Witness the rank British duplicity and hypocrisy as various public figures respond to the mob assault on a blameless teenager on a street in Croydon, outer London. Rekar Ahmed, a 17 year old asylum seeker was at a bus top opposite a pub with two friends when they were allegedly set upon by around 30 people. Oh my. The great and the good can’t believe it happened. They are truly ‘appalled’, terribly ‘outraged’. This just isn’t very British. Maybe Croydon is a badland; the assailants must be ill bred ruffians . Have these moralists been asleep for the past few years? Do they not know anti-migrant feelings are spreading through all classes and some minorities too, like a wild fire in a dry forest? They do know. This is fake shock and it is as bad (if not worse) than the savage, unprovoked violence.
Remember Stephen Lawrence, killed by a gang in April 1993, as he and a friend were waiting at a bus stop in Eltham, South London. For a while the nation went through soul searching and changed. Things did get better. The 2012 Olympics celebrated that enlightened Britain and also marked its end. Ukip came along and shattered the liberal consensus on equalities, civil rights, justice and immigration. Good people did not fight hard enough for those shared values. And so the precious tenets passed away and the result is a brutish, broken country.
Asylum seekers, refugees, hard- working migrants, even long time settlers, breathe in the hostility in the air- even in London- and racist hatred burns the skin. And all the while we are instructed not to mention what’s happening because that is ungrateful, unfair or unpatriotic.
The noxiousness didn’t just appear. It is the polluting by-product of hard right and pathetically weak left politics, also flagrantly biased media reporting and yes, the EU referendum. It is treasonable to blame the Brexit lot for the hate fumes, but I do. Not all Brexiters were anti-immigrant and racist. But all those who hate migrants, diversity and cultural mixing voted to leave. ( This astute observation was made by Kevin McGuire associate editor of the Daily Mirror) A substantial part of the population now believes it is entitled to express hateful feelings openly and without shame. Xenophobia is an undeniable part of the deep history of the UK. Brexit gave it a louder voice and respectability. Those who almost murdered the teenager probably will never understand why their actions were abhorrent.
Why should they? They have been relentlessly warned about ‘floods’ of incomers bringing a population and cultural deluge. Ahmed and others who look or sound foreign, are presumed to be dangerous, devious criminals, rapists, drug traders and or benefits looters. They apparently threaten ‘our way of life’. Some may even stamp aggressively on Easter eggs while tearful native children look on. ( I made that one up- though there is a fabricated, frenzied story doing the rounds about Cadbury and the National Trust banning Easter Eggs in order not to offend minorities. Mrs May, so busy with international affairs, actually made a statement on this spoof panic) Every time a migrant or refugee commits crimes or cheats the system, or turns out to be a terrorist all the rest stand condemned.
Agencies which work with young and old asylum seekers and refugees have told me that verbal abuse and non-serious assaults are now completely normalised in shops, playgrounds, parks, busses and trains. Campaigners want zero tolerance for such behaviours but realise that there is no political will to protect these lowest of the low. One woman who works with unaccompanied refugee children now finds them gripped by new mental problems acquired here, in a supposedly safe sanctuary: ‘ I have kids from Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, all the troubled hot spots. They used to cry a lot, have problems sleeping, nightmares. Some didn’t like to be touched. But in the past three years, several have stopped eating, talking or going out. They refuse to go to a doctor or social worker. Most of them have been shouted at on public transport or bullied at school. All their optimism has gone. We did this to them. ’ I promised not to name her or say where she works. They are all too scared to speak up.
There will be more brutality against those seeking new lives. And the powerful will stand by, pretend concern and then carry on demonising the stranger, the outsider and needy. Reker Ahmed, was, says DCI Jane Corrigan, ‘very, very lucky not to have lost his life’. As he recovers both physically and mentally, he will, one imagines, be grateful to the medical team and God for keeping him alive But I doubt he will feel in any way ‘lucky’.
I newspaper, 5/4/2017