New dawn for the far-right?
Friday 28 December 2012
The biggest news story of the year was hidden beneath the headlines.
Racism seeped from the pages of Britain’s papers as the mainstream media crossed the rivers of blood buoyant on anti-immigration fever that gripped the country since September 11 2001.
For example, when nine men appeared in court in November over the alleged sexual exploitation of a girl in Rochdale, the debate was framed in the mainstream media as an ethnically driven violation of innocent white girls.
The fact that the majority of those convicted of these types of crimes are Asian men transformed child sexual exploitation into the rape of “Britishness.”
The scandal created a point of convergence between race, identity and sexuality that provided the far-right with an emotive platform during local and parliamentary elections throughout 2012.
The Guardian tweeted a BNP hate leaflet and interviewed EDL representatives. Ukip cleaned up in the polls, winning over Eurosceptic coalition voters and arguing for the right to freedom of political belief on every front page.
Never mind that a report by the Children’s Commissioner found last year that the overwhelming majority of lone perpetrators of child sex exploitation are white men exploiting children of all ethnicities.
In 1975 Susan Brownmiller wrote that “No single event ticks off American political schizophrenia with greater certainty than the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Facts are irrelevant to the public imagination. Objectivity is thrown out the window.
“A maze of angled mirrors buried deep within the individual psyche rises to confront the perceiver and distort the vision. What is the truth? Racism and sexism and the fight against both converge at the point of interracial rape.”
The BNP, EDL and Ukip and their manifestos, they say, are a practical solution to the problems of immigration, and are not racist.
The facts of high-profile child sex exploitation trials allowed this discourse to emerge, legitimised by mainstream media.
Then there was the the publication last month of the 2011 census, which provided an opportunity to represent the lives of black and ethnic minority communities in Britain.
Sadly, few journalists did so.
Peter Hitchens of the Daily Mail argued: “The future will be another country,” and said the census was a “prophetic document telling us where we are going, whether we like it or not.”
Hitchens described a nation that was familiar, comforting and, above all, eternal. He eulogised a historical community which behaved, thought, worked, laughed and enjoyed themselves in a land that was still “identifiably the same as their grandparents had known.”
He articulated a nostalgic relationship between economy, production and ethnicity that 20th-century Britishness depended upon for its coherence.
Yet without realising it, the identity that Hitchens was mourning was the working class of this country – their labour and the things that they produced.
All that remains is a fragmented economy, a polarised society and a fear that whatever we were, as a class, as a nation, has disappeared.
Hitchens’s vision of Britain’s past and national identity is as fictional as the future he predicts.
Things were just as hard for our class then, but the differences in our society were less pronounced and the concept of community remained intact.
The concept of England as the “workshop of the world” has been replaced by a service economy in which retail, health, social work and education are the biggest employers. Austerity has decimated public services and global capitalism has destroyed British industry.
When Hitchens writes of the “many millions who feel that they have become foreigners in their own land and wish with each succeeding day that they could turn the clock back,” he is really describing the marginalisation of our class.
Britishness and shared identity has less to do with a place of birth, ethnicity or gene pool and more to do with shared values, beliefs, faith, culture and class, not that you’d expect Hitchens to notice.
Meanwhile, the Guardian offered up a narrative of white immigration, describing German nationals resident in Britain as “lurking beneath the radar” and reporting on schools where eastern European languages are common in the playground and staff room.
The article claimed that British-born nationals cannot obtain places for their children, while eastern Europeans remarked on how readily they had been welcomed.
An examination of the school in question’s admittance policy revealed it to be much the same as at any state school.
The Guardian census series extrapolated narratives of assimilation and separatism, “ghettoisation” and lamented the volume of migrants in what Robert Booth called “hideously diverse Britain.”
It’s no surprise that some have dubbed the struggling publication the Thinking Man’s Daily Mail, as it explored the issues around immigration without consideration as to why areas like Bradford, Tower Hamlets and Birmingham have separate communities living alongside each other but rarely interacting.
If it had, it would have found that assimilation and integration can only take place when both communities respect and value the contribution of the other.
My own family arrived in this country from Europe, virtually destitute, on the eve of World War II.
They bought some materials which they used to make toys to sell at Portobello market – it was the winter of 1939 and toys were in short supply.
Half the family were exiled in Egypt, the remainder in Vienna, and they eventually found themselves in Auschwitz and Belsen. By the time the war ended they had travelled the length and breadth of Europe. Assimilation was a survival strategy.
My family ended up renting a house in Glasgow. I was five years old when I learned what the numbers on their arms meant.
But being white and European, with passable English, we slipped relatively easily into the British economy.
About two months ago, I took my daughter to meet a woman who, like the people that I grew up around, had survived the camps.
We spoke about the conditions of fascism and the disturbing familiarity between a Europe of yesteryear and the one that exists today.
Our fathers fought for this country, for freedom, and yet we are moving rapidly towards the same conditions that produced democratically elected fascism all those years ago.
The mainstream media – even the supposedly “liberal” press – is writing a fresh chapter in the history of prejudice, hatred and moral decline.
Judaism has been replaced by the catch-all term “immigration” as a subject of legitimate hate.
This time, though, the foot soldiers are not in brown shirts and jackboots. They wear designer clothes and write about the zeitgeist.
Yet for all this, racism cannot be simply dismissed as irrational or unreasonable. There is a logic to its narratives which speaks to angry white working-class people.
The concept of “the immigration problem” has gained political capital because it feeds off exclusion.
The capitalist press stokes up fears over immigration – overtly or covertly, depending on which publication you read – because immigration is a class issue.
No-one complains about foreign-born professionals who arrive to take advantage of better career prospects in well-paid positions.
In Britain today, a discourse of immigration has been mapped onto one of austerity, finite resources, an end to “entitlement” and the destruction of the welfare state.
The supremacy of global capitalism and a new world order has created a conflicted working class and a “race struggle” inside the state itself.
These are the conditions responsible for working-class misery, not the millions who arrived in Britain with the dream of a better future.
It is not the migrant worker, refugee or asylum-seeker who has waged war on our class but those who have traded our past and squandered our future who are to blame.
Britain’s demographic profile
There are 56.1 million people resident in the UK, a 7 per cent (3.7 million) increase since 2001
13 per cent (7.5m) were born outside of the UK
Just over half (3.8m) arrived in the last 10 years – an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the past 10 years
86 per cent of the population in England and Wales are white British and less than 4 per cent are Muslim of any origin
Eastern European migrants showed by far the largest percentage increase, with a ninefold rise over the last decade following EU expansion in 2004
The highest percentage of foreign-born residents is found in small, wealthy countries with large numbers of temporary foreign workers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar
In 2010 the Migration Policy Institute reported that countries with the largest percentages of foreign-born nationals were in the United Arab Emirates taking advantage of favourable employment and benefit packages for sought-after professionals