Britain’s Horrible Histories


The Viceroy’s House, a feature film by Gurinder Chadha, director of the joyous Bend it like Beckham,  is out on general release in March. It is a beautifully made, devastating expose of Churchill’s dirty tricks as India gained independence in August 1947. The country was partitioned, millions displaced, and countless murdered, as folk, who had lived peacefully, turned on each other. Ever since then our historians and film and TV programme makers have framed this  savagery in religious terms: intemperate Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims  slaughtered each other because they could not share the land. Using newly discovered documents, Chadha shows how Churchill had well set plans to scythe through India because he was worried about the influence the USSR would have in that region. Lord Mountbatten sent out there to organise British withdrawal had no idea about this dark  plan. Nor do today’s Brits, Indians or Pakistanis. This state guards its wicked deeds and noxious secrets. Always did. Always will.

Those of us who were raised in one of the many lands of the old British Empire were not only subjugated and make aware of our lowliness, but well brainwashed. The history syllabus was tightly controlled. Inscrutable inspectors in hats came in and sat at the back of classrooms to check orders were being followed. Mr Kavi, our history teacher, was often taken away and questioned sternly because he was suspected of being an ardent admirer of Gandhi and Nehru. They were right. He was subversive. After class he would sit with us in the grounds and tell us about British political cunning and the undeclared colonial strategy of divide and rule. He reminded us that nations taken over by Europeans had been great civilizations, that we weren’t congenitally weak and childlike, or irrecoverably tribal. Did his pupils believe or trust him? Not really. A few of us were budding liberationists, yet along with more pliant schoolmates, were swept away by the epic saga: Empire was a wondrous achievement – plucky small islanders took over most of the globe! Brought railways, legal systems, police forces, flushing lavatories, capitalism, Dickens and Shakespeare, Cliff Richards, Ovaltine, tinned cheese and pink blanc mange!  We yearned to please Britannia, to be her adopted children.

After independence, the whitewashed past was reassessed in previous colonies, but there were few books providing counternarratives to the great Imperial myths. In 1972, I was one of those Ugandan Asians exiled by the dictator Idi Amin. In Oxford, where I was a post-grad student, that past was still being spun. At one posh college dinner, a senior lecturer loudly proclaimed : ‘You overseas students are all the beneficiaries of the greatest empire in the world’. My children, born in London, were also, sadly, taught about British glories and victories, hardly anything about the ignoble past . I read the great post-colonialist writers and also Marxist historians, but it is only in the last decade or so, that ugly truths about British rule have been exposed. ( Over this same period ‘patriotic’ historians such as Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts have produced thunderous revisionist tomes for those who still cling to the moribund idea of the great  British empire)

Among the hidden horrible histories, is the role played by our government in the coup that led to Idi Amin gaining control of Uganda. President Obote, the first elected president of Uganda was threatening to nationalise British companies, including Barclays bank and Dunlop. Together with the US and Israel they welcomed Amin. As he started killing opponents and terrorising the people, one Foreign office bureaucrat observed: ‘we are close to Amin and are known to be close to Amin and some of the [international] odium may well rub off on us’. Richard Slater, the High Commissioner wrote in a private missive: ‘ We cannot tell him to stop murdering people…my plea is for business as usual’ And so the tyrant carried on killing and British businesses carried on making profits until the expulsions of Asians which that special relationship collapsed. In Jeremy Paxman’s candid book on Empire( Penguin,  2011)  he describes both the brutal Indian uprising against the British in 1859 and the appalling revenge of the rulers who flayed, impaled and beheaded culpable and blameless men, women and children. It was only in 2013, that Kenyan resisters, members of the Mau Mau won their case for compensation against the government. They had been subjected to torture and had their human rights violated in colonial Kenya.  So much for the civilized occupiers, so much for accuracy and truth telling.

If the nation is to free itself from delusions, it needs a more honest engagement with the past.  As Paxman writes: ‘ If only the British could bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name, they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world’.

International Business Times, 17/2/17

White and Black Working Classes


Not a week goes by without some right wing British politician or pundit bewailing the lot of the ‘left behind’ white working classes. Most of it is bogus sympathy. Most of them have never cared about those beneath them.  Particular identity politics are cynically stimulated by people of power and influence, most effectively by Nigel Farage, the most successful travelling hawker of white victimhood.  Depressingly, genuinely concerned men and women are also now caught up in this social panic. Nicky Morgan, previous education secretary, usually measured and thoughtful, this week warned that white working class boys were outperformed by ethnic minority pupils, ‘whose families are aspirational and value education more’. (

In truth the government’s own research shows that Chinese and Indian British children are top achievers while white and black working class kids as well as Pakistani British pupils are low down the table. Class has been racialized, I suspect, to divide and rule those who did not fare well under globalisation. Brexit deepened the chasm

A persuasive new investigation exposes the fallacies of the current discourse. Minority Report, jointly published by the Runnymede Trust and Centre for Labour and Social Studies ( CLASS), challenges the prevailing narrative and leading figures who have bought into Ukip nativism. Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust,  points out that pitting white working people against those of other ethnicities provides no solutions for the disadvantaged. Also, that white and non- white working classes have more in common with each other than they have with middle and upper classes. This is the first salvo in a nasty propaganda war and very welcome it is too.

It all started way back in 2008, when Labour’s Hazel Blears started speechifying about disenfranchised white working classes. At one debate organised by the Fabian Society she droned on and on about the ‘ambitions’ of these people who wanted good schools and good jobs and good universities. ( As if black and Asian working classes had no such ambitions). In the same year the BBC, controversially, broadcast White Season, a series of ‘frank’ programmes on the lives and thoughts of indigenous Brits. Frank Field, Ian Duncan Smith and others took up the theme with gusto. Munira Mirza, one of Boris’s deputy mayors, opined in 2010, that race was sorted, class was the problem. No evidence was provided.  Soon these mantras became trends. At almost all party conferences myriad fringe meetings would discuss the exclusion of the white working classes from opportunities and either blatantly or subtly blame ‘multiculturalism’ for this injustice.

As Robert Yates astutely pointed out in The Observer this February: ‘ The ‘left behind’ are, it is said, profoundly at odds with liberal metropolitan types. In fact, this theory has now hardened into received wisdom…politicians, academics and journalists have chosen to run with [this] culture clash’ At a dinner party I recently clashed with an English ex Labour politician who was churning out platitudes about the divided kingdom. I asked him how many unemployed or non- professional white mates he himself had and whether he would rejoice if his daughter married a part time road builder. That, he shouted, was not fair. Isn’t it? Why not?

According to these pernicious myths, we black and Asian Britons, are responsible for low white working class educational qualifications, their bad accommodation, poor health, perhaps divorces too? . We are portrayed as grabby villains who steal the good life away from those with hearts of oak and roots deep in the soil. Oddly and contradictorily, minorities are also lazy bastards who drain the benefits system. Thankfully, lived experiences do dispel many of these perceptions.

On Monday  I went to a large London hospital and met casual staff- cleaners, trolley pushers and auxiliary nurses. Some were English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, others were Ethiopians, Somalis, Nigerians, Poles, Rumanians, Portuguese, and Bangladeshis. NOT ONE white Brit said to me publicly or privately that ‘foreign’ colleagues were the real problem.  There were tensions. For example, the Bangladeshi cleaners did not like to be supervised by females  and a Scottish nurse objected to the hijab. But their primary concerns were about wages and conditions and underfunding. Bad news for those who want to think that humans are designed not to share but to compete savagely.

All those who make up the British working and workless classes are suffering deprivation because of poor employment prospects, bad housing and education. Furthermore, they help each other. On one housing estate near us, for example, Miriyam, a refugee, looks after Welshwoman Patti’s two children. In exchange Patti buys her groceries and cheap clothes. Tony, a disabled English builder is helped by Tariq, a part time butcher. They are very good friends in need.

Race, religion and ethnicity have too long been used to divert attention from class analysis and neglect. It is time to fight the peddlers of lies, lies and fake statistics and to demand a better deal for all those at the bottom of our cruelly unequal and unjust nation.

International Business Times, 29/3/17



Emma Watson and Women Today


Having followed the Emma Watson furore, what I would really, really like is to go out on a sisterly date with this amazing young woman who ceaselessly examines and tests the meaning and perils of modern feminism. On the cover of Vanity Fair she wears something that barely covers her boobs. This provoked ridicule and vilification from some female hacks.  Julia Hartley Brewer – someone I know and like and is enviably bosomy herself- was the cruellest of Cruellas in a tweet: ‘feminism, feminism…gender gap…oh why am I not taken seriously…feminism, oh and here are my tits’ Unnecessarily unkind. Watson did respond, with spirit and genuine emotion: ‘Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick to beat women with. It’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it’. She confesses she is stunned by the reactions and confused. As are many other females. Feminism is more complicated and tortuous than they know.

Let’s take the point about feminists beating up women. We should never only praise and revere other women in the name of solidarity. That would mean repressing all criticism of, say Theresa May or Sarah Vine aka Mrs Gove or Cherie Blair or model Naomi Campbell all of whom have been egotistical and morally flexible. On the other hand, we weathered feminists need to stop being self righteous. We are not purist, eternal keepers of sacred tenets. Our younger sisters are more savvy and smart than we ever could be.

Watson is a celeb who depends on millions of adorers. Yet she uses the media not simply to publicise her latest movies or keep her name up in the lights, but to get serious messages across. I know, my daughter is less fearful of the word ‘feminism’ because Watson gives it cachet. Others who grew up on Harry Potter books will be similarly encouraged. Just as impressive are other young activists- Laura Bates, Emily Reynolds, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Kat Banyard, Nesrine Malik, Reni Eddo-Lodge and so many others- have the kind of poise, commitment and deep awareness I never had. ( Look them up if the names are unfamiliar. Never again will you think or say sexism is unbeatable) Moreover, they are unafraid of social media, even when they are confronted by grotesque abuse and threats. ( I still avoid Facebook) Back in the old days, I burnt my lovely black lacy bra on a pyre, read the great feminist texts, went on marches, but really, inside I was a domesticated little wifie who wanted to please men too much. Compare that with the ease, skills and elan of teens, those in their twenties and early thirties.  Heck they even ask for proper equal pay, which I never dared to.  If we weren’t so often disgruntled, we oldies would see the awesome skills of those who have come after us.

But we are wiser when it comes to men and self- preservation. I get it when young women say they claim their sexuality and the right to choose who they want to be.  You should be able to be sexy, pretty, fashionable and still be intellectually serious and a proper feminist. That’s the hope. Maybe a day will come when they can have it all: sex appeal, respect, equality, autonomy and safety. Not yet though. In our ‘liberated’ times females are unsafe in the most advanced democracies, in civilized institutions – big companies, universities, even Parliaments. They can be harassed, blackmailed, abused, molested raped and destroyed. Too many males expect sexual gratification and too many females feel too frightened to resist them. According to the NSPCC over 40% of teenage girls feel pressured to have sex and some have been raped. Boys are influenced by hard porn online and want what they see.

It’s extreme naïvity to think images can be owned and controlled in our culture. How many men will have had horrible, dirty fantasies looking at Ms Watson on the cover of Vanity fair?  Will some of them think she is asking for it?  Yes. They shouldn’t, but they will. Young girls and women to whom she is a role model, may emulate her too. Clothes give messages, both intended and unintended. An intelligent feminist must be be pragmatic and realistic as well as demanding.

Old and young feminists need to understand better what feminism was and now is. Divided we stumble and fall. Together, as we saw on the women’s marches, we can shake up the world. It’s time to talk.

I newspaper 8/3/17


Lies and Hypocrisy Over Asylum Attack


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


Misrembering Diana


Hear ye all.  Kensington Palace has put on an exhibition titled Diana: Her Fashion Story and, ostensibly, tickets are selling out fast. For a mere £19 eager crowds can see the demure and romantic outfits Diana wore when young and full of hope, and then go all the way on to elegant, glamourous style of her years as a savvy divorcee.  That sweet pink blouse! That blue velvet gown! It will be 20 years this summer since the princess died a horrible death. This show reduces the ill-fated, complex, empathetic and clever young woman to a tightly moderated fashion collection.

Eleri Lynn, the curator, confesses there will be no ‘weaponised’ clothes Diana wore to get at Charles, but many examples of sober garments she wore when doing good works. Alas, visitors will not get to see the stained dresses that show she suffered from bulimia. Or the dress she had on when she learnt that Charles was discarding her. Or the Shalwar Khameez she wore when she went to visit the family of her secret, true love, the British Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan, who never betrayed her.

Princess Diana lived in Kensington Palace during the last years of her life. It was here that she had to find strength and remake herself after the inevitable end of her marriage, a marriage arranged by her own hideous family and deviously planned by the British royal family. The king in waiting had to have heirs. She was a damaged young girl from a broken, aristocratic family and, most importantly, a virgin. Perfect really. Camilla, Charles’s long time upper class lover, accepted the deal. As the day approached, Diana, who by then knew about Camilla, wanted out, but was told by her sisters she had to go ahead.  They all used her. Never forget that.

In this palace she suffered terrible loneliness, missed her boys when they were with their father and other royals. Her neediness drew her into affairs, liaisons and also unusual, sometimes highly unsuitable friendships ( she yearned for love, trust and care). And she was mentally unstable. But there were also days and nights of wicked pleasure and happiness with Khan, who, in the end, sadly could not step into her crazy, over-watched world. She got stronger and bolder too. As Beatrix Campbell wrote in her radical biography of the princess  ‘[Diana revolted] against her arranged marriage, the deceit and duplicity of her husband and complicity of his relatives, exposed them as an atavistic family…’

In October 1996, she told a confidante that she believed she would be killed in an accident, that would be arranged by people who did not want her around. She even ordered a sweep of Kensington Palace for listening devices. By this time she was more media savvy and able to be herself.  Then she died, just as she had predicted she would. ( We will never be given the full facts of what happened in Paris that night.)

And it was to the palace that thousands upon thousands went the day she died and for many days afterwards. I am a committed republican yet I came to this place of grief and love over and over again. Diana’s vulnerability and openness had touched millions.  Men and women of every background sobbed loudly around candles. Muslim, Hindu and Sikh women prayed and lit incense. Flowers spread across the gardens, more flowers than any of us had ever seen. There were messages of quiet fury written on bouquets, not only about how badly she had been treated, but questioning the Queen and her motley crew, some the monarchical system itself.

Her brother Earl Spencer- who denied Diana a sanctuary when most she needed it- made a stirring speech about how she would not be forgotten. Tony Blair promised ‘the people’s princess’ would be forever in our hearts. But she was systematically and sedulously erased from national memory by the very expensive and excellent palace PR machine with the collusion of pro-royal newspapers.

Camilla is now glowingly praised and totally rehabilitated. Some commentators are slathering her with praise and already suggesting that she would make a jolly good queen. High level public indoctrination has begun as the long serving monarch gets older and succession is on the horizon.

I write this because the royals want us, the people, to forget the real Diana, her empathy, effectiveness, beauty and ultimately tragic story.  And to forget too the way she was treated by Camilla and Charles and the rest of the Windsors. Remembrance is often a political act of resistance and restorative justice. Misremembering is also a political tool.

Diana was far, far more than a womb and a frock. This exhibition is gross and disrespectful. And greedy. Kate and William, who live in Kensington Palace, should never have backed the project. But they did and so showed that they have become part of the Firm’s ruthless PR machinery.

I newspaper 23rd March 2017


Homeless in ‘Great’ Britain


From my study I can see the common with its tall trees, sweeping seagulls and dog walkers. It  looks like a Christmas card, frosty, silvery and lovely. But, when you step out,  the cold cuts into the skin and eyes water. Yesterday a couple with a young child had an accident outside our house, nothing serious, but the RAC had to be called to tow the car away.  I asked them to come in and warm up. At first they declined, but after about an hour, frozen stiff, they rang the doorbell. Imagine then the suffering of those people sleeping in doorways. How many die of hypothermia? How many get chest infections or pneumonia? How many are mentally ill? We don’t have names or even numbers for such ‘rough sleepers’. We do know, because we see many more of them, that the numbers have gone up shockingly in London, Birmingham, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, most British cities.

We have no Charles Dickens to awaken our consciences about these wretched souls. Compassion for them can be in short supply. Over the season of goodwill, Russell Lucas Allen was sleeping with his dog in the doorway of Debenhams in Portsmouth, when, he alleges, he was drenched in water by security staff. The recorded temperature was minus 3 degrees centigrade. Allen is a former site manager who possibly never imagined he would end up destitute and despised. Only 8000 people, thus far, have signed an online petition calling for those responsible to be disciplined. Over a million people signed an online petition to stop the BBC from sacking Jeremy Clarkson. Just saying.

The huddled men and women we see ( and mostly walk by) on the streets are the visible tragedies. Thousands more are today without decent housing and struggling to live another day with dignity and hope. The government’s own figures indicate that in the last year there has been a 9% jump in the number of those bureaucratically labelled ‘the unintentionally homeless’.( Question to the Department of Communities and Local Government: Who are those feckless and foolish people making themselves ‘intentionally’ homeless? ). Look back further and you find that the number has gone up by 55% since December 2010. That is six years.  According to the charity Shelter, there are over 170,000 homeless people in London alone- a shameful, staggering figure.

Among those now seeking affordable accommodation are workers on dirt low wages. Aditya Chakrabortty, one of Britain’s most assiduous and searching journalists exposed this major yet well hidden scandal in The Guardian in late December.; ‘…they are as real as you or me- and they are fast growing in number. They are people who are homeless even though they are working’. Their employers are not sweatshop factory owners but Starbucks, Eat, Pret, McDonalds, Pubs, delivery companies, even local authorities.  Chakrabortty met some of them in a temporary hostel aptly named ‘Shelter from the Storm’. Martin, apparently works for Islington Council taking disabled kids to school. He has had to sleep on park benches. Nicola works for a warehouse for Greggs the friendly baker. Its shareholders received over 43-7 million pounds in dividends. She was evicted in June and has been homeless ever since.

Meanwhile a glut of millionaires and billionaires now populate our capital and fine suburbs and desperately seek luxury goods to show off their wealth. Suppliers are happy to oblige.  If you have more cash than sense, you can now buy a most exceptional doll’s house for £25, 000 and a crystal covered rocking horse for their spoilt brats.  (Channel4, The World’s Most Expensive Toys, December 2016)  Oh and if you buy a luxury flat in a 50 storey tower at One Blackfriars, London, you can get to use a ‘snow cabin’ with artificial snow, also a fake golf course and whisky bar, a wine tasting room and a ‘rainforest shower’. Nice life if you can buy one.

Political decisions and priorities created this disgraceful inequality. New Labour believed hyper-capitalism would help fund a decent welfare state. Up to a point this worked but Blair and Co should have been more overtly concerned about the unequal and divided society they presided over. The coalition government had neo-liberals such as Vince Cable and Nick Clegg happily backing hard Tory social policies. They let social housing collapse in urban areas and refused to impose rent controls. That indifference to the plight of those who can’t buy or rent continues apace. These people are the collateral damage produced by a ruinous economic model. Flats are being built all over these isles. They can only be afforded by those with substantial earnings or savings. Those without either do not matter.

Last year Britain was declared the fifth richest nation in the world. It can and yet chooses not to feed and house its most vulnerable people. With so much patriotism swilling around at present, may I humbly ask: is this the great Britain you are proud of?

International Business Times 29/12/15


IBTimes UK
Dec 30
Homelessness in ‘Great’ Britain is a plague on all our houses, writes @y_alibhai


Bloody Britishness


This year Britishness reached its nadir. It turned angry, righteous, hateful, confrontational, inward looking and mean. Brexit was the result and still the rage goes on and on. Our nation’s identity has been and still can be, open and amiably self deprecating. Except for those times when attention seeking or jingoistic politicians jump up and use it as a cultural or racial clarion call. Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nigel Farage and various others have led the charge of the white brigade against diversity and multiracialism. We, who came from around the world to make our lives in this country are both used to and heartily sick of these periodic attacks on our rights, dignity, integrity and allegiances.

In 1967, In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Powell wrote a column complaining about the ‘rising flood’ and ‘invasion’ of migrants who were despoiling the old traditions of his beloved country. Then came that infamous racist Rivers of Blood speech in Birmingham. Margaret Thatcher warned in 1978 that the country was being swamped by too many diverse peoples. Tebbit instructed us dark skinned folk to pass the ‘cricket test’. In 2000, he and I were discussing immigration on the BBC’s Today programme. He refused to say my name and declared that even though I had a British passport, I could not be a true Brit. The barefaced prejudice shocked listeners. Didn’t shock me. Tony Blair tried to sell a new, cool Britishness. It bombed. Gordon Brown whose heart and soul are Scottish, used Britishness as an alibi. Cameron believed ‘British values’ were freedom, democracy, parliament and fair play none of which are uniquely British. As the BBC’s Mark Easton said in 2007: ‘We have our share of scoundrels and bigots and in the absence of good evidence, I’m not sure it is wise to claim a podium spot in the league of gentlemen’

And anyway, our governments are getting more authoritarian and snatching many fundamental rights. Furthermore, what happens to these noble virtues when we sell cluster bombs to horrid regimes, when we secretly facilitate torture, when we keep out child refugees as the Home Secretary Amber Rudd has just done? Where’s the fair play when black and Asian Britons are discriminated against in jobs and housing?

Migrants and their children are not meant to ask such questions. We are expected to fall in line. So along comes the high Tory Sajid Javid, a British-Pakistani, skin as brown as teak, born in Rochdale,  son of a bus driver. He wants all  public service officials to swear an oath of allegiance to ‘British values’.

You have to pity Javid, a man who wishes fervently to be seen as colourless and a vacuous patriot. Before the referendum, he was a close ally of George Osborne and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Now he holds a humbler position running the Communities and Local Government department. Maybe his latest wheeze is just to show the cold Mrs May that he is worth it. But let’s to his whizzo idea. Would he dare to demand such an oath in Scotland? Or Northern Ireland where so many crave reunification with southern Ireland? Or indeed insist upon such an oath from the English who now disdain the British identity perhaps because it is contaminated by different ethnicities? He wouldn’t dare. This is Javid waving his anti-immigrant credentials, hoping to pass, trying to shed his otherness. As if he ever can.

The harsh truth is that in the eyes of many white citizens, we can never ever be British. We can work hard, pay taxes, do essential jobs in the NHS and transport services, create successful businesses and jobs, read and love Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen and Fredrick Forsyth, become parliamentarians, fight for the country, join the police forces, commit to democracy and freedoms, marry native Brits, speak and write English impeccably, win Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bakeoff,  bend our knees to the ( German/Greek) royals, even eat pie and chips, but will still kept firmly outside the tent of Britishness, shivering probably, and perpetually humiliated.

There is much to love and admire in this nation. Recent surveys show that minorities feel more British than do indigenous Britons. This is a porous, agile, sophisticated society where, in spite of bigotry, one can find a way to belong  and flourish. Oaths, enforced patriotism, tests of allegiance dishearten and discourage the most integrated of us. And the exigencies further estrange the disaffected-young Muslims in particular. Such alienation will inevitably produce its own horrors and small nationalists will get more emboldened and concomitantly more furious. Next year the clash between these entrenched forces could create mayhem and maybe good immigrants will finally give up and move elsewhere. What will then happen to Great Britain?

International Business Times 21/11/15

Children of the Jungle


Thousands of unaccompanied children and young people will, by the end of this week, lose the perilous, bleak place they have sheltered in for many months, some, for years.  ‘The jungle’ in Calais is being demolished and inhabitants bussed out to various places in France. Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais wants the world to know that: ‘For the last three years life has been hell in Calais’. She is not referring to the Syrians, Eritreans, other Africans and Arabs who were surviving under tarpaulin covered flimsy structures, dirty, exhausted, often hungry, fearful yet hopeful. No. She means  the locals. The suffering victims of war, revolutions, poverty and natural calamities, weeping, wounded, starving kids until recently, were but media stories and characters in charity appeals. Now, Europeans find the folk they pitied from afar have materialised, stepped off newspaper pages and TV screens, even built a shanty town in a place best known for cheap booze and great garlic mussels.

In 1886, the French government gifted the Statue of Liberty to New York. The American poet Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet titled The New Colossus. Some of her words are inscribed at the base of the arresting monument: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door’. There is no better description of the thousands crossing over stormy seas to get to Europe today. But there are no golden doors.

Of course it must have been hard for the good people of Calais. ( I am not being sarcastic) France has tried to do what it can for the migrants coming into Europe. It accepted over 80,000 asylum seekers in 2016. And the people of the ‘jungle’ will get accommodated and looked after. Citizen hostility and the increasing popularity of neo-Fascist parties means trouble ahead for the governing national and local politicians. But for now, they are showing moral fortitude and some compassion.

In contrast in ‘Great’ Britain has turned off the taps of integrity and empathy. Here are some facts: Thousands of children were in that Calais camp; a large proportion had relatives already settled in the UK; Lord Dubbs, himself a Kindertransport child who escaped the Nazis and found refuge in England, had the law changed so more of these lost children would be admitted to our country; Cameron promised we would take them; some of them have been sexually exploited, others have become mentally distressed while they waited in limbo for years; an uncounted number came as children and grew into teenagers; the NSPCC and Unicef have campaigned to get the young asylum seekers reunited with families in the UK; the coalition and now the Conservative governments could have, but chose not to have a proper plan of settlement for the Calais kids.

Now, as the bulldozers flatten the ‘jungle’, Home Secretary Amber Rudd wakes up and starts taking a few of the lost children. Some councils are receptive, others not. No funding plans are in place. Some newspapers and politicians,  turn into mad bulldogs, bark at and besiege the young arrivals. They demand teeth tests, guarantees that these are not cannily disguised terrorists. An aunt of a nine year old Syrian girl tells me the child has started her period and screams for hours ‘like we are burning her’.

I could say: ‘Imagine these were your children. Would you want them treated like this?’ But that sounds trite, insincere, bogus. Children born in the west are forever protected. History and fortune have been exceedingly kind to them. We cannot imagine such things. And the truth is too many Brits have resolutely hardened their hearts. Football broadcaster Gary Lineker and singer Lily Allen recently spoke up for the displaced and were shockingly abused online and in tabloid newspapers. Today anyone who defends refugees is atrociously assailed  and demeaned.

In 1729, Jonathan Swift penned a satirical essay, A Modest Proposal on the terrible poverty suffered by the Irish and England’s irritation with these hopeless subjects. ‘[Their prodigious number of children] … in the present deplorable state of the kingdom was a very great additional grievance’. He suggested the babies should be sold and eaten. We have moved beyond satire.  Here’s a recent unsigned missive from someone who calls himself a ‘true-Britt’ [sic]. : ‘ I don’t care if they die. They are a bother. We should shoot the boats, have shooting parties in Calais. Let them hide and we find them. Kill the young before they grow’.  So why not gas ovens? Extermination camps?

Conscientious Britons must stand with these refugees and speak up. If they don’t, such voices will get bolder. For the sake of all our children we must fight this irreversible descent into a new barbarism.

International Business Times 26/10/15

IBTimes UK
Oct 26
Britain’s hard-hearted response to Calais kids is destroying the values that make our country great | @y_alibhai




Whitewashed History


This week, in an Uber taxi, going past four lovely Portland stone pillars near Hyde Park corner. These are Memorial Gates dedicated to the South Asian, African and Caribbean soldiers who fought in the two world wars. My driver is a young Sikh man. He’s wearing a poppy. As am I. I ask him if he knew about this monument which took its place only in 2002. He didn’t. He didn’t know about the five million of these soldiers, the hundreds of thousands of them who died. So who does he remember with his poppy?  ‘Oh you know, English and American soldiers who saved us from Fascism. heroes like’. He’d learnt about the Holocaust and great battles but never about the part played by his people in the war sagas. His own parents had never told him. How sad it that?

Muslims and Sikhs were exceptionally brave. They were even praised by German soldiers. Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander in Chief accepted that ‘Britain could not have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian army’.  Caribbean, Arab and African soldiers played their part. A good number of soldiers of colour and valour received George and Victoria crosses. Yet many of us who hail from the colonies are often told by native Brits: ‘ You can never be British. We didn’t fight the Germans to have you come and steal our country’. To them the wars were won by men who looked like Michael Redgrave or Henry Fonda.

Much of this past lies under our feet, unknown. Our establishment likes to keep historical narratives simple and uplifting, and white. Until this year, no Briton of colour was ever allowed to present television history series. Those of us who’ve tried to get the opportunity are rebuffed, told  such programmes are ‘difficult’ and ‘complicated’. That is about to change as at long last. David Olusoga, mixed race and hugely talented, excavates the buried stories of black and Asian people going right back to the Roman occupation. Africans were in England then, noblemen and women. The series Black and British: A forgotten History, begins on the 9th of November, two days before Remembrance Day. There is also an accompanying book.

Hitherto, the only substantive book on the black presence in Britain was Staying Power, by the late Peter Fryer, published in 1984. Most Britons have never heard of this enlightening and eloquent book. Fryer, an Englishmen,  once told me that history was the passport to national belonging. He was so, so right.

Children of all backgrounds need to know about slavery, the truths, good and bad, about the empire, migrants who came from the 16th Century onwards, England’s love of the east- the subject of my last book Exotic England. The design of St Pauls, for example, was described by Christopher Wren as ‘Indo-Saracenic’. Queen Elizabeth 1 adored Ottoman style and fashions, invited Istanbul’s oligarchs to London and gave them a good time. That Kohinoor in the queen’s crown was take from Duleep Singh, a boy Prince of Punjab, whose land had been annexed by the British. The child was separated from his mother and vigorously Christianised. Samuel Johnson loved his young black servant, Francis Barber, who was sent to school and left an annuity by his great master. Warren Hastings, the first director general of the East India Company, was shabbily treated by British politicians partly because he went native and fell in love with India and its peoples. He built an Indian manor house, a sanctuary in the Cotswolds. Most Britons have heard of the noble William Wilberforce, but how many know Olaudah Equiano or Ignatius Sancho, freed slaves who inspired the abolitionist movement? Peggy Ashcroft had an affair with the black American singer/actor Paul Robeson and fell a little in love with him. There were three Asian MPs  in our parliament in the late Victorian age, all elected by white people. When Gandhi came to London, the white working classes came out in their thousands to show their love and respect.

Young British Muslims perhaps would not feel so alienated if they knew that that hundreds of upper class Englishmen converted to Islam in the 1800s, that Winston Churchill gave Muslims the land in Regent’s Park so they could build a place of worship in the heart of the city, that the first scientists of the Royal Society learnt deep Arabic so they could read the books written by early Arab intellectuals, that  Muslims helped liberate Jewish people in Europe.

These facts really matter. Those who have whitewashed history are guilty of either terrible deception or terrible ignorance. Britons from elsewhere helped make this country; our roots go deep into the soil. We have inviolable rights. We belong. Brexit makes it more important than ever before to lay down that claim and fight for it.

International Business Times 3/11/15

Anti-Semitism in Britain


I am a Muslim, so that makes me suspect. Also a leftie, so doubly suspect. Add to that the conclusive proof: I have often criticised Israeli policies in newspapers, on radio and TV. This is exactly what an Anti-Semite looks like in our times. The more you deny it, the more you ‘prove’ your accusers are right.  This is worse than McCarthyism, because you are not even interrogated or presented with spurious evidence. ( At this point I start to feel silent terror. Am I allowed to say this? Will I, once again, be labelled anti-Semitic? How do I persuade them I am not?)

But hey, they do say we live in a society where freedom of speech is sacrosanct. Read on. I think it is important and perfectly possible  to discuss the topic without causing offence to this side or that.  The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Board of Deputies, Friends of Israel in Parliament, sundry commentators and activists, and increasingly, politicians of all parties, fear anti-Semitism is on the rise. They are right to be concerned. But some of them now knowingly  shield Israel from opprobrium by averring that all critics of that state are veiled anti-Semites. That is plainly wrong and unfair.

Those who deny anti-Semitism are just as iniquitous. Thousands of British Muslims who claim to support Palestinians are, in truth, deeply anti-Semitic. Palestine gives them a useful alibi, a respectable way to vent their ethnic hatred. The same is true of a vast number of other British citizens from right to left. I recently asked why habitual protestors had not gathered outside the Russian Embassy to damn the inhumane assaults on Syria. ‘What if Israel was doing this?  I asked. That provoked much hot rage and abuse. Overnight I became a ‘Jew lover’.

Last week the cross party home affairs committee, made up of reasonable and honourable MPs, produced a report which stated that anti-Semitism is spreading across the UK and in all the political parties. The committee reproved Corbyn and his supporters most of all. Tim Loughton, the acting chair of the committee said Corbyn was ‘in denial’. A media blizzard followed. Shami Chakrabarti was denounced because in her report on anti-Semitism in the Labour party she did did not savage the leader or his supporters. Soon after she was then given a peerage and front bench job. The campaigner, once so admired for her relentless fight for justice and human rights is today traduced as a corrupt operator. ( I think the timing of the peerage was a hostage to fortune, but Chakrabarti is a woman of integrity. I know that because I know her)

Corbyn should have taken the committee report findings seriously. He failed to do that clearly and cleanly and so the story continues. But again, Corbyn is not Hitler or Idi Amin. Labour colleagues who detest him are using this report to bring him down. Columnists- among them Hugo Rifkind of The Times-  are gunning for him again. None of this is edifying. It’s as if the nation needs a replacement Guy Fawkes to burn. This year, they are metaphorically burning effigies of Jeremy Corbyn.

Seems to me all sides have so muddied the waters that it has become impossible to examine the issue clearly and dispassionately. It’s like stepping into a gaseous swamp, into which you soon sink, unable to see, breathe, or think clearly.

Some things do need to be stated without fear or favour. Israel continues to flout international laws, grabs territory illegally, has nuclear weapon which are not inspected, has turned extreme humiliation and violence into state policy. Radical, ruthless Palestinians are responsible too for the unending dispute. They aggravate, kill and destroy the peace of Israeli citizens. But Israel  is vastly stronger and that is why the world is appalled. That is why so many Jewish activists support the Palestinian cause. They are much ostracised.

Influential writers such as Melanie Phillips, Fredric Raphael, Howard Jacobson have, for a while, been making the case that objections to Israeli policies amount to a ‘new anti-Semitism’. That is exactly the same argument made by those  for whom criticism of bad Muslims is, in essence, an expression of subtle ‘Islamaphobia’.  Staunch Zionists and equally staunch Muslim dogmatists, defenders state and faith,  have more in common than they care to know. They devalue the principles they hold dear. Not good.

But back to the home affairs committee report and Labour’s response. Corbyn  should stop shilly shallying, man up, and confront anti-Semitism in his party. It is there; it’s real; it hurts. Hitherto he has sounded too shifty and floppy. But he must also confront the bullies inside and outside parliament who are using slurs of anti-Semitism to stop Labour party members and other Britons from scrutinising and condemning the Zionist state’s treatment of Palestinians. None of this is easy. But he was elected leader and now he must prove he understand what leadership entails.

International Business Times 19/10/15