub.  A spectacle for media consumption designed to invoke all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings of heritage and gravitas.  “Look! There is a leader!” we were supposed to cry as we followed blindly, only those chased him out of the city had their eyes wide open.  Like the Thatcher death parties  before, this wasn’t supposed to happen.  As the cameras panned out from the sympathetic closeup to reveal the backdrop of ordinary people objecting to racist, sexist, homophobic shite being peddled in their pubs, there was a Wizard of Oz moment, where everyone could see not only the sad little man behind the curtain, but also the media trickery which had made him into a political demi-God.

What had been intended as a victorious national saviour in waiting visiting the provinces to spread his message of Great British Unity in the face of European domination found restless natives, no longer willing to tolerate the ideology of their colonial masters.  The UKIP bandwagon was stopped in its tracks, and with it the came the exposure of Scottish Internationalism to a UK audience, customarily fed on the BBC propaganda of a nationalist agenda for independence.  

Less than a week after that incident, the killing of a British soldier on the streets of London dominated the national agenda.  A statement made by one of the killers at the scene makes it clear this this was politically motivated in response to the UK’s involvement on “The War on (of?) Terror”.  This too was a spectacle designed for public consumption – the propaganda of the deed.  That political message, delivered by a passerby who recorded a statement from the killler on his mobile phone,  was truncated for mainstream consumption and framed by the establishment pronouncement that “this was an attack on all of us”.  Dressing up “our” identity as British citizens in a military uniform.

Muslim organisations fell over themselves to condemn the killing, while racists rushed to social media to make political capital from the event, spurred on by the dogwhistle of Teresa May.   Demands that muslims condemn this killing, yet stay silent at the atrocities that their taxes fund in countries in which they have connections belies a differential discourse towards political involvement by non-whites in the UK.  To be accepted as part of UK society they should stay silent about the murders committed in their name as British citizens, but vociferously condemn any which are committed in their name as muslims.

The English Defense League (EDL), which had been on the decline, gained a new lease of life from this incident.  Calling a protest at Downing Street they mustered over a thousand to the rally.  The stench of anti-Islamic feeling tinged with a more traditional form of racism where people heard the call to “send the black cunts home” was overpowering, as war memorials were defaced and Nazi salutes were performed in front of the cenotaph.  Ten attacks on mosques were recorded in the week following with 150 racist attacks on muslims recorded; many more will have passed under the radar.  The response by York Mosque to invite the EDL for tea gained considerable approving media coverage. For tea is so quintessentially English.   The fetishisation of “tea” in English culture has its roots in the colonisation of the Indian sub-continent; the diasporic origin of the majority of UK muslims.  In offering tea to the racists, there is an unstated subtext of identification with the coloniser – an expression of letting bygones be bygones.

The perpetual justification of British foreign policy, the unshakable weight of the White Mans’ Burden and our historic destiny to bring the white values of civilization, enlightenment, democracy and (neo-)liberalism to the world has seen the demonisation of “The Muslim”.  When gendered male, presented as a violent savage, sexually abusive and ideologically dogmatic; when gendered female, presented as a cowed subject, an object of pity to be rescued from their false conciousness.  Domestically, muslims are seen as the other – among us, but not part of “us”; their religious identity setting them apart from British society.

UKIP is the acceptable face of British racism, firmly located in the home counties, where spinsters cycle across village greens in a Hardy-eque utopia threatened by European homogeneity while the EDL is its ugly twin, born of the inner cities where knife crime and frustration breeds fear of  the other.  Both seek to retain a distinctive [British/English]ness in the face of a multitude of perceived threats – most notably the integration of [British/English] identity into a wider trans-national identity, and conversely the absorption of trans-national identities within [British/English] identity.  In both cases, the preservation of the [British/English] identity is desired.

National identity is bound with the concept of belonging and consequently the concept of citizenship – the rights that you are afforded as a result of belonging.  It is kin relations which give you primary access to that citizenship.   A British citizen is one who is the child of a British citizen.  Naturalising – the process of becoming a citizen outwith that birthright – is a long and arduous process, either related to a chosen kin relation – such as  marriage, extended residency or refugee status and involves “proof” of your worthiness to be a citizen, primarily through the British citizenship test, a highly flawed and English biased acceptance of indoctrination to gain your citizenship rights.  It is also defined as “that which it is not” – citizens of other lands, or those who do not qualify for citizenship – asylum seekers and/or migrant labourers.

The European Union offers quasi-British citizenship to citizens of other EU states, allowing them the right to live and work in the UK, afforded trans-national protections of their rights.  This disrupts the “purity” of British lineage as the proximity to other EU citizens risks new British citizens being born of mixed national heritage, with national loyalties and identifications which cross borders.  Similarly with the absorption of refugees and economic migrants, the identification with Britain, is diluted as other national identifications are added to the mix.

British citizenship is promoted to Scots as desirable.  Many of the questions raised by Better Together beg other unasked questions about our values.  Immigration, defense, foreign policy are all currently in the mandate of the British State, and the implication is that an independent Scotland would be unable to maintain the strict border controls, comprehensive militarisation and aggressive foreign policy that the UK state currently pursues.   The idea that as Scots in control of our our destiny may not pursue the same xenophobic, imperialist ambitions is unthinkable.

Both Scotland and ethnic minority communities are a challenge to the homogeneity of Britain.  The assertion of “British values” which all right thinking Brits ascribe to is challenged as Scotland asserts her autonomy, and ethnic minorities assert their rights.  Social media gives us an insight into the hive mind, the narratives of the drunken loutish Scots which were peddled in the aftermath of the Farrange fiasco, are there beneath the surface, while the characterisation of muslims as dangerous suicide bombers in waiting, lurks behind the tolerant facade.

Like “The Muslim Community”, Scotland is a minority within the UK state – an “other”.  Just as it was demanded that “The Muslim Community” decry the actions of the killer, it was demanded that Alex Salmond denounce the supporters of Radical Independence that protested against Farrange.  For the valuing of diversity is given lipservice.  Muslims and Scots are tolerated as entities within the UK state, but internal diversity is not recognised. There is a demand that as an entity they must all ascribe to “a position” which can then be interrogated and dissected by the establishment.  Dissenting  voices from within must be disciplined by its “community leaders”.

There is much to learn from the UK state as we in Scotland build our own future and one of those is that we must acknowledge diversity.  Acknowledging that diversity does not mean ascribing a label to a group of people and then demanding that they are uniformly deviant, so that they can be better brought into line, but to recognise where there is dissent from the national narrative, ensuring that it can get a proper airing in its own right, not simply as an vehicle for the righteousness of the dominant narrative to be given an airing so better to enforce our values.

The more diversity we have within our society, the more that we contain people with allegiances to both Scotland and other places, the more chance we have of freeing ourselves from a blinkered mindset, and seeing ourselves not only as an independent nation, but as an interdependent nation.  Respecting not only the citizens of our own country, but those of other countries and none.

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