Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Sanela Diana Jenkins, misogyny and anti-Balkan racism

Sanela Diana Jenkins is a highly successful businesswoman and philanthropist, and the founder of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her interviewer for The Observer, Carole Cadwalladr, has this to say about her: ‘She was born Sanela Catic to a humble Bosnian family, but there’s no doubt that Diana Jenkins is a classic romantic heroine: beautiful and bright, resourceful and determined, who rises above her background through sheer grit and force of will, and whose final apotheosis is achieved by a good marriage.’

Diana’s husband Roger Jenkins, one of the richest bankers in Britain, says ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I can do anything now. I surrender to her better judgment on people and business.’ He maintained this opinion of her even after their separation was announced, saying that if they divorced, ‘Will she take half my money? Of course. And quite rightly so. I will happily give it to her.’ In Cadwalladr’s words, ‘although he was well off by most people’s standards, when she met him he wasn’t the insanely rich mega-banker that he’s become.’ According to The Daily Mail, ‘he credited his wife with charming the Qatari royal family into parting with £7.3billion last December. The Middle East investment deal rescued his employer Barclays at the height of the credit crunch.’ Residing in California, she mixes with the highest rank of the global elite, including celebrity friends such as George Clooney, Cindy Crawford and Elton John.

Jenkins is, in short, a self-made woman and success story by anyone’s standards. However, in the eyes of the London circles to which her husband belonged, there were three things wrong with her: 1) she was good-looking; 2) she was blonde; and 3) she was from Bosnia. The Daily Telegraph paraphrased her has saying that ‘society snobs drove me out of London’. In her own words: ‘They treated me like I was an Eastern European mail-order bride. I realised that, unfortunately, with social girls, if you have a big diamond ring they will talk to you, so I wore a diamond ring. Well, actually, when we could afford it, my lovely husband bought me a diamond ring. It hurt him to see how snobbily I was treated.’

A woman who is both young and beautiful and highly successful is likely to provoke a misogynistic reaction in many quarters, including among women (you only need to read the comments of Daily Mail readers or watch the Jeremy Kyle Show to see that men have no monopoly on misogyny). But for a certain type of English person the resentment will be much greater if the woman in question comes from a ‘lowly’ background, and being Bosnian will place her some way below the working classes and below most other white foreigners, without even the guilt over racism than might at least make the resentful ones a little embarrassed if she were black or brown.

I can confirm from personal experience that anti-Balkan racism is, indeed, a relatively acceptable form of prejudice in Britain. I recall one colleague at an institution where I once worked asking me to suggest a guest speaker for a seminar programme, and sneering when I suggested a Croatian name. One young man’s first comment, when I told him at a party that I was working on the history of the Balkans, was that I must clearly have a high tolerance for blood. A Serbian friend of mine recalled to me that when she worked as a waitress, a customer asked her where she came from, and when she said ‘Serbia’, he replied ‘I’ll get my gun out, then.’ A Bosnian friend of mine used to tell people at parties she was from Belgium, to avoid the dampening of the conversation that would frequently result from telling the truth.

It is testimony to the pervasiveness of anti-Balkan racism, in the UK and the wider English-speaking world, that when the American left-wing celebrity Michael Moore gave vent to this prejudice in his international bestseller Stupid White Men, it passed virtually without comment. Moore wrote:

‘This godforsaken corner of the world has been the source of much of our collective misery for the last century. Its residents’ inability to get along – with Serbs fighting Croats fighting Muslims fighting Albanians fighting Kosovars fighting Serbs – can be traced to the following single event: in 1914 a Serb anarchist by the name of Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand. This incident kicked off World War I. Which led to World War II. Over fifty million people died from both wars. I don’t know what it is about these people. I mean, I don’t go around killing Texans. I don’t go burning down whole villages in Florida. I’ve learned to live with it. Why can’t they?’

‘Then Tito died, and all hell broke loose. Croats started killing Serbs. Serbs killed Muslims in Bosnia. Serbs killed Albanians in Kosovo. Then the United States bombed Kosovo, to show them that killing was wrong. In the past few years there has been peace, then war, then peace again, and now war again. It never stops. These people are addicts.’

Moore’s advice to the former Yugoslavia was to ‘Admit that you are powerless over your addiction to violence, and that your lives have become unmanageable.’ Had he described African Americans as having an ‘addiction to violence’, it is difficult to imagine him getting away with it, but for the Balkan peoples, such language is apparently acceptable.

Nor is Moore unique in his prejudice. The New York Times concluded an editorial in 2005 with the opinion that ‘In the Balkans, the default mode is violence.’ Julie Burchill wrote in The Guardian – yes, The Guardian ! – back in 1999, ‘Croatia’s not a country; it’s a bloody division of the German armed forces – scratch a Croat, find a Kraut.’ Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com described the Kosovo Albanians as ‘medieval barbarians’ – of course, Malic is from the Balkans himself, but he was published by an American website.

Many serious scholars have commented intelligently on the pervasiveness of anti-Balkan prejudice, including Maria Todorova and Tom Gallagher. Here, I would just like to add my own brief personal observations.

Anti-Balkan prejudice now means something specific for the former Yugoslav lands. Bulgarians and Romanians may be subject to anti-East-European prejudice in the UK similar to that experienced by Slovaks or Poles. Turks may be subject to anti-Muslim prejudice. I have no personal experience of how these groups fare in the US. But the prejudice directed against former-Yugoslavs is of a kind that transcends the borders of Western nations. It is related to the wars of the 1990s and to the stereotype of violence, primitivism and tribalism that that conflict rejuvenated; former Yugoslavs would not have experienced the same degree of prejudice before the 1990s. It is a prejudice for which journalists bear their share of the blame for repeating and publicising cliches, as do Balkan nationalists themselves for manufacturing negative myths about each other’s peoples – hence, the stereotypes of the Serbs as violent and nationalistic, of the Croats as pro-Nazi and of the Albanians as criminals.

However, the Bosnians in some ways come off the worst, and this is related to the perception of them as weak and pathetic; as being a people without a proper country or functioning state. Their suffering during the war of the 1990s, followed by their defeat in the war (albeit one snatched from the jaws of victory by US diplomacy), followed by the long, continuing and humiliating international supervision of their country, has cemented the stereotype of them as perpetual victims unworthy of respect; in some sense, equivalent to actual homeless people. I suspect that if Jenkins had come from Russia or Ukraine, she might still have been sneered at as a ‘mail-order bride’, but she would not have been despised as a refugee from a virtual country as well.

To end on a positive note: these stereotypes are widespread but they are not universally held. There are plenty of circles in multiethnic London that would not be snobbish about someone on account of their nationality; where someone with a background like Jenkins’s would be the norm rather than the exception. The snobs who drove Jenkins out of London may be representative of part of the London financial elite, but in cultural terms they represent a primitive, ethnically homogenous anachronism in our cosmopolitan city. They are worthy of the same sort of contempt as the average participants on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Primitivism and vulgarity span the class divide.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Britain, London, Marko Attila Hoare, Misogyny, Racism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How London’s police helped to engineer a riot

Yesterday I attended the demonstration in London against the government’s plan to raise university tuition fees to £9,000 a year (a near trebling of the current figure), which took place outside parliament while the measure was being debated and voted on inside. It was a rude awakening for someone who had wrongly assumed that Britain was a country that respected freedom of assembly.

There were in fact two demonstrations; one organised by student activists that began at noon at Malet Street and marched to Parliament Square, and a ‘candlelit vigil’ organised by the National Union of Students and University College Union that began at 3pm nearby on Victoria Embankment, kept separate from the first march with the apparent intention of appearing respectable in the eyes of Daily Mail editorial writers. I was on the first demo, but assumed I’d be able to wander over to the second one at some point.

However, after the demonstration reached Parliament Square, the police blocked off all exits from the square, so people were not able to go in or out. The policemen were all helmeted and armoured, and it felt like the mostly peaceful demonstrators were a priori being treated as troublemakers and confronted. Those who arrived later were not allowed to join, and in practice, the demonstration was broken up into at least two groups. It was freezing cold, and people burned scrap wood and at least one park bench to keep warm. People stood like this for hours; there were no toilets and no possibility of going off to buy food or coffee. At one corner of the square opposite Westminster Abbey, mounted policemen were deployed and a confrontation broke out with some of the demonstrators; I couldn’t see who started it. A couple of people tried unsuccessfully to smash a reinforced window in one of the government buildings on the other side of the square. But the overwhelming majority of the people gathered were peaceful. They were mostly students, but some were actual schoolchildren.

At about 4pm, I thought I’d wander over to the NUS/UCU demo down the road, but this was impossible as the police were not allowing anyone to leave the square. A lot of people wanted to leave by then, and were getting very frustrated about being prevented, and a chant went up, ‘Let us leave !’, which the police ignored. At some time before 5pm, the crowd I was in facing the police at the exit onto Parliament Street became fed up, began to push, and succeeded in pushing its way through the police line. There were large trenches in the road where roadwork was being carried out, and as I was pushed along by the crowd, I briefly thought I might fall in; a policeman helped to pull me and the man in front of me safely past. However, the crowd had simply succeeded in breaking into another kettle, and there was still no possibility of leaving. I had wanted to stay until the parliamentary vote at 5.30pm, but others wanted to leave; a frightened looking girl who looked about eighteen asked me what was happeneing, and whether we would be allowed to leave, but I didn’t know.

I do not know why the police wanted to keep the two groups of demonstrators separate, or why they kept people kettled who wanted to go home, but the strategy seemed almost designed to make the demostrators angry and frustrated. Then, at a certain point, the police for some reason began lining up vans inside the kettle, and some demonstrators stood in front of the vans to prevent them from moving forward. A group of police in riot gear, with shields, confronted the demonstrators at the vans, and fighting broke out. Exactly what the police were trying to achieve by aggressively confronting bottled up demonstrators was completely unclear. Of course, there was a minority of troublemakers among the demonstrators who were out for a fight, but most of us were just trapped and confused about what was happening.

Demonstrators by the vans pelted the police with missiles, then began to hurl metal fences against the riot shields. The police then advanced against the demonstrators on both sides of the kettle, beating them with batons and crushing the crowd together. ‘Where are we supposed to go ?’, one girl shouted. Some of us clambered over the low wall separating the road and the pavement to escape the advancing police and the fighting. I then climbed onto a raised platform at the edge of the pavement, and watched the fighting. The police hit people with batons. Eventually, the fighting subsided and the police allowed people to leave.

At one level, I was grateful it was the UK rather than, say, Italy or Russia, as individual officers showed a lot of discipline and restraint; things would have been a lot worse if individual officers had lashed out indiscriminately on their own initiative, as police in such circumstances have been known to do. But that is a tribute to the ordinary policeman – not the strategy of the police command, which put its own officers in harm’s way.

The police strategy did not serve to protect people or property from violence; on the contrary. Although there was a minority among the demonstrators that was actively seeking violence, the police strategy of keeping people ketted for hours in the cold, and preventing them from going home, appeared guaranteed to ensure that a riot would take place, and that even some demonstrators who hadn’t been out for trouble would be drawn into it. The strategy of not only keeping people kettled, but then inserting a phalanx of armed police into the kettle was sheer lunacy – what did they think would happen ? The moderate, peaceful majority was lumped together with the minority and treated as dangerous deviants, instead of what they were – citizens exercising their democratic right to protest. Those of us who wanted to move to the second demonstration were prevented from doing so – a violation of the right of freedom of assembly.

I attended the great anti-poll-tax demonstration in March 1990 – rioting broke out there too, but on the march itself, the police treated the demonstrators a lot better. I have been on many demonstrations in London, but I’ve never seen anything like this: the police treating peaceful demonstrators as troublemakers, then pursuing a strategy guaranteed to ensure trouble would occur. And one couldn’t help but suspect that by making the experience of demonstrating as unpleasant as possible, the covert intention was to deter people from exercising their right to freedom of protest in the future.

Hat tip for the video: Oliver.

Friday, 10 December 2010 Posted by | Britain, London, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , | 4 Comments

We must defend our Britain and our immigrants from the fascist menace

CableStreetToday is a day of national shame for Britain: the fascist ‘British National Party’ (BNP) has won two seats in the European parliament, and 6.6% of the national vote. Led by the Holocaust-denying Nazi sympathiser Nick Griffin, who won one of the two seats, the BNP is an all-white party that calls for an immediate halt to all immigration to the UK and the repatriation of existing legal immigrants through ‘a system of voluntary resettlement’. It claims to be defending the British nation and the culture and interests of the ‘indigenous population’.

Of couse, the BNP vision of Britain is inrecognisable to any civilised British person. It is a vision of troglodytes and swamp-dwellers who still live fifty years or more in the past and are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of the twenty-first century multiethnic Britain that most of us are at home in and comfortable with. I grew up in London, and went to school in an inner-city comprehensive, where the children spoke 51 different first languages. In my first year at school, as far as I can remember, roughly three-quarters of the children were from partially or wholly non-white or immigrant families. And the proportion only increased. For the most part, the difference between a native and an immigrant in London is blurred or non-existent, and for most of us Londoners, almost everyone we know and love is at least party immigrant in their origins. A foreigner arrives here and, within a year or less, becomes a Londoner. It is the great, constantly changing ethnic mix of London, with new ethnic groups and individuals arriving continuously from all over the world, that makes this such an exciting, dynamic city to live in. An all-white Britain would be an alien world for Londoners, or for the inhabitants of any town or city in the country.

So when the fascists or their fellow-travellers say that immigration is ‘destroying traditional British culture’, they are lying. As a Londoner born and bred, I think I would know if my traditional culture were being destroyed by immigrants. And guess what ? It isn’t. The British culture that I grew up with is a culture that is inseparable from multiethicity, constantly rejuvenated by new waves of immigrants. What a joy it is, to discover the Nigerian community in Peckham, or the South Asian community in Alperton; to hear regularly Russian and Polish in the streets; to eat Somali and Eritrean food ! The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every summer in Notting Hill, the traditional centre of West Indian life in London, where I grew up, and has been running for fifty years. Inspired by the annual carnival in Trinidad and launched in response to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 – themselves incited by an earlier generation of fascists – it is an integral part of London’s cultural life. Without immigration, we would not have it. Ending immigration – were it possible – would prevent the emergence of other such cultural phenomena in the future.

This is not to agree with those ‘politically correct’ types who, in their cultural relativism, embrace a form of self-hating anti-white racism that is not much better than the racism of the BNP. There is not a ‘white culture’, ‘black culture’, ‘Asian culture’. etc.; there is our single, great British culture, in all its glorious, constantly evolving diversity. The cultural synthesis between ‘indigenous’ Britons and immigrants works both ways. It is not just a question of indigenous Britons benefiting culturally from immigration, but also of immigrants benefiting from contact with our great British culture.  Every time a woman from Pakistan or Turkey, for example, takes advantage of British freedom to escape from an unwanted arranged marriage or oppressive and sexist parents and pursue her life as a free individual; every time Tamil, Tibetan or Chechen dissidents demonstrate here against regimes that persecutes their people back home, that is a triumph for Britain and something of which we should be proud. Immigrants are fuel for Britain’s economic and cultural growth; and Britain is a place of personal and political liberation for immigrants from less free societies.

The fascists would like to destroy our London and our Britain, and to substitute for them a London and a Britain based on uniformity; a uniformity based on the most retrograde and primitive elements of our ‘indigenous’ society. Such a Britain would be impossible to create, of couse, and the very attempt would necessarily involve pogroms and bloodshed on a scale never witnessed here before. To destroy London’s Arab Bayswater, Portuguese Golborne Road, Bengali Brick Lane, Soho Chinatown and so on, would be to destroy the whole city; an experiment in totalitarian violence of the kind practised by the Nazis and Communists. Nor would it stop there. Keeping ‘British culture’ uncontaminated by foreign influences would presumably mean keeping the British people hermetically sealed from the rest of the world: no pizzas or curries for us; no American music or films; no French or Italian clothes; no Japanese electronic goods. British culture cannot be separated from global culture, and only the most medieval of barbarians would try to do so.

There are appeasers who say that the mainstream parties should steal the fascists’ thunder by adopting the fascists’ own policies on immigration. If Labour or the Conservatives became more like the BNP, there would be no need for racists to vote BNP ! This is in fact a very good reason why the mainstream parties should never allow the fascists to dictate our immigration polices: it would involved the fascisisation of British mainstream politics. If racists want to vote for a fascist party, they should be allowed to do so. However disgusting it is to think of it, they too are part of our nation. The worst part of our nation should be able to vote for the party that represents their loathsome, primitive worldview. This party may grow or shrink, but it will always remain a minority party. Meanwhile, Labour and the Conservatives will remain uncontaminated by the fascist disease.

But that does not mean that anti-fascists should remain idle, and allow the BNP to grow to the point where it does serious damage to our multiethnic society. The Labour government deserves praise for having pursued a liberal immigration regime, and allowing unprecedented numbers of immigrants to arrive here and contribute to Britain’s economy and society; it deserves praise for putting our economic and cultural interests above any temptation to appeal to the racist vote. But it also deserves criticism for not being more forthright in countering the scaremongering propaganda propounded by the Daily Mail and other tabloid newspapers, which boost their sales by playing upon the fears of ordinary British people. Just as the popular press in recent years manufactured a hysteria about paedophiles, to the point where entirely innocent people were assaulted by thugs or even falsely imprisoned in the belief that they were child-abusers, so it has helped to generate hysteria about mass immigration.

British mainstream politicians and all anti-fascists need to counter the xenophobic lies. They need to stress the contribution that hard-working immigrants make to the British economy, and the economic damage that attempts to restrict immigration would cause. They need to stress the dangers that forcing immigrants underground involves; the slavery and sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people from abroad; the loss in tax revenues from the creation of an illegal economy; the attendant rise in organised crime. For a modern capitalist economy needs to be able to import labour that cannot be provided by domestic sources; there may be native unemployed, but these very often are unwilling to do the jobs that immigrants do. We must challenge the lie that ‘immigration causes racism': the London region, which receives a massively disproportionate share of the nation’s immigration, gave only 4.94% of its votes to the BNP; considerably fewer than the national total of 6.6%, and fewer than most other regions of the country.

So stand up for the new, exciting, diverse, forward-looking Britain against the Britain of decay, decline, uniformity, bigotry and fear. The fascists’ version of  ‘British culture’ is dying. Good. Ours just keeps getting better.

Monday, 8 June 2009 Posted by | BNP, London | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Britain’s mistreatment of immigrants plays into al-Qaeda’s hands

This is a guest post by Nadja Stamselberg

For the past eight months I have taught English as a second language to teenagers coming form Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Iranian Kurdistan. Out of the ten pupils, three were girls and seven were boys. Aged between sixteen and nineteen, all but one were here without their families. Two boys from Afghanistan and a boy from Pakistan are orphans, whilst another three Afghan boys and an Ethiopian girl don’t know where their parents are or whether they are still alive.  Most of them have been trafficked to England. Put on a lorry by a relative who couldn’t afford to look after them, they were sent off to a better future. They survived weeks of inhumane conditions, cramped at the back of airless containers, their limbs numb, their hearts brought to a standstill each time a lorry slowed down or stopped. Some of them even saw their friends and fellow passengers die of exhaustion and dehydration.  Nevertheless, when talking about their perilous journey, their faces light up as if they are remembering a great adventure. Perhaps it is a privilege of youth to gloss over most the horrendous experiences and refer to them with nostalgia, or perhaps a mean of survival. One of the boys often talked about Rome, a city he spent a week in whilst the local mafia negotiated with the traffickers before letting them continue their journey. The city made quite an impression on him. It was the first sight of Europe that he saw. The ancient squares and churches were as beautiful, if not even more so, than the ones in his hometown of Herat in Afghanistan. More importantly he was able to experience a place he read and learnt about in school in Iran. Growing up in a refugee camp outside Tehran, he would often imagine these faraway places, and now he was in one of them.

Once in the United Kingdom they applied for asylum and were housed either with foster families, or were put in shared accommodation with other adolescents from similar backgrounds. Each one was assigned a social worker to help them to adjust to their new life. They were also enrolled at a college where they would study English, basic numeracy and IT. With few exceptions, most of them had never been to school. Growing up in war-torn countries robbed them not only of their childhoods and their parents, but of their education as well. Nevertheless, most of them could read and write in their own languages, with a number of them being multilingual, able to speak several languages and dialects. Literacy, however limited, was courtesy of the madrasas. Religion in fact has been the only stable, positive factor in their lives. It provided them with discipline; purpose and most importantly hope that better times were to come. Many of them battle depression and have anger issues and difficulties coping with their new lives. The Afghan boy, whose trafficking experiences took him on an unwilling yet fascinating journey across Europe, broke down in one of the tutorial classes. Only sixteen at the time, he felt that his life was not worth living. He was alone, his parents were killed by the Taliban upon their return from exile in Iran; an only child, he had no one to lean on. Coming from a Hazara background, most of his family has been killed and displaced. The only living relative, his aunt’s husband who paid for his journey to England, was never heard of again. He would often miss college to go to the Refugee Council. A French lady who worked there became like a surrogate mother for him. He spoke of her with so much tenderness, always mentioning that she said that he was like a son to her. Humane contact and genuine emotions are what these children crave the most.

The ones who have successfully been placed with the foster families often thrive. However, as soon as they turn eighteen they are no longer allowed to stay with the families, nor in the shared accommodation. Upon reaching legal adulthood they, often with as little as fifteen minutes notice, have to move. We had cases where the key worker would call the college and ask for the student to be sent home to move as a cab was coming to his place to pick up his stuff. If they did not make it in time, their things would be packed by the key worker and sent to the new address. They were promised that their relocation to hostels and B&Bs was temporary until they were allocated a more permanent abode. Very often they would spend months living in minimally furnished rooms, sometimes not even having bed sheets. Robberies were regular occurrences, their rooms broken into and their few precious possessions stolen. 

Unfortunately, these are not the only insecurities they face. Their long-term stay and settlement in the United Kingdom is questionable, with their right to remain reconsidered once they turn eighteen. In fact, for the duration of their stay in the United Kingdom they face uncertainty and the possibility of being sent back to their country of origin. Since quite a few countries are now seen as ‘safe enough’, a number of the adolescent asylum seekers will most certainly face deportation.  Having to deal with these issues manifests in different ways. Some of them resolve to self-harm, some get in trouble with the law, others grin and bear it making the most of their lives here. Sadly, they are often expected to transgress. The overworked and jaded social workers tend to have little sympathy for their plights. At a parents’ meeting, I had one student’s social worker refer to him as a ‘little sod’ who keeps getting into trouble with the law.  Upon inquiring further I was told that he was booked for dodging the bus fare and for sitting in the driver’s seat of a car without having a licence. Furthermore, their life stories are not believed. The Home Office regards most of their asylum applications as fabrications designed to fool the British system. Their dates of births are also often dismissed as fakes and many are given new ones, the most popular being 1st of January.

At the same parent’s meeting, another social worker told me that I should be careful with believing everything the students tell me as they come form a culture, in this particular case form South Asia, where it is a norm to tell people what they want to hear instead of the truth. He was trying to show understanding for my naiveté, but stressed that I will soon realise myself that this student’s story was questionable, constructed for the benefit of staying in this country. The story that his parents were killed by his uncle in a dispute over land was questionable. His subsequent crime of beating the same uncle to death by a wooden stick whilst sleeping could not be confirmed and the account of both him and his brother spending two years moving from one place to the other all over Pakistan running from relatives was unsubstantiated. Furthermore, he was illegally in this country for two years before applying for asylum. Having turned eighteen, the Home Office is due to reconsider his case. Aware of this, he was filled with terror by the prospect of being sent back to Pakistan. Ever since he was twelve years old he has been on the run. He had a deep hatred and fear of the country where he found no protection from the law and saw no justice served. He was so grateful to be able, for the first time in his life, to go to school and have some semblance of a normal life, and was looking forward to making his life here.

My initial reaction when he told me that if he gets sent back home he will join al Qaeda was to dismiss it as another provocative remark. Looking for a reaction, some of the students would talk about al Qaeda, Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, boasting about their support for their cause and playing up to the stereotypes imposed on them by society. However, I was soon to realise that his statement was not a childish attempt at attention seeking, but an option he was seriously considering. His motifs were neither a religious fervour nor a dislike of the West and its values. On the contrary, they were a frantic plea for some structure, direction and security, whatever that might be. Feeling let down by his own family, country and eventually by the United Kingdom, which had supposed to provide him with a safe haven and another shot at the normal life and education he so desperately craved, he would be a perfect target for recruiting. Preying at disillusioned youth with no jobs and no hope, al Qaeda offers to fill the vacuum left by poverty, lack of education and displaced and destroyed family units. Youth, inexperience and feelings of hopelessness make al Qaeda’s newfound followers susceptible to all sorts of anti-Western sentiments disguised as ‘anti-imperialist’ ones.

Back in the United Kingdom, Islamophobia (systematically promoted by some sections of the political elite and the media); poor treatment of the immigrants; and attempts to manage community diversity to suit certain economic interests best, all deepen divisions within the popular classes, creating more resentment toward the young asylum seekers. Consequently, some of the students are faced with bigoted comments and insults. Many of them also complain about their treatment by the Home Office officials. All of this in turn provides a valuable service to reactionary political Islam, giving credibility to its anti-Western discourse. This makes it possible to lure and draft the deported asylum seekers. Despite everything, most of them love living in the United Kingdom and are very grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it offers. Casualties of the wars we waged on their behalf, our broken promises and their own societies’ inability to provide them with protection and a future, these vulnerable young people need our help.  Instead of treating them as parasites on our economy and a threat to our society and values, the Home Office should recognise these young persons’ strengths and potential. Giving them an opportunity; a much-deserved chance to rebuild their shattered lives; we will not only gain valuable members of our society, who will enrich and contribute to it, but also deprive various terrorist organisations both of their mission and of many of their potential followers.

Nadja Stamselberg has recently finished a PhD in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She wrote her thesis on practices of exclusion and European identity. She is currently working on a book, which traces the historical precursors of exclusion in Europe, connecting it to the subsequent concepts of hospitality and cosmopolitanism.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Immigration, India, Iran, Islam, Kurds, London, Middle East, Pakistan, Racism | 1 Comment

Why I’m voting for Paddick – with a transfer to Livingstone

Gherkin2Like a lot of people of my broad political persuasion, I’ve been finding it very difficult to decide how to vote in tomorrow’s election for London’s mayor. Despite the importance of the post, the choice boils down to what one considers the least evil.

I’m a Labour supporter, and would vote Labour without a second thought if we had a regular Labour candidate. However, I’d prefer London’s mayor to be a Tory rather than a genuine extremist of right or left; I’d vote Tory if it were the only way to keep out the BNP or Lindsey German and the Left List.

Ken Livingstone is half-way between the Labour mainstream and left-wing extremism. He was resolute in supporting NATO over the liberation of Kosova and in condemning the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London (though his condemnation was shamefully marred by his description of the bombing victims as ‘working class’ – as if middle-class victims were less worthy). He has some real achievements as mayor to his credit, above all running an efficient bus service, something that I, who grew up in the 1980s and remember the horrors of the London bus service under the Tories at the time, greatly appreciate.

Yet while I do not hate Livingstone, I do consider him unelectable in principle. His endorsement of various fascist and extremist political elements, from Yusuf al-Qaradawi to George Galloway, Kate Hudson and the so-called Stop the War Coalition, and his collaboration with unsavoury anti-Western leaders abroad such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, make him unacceptable. How can we have a mayor for our capital city who has a working relationship with the enemies of our country and of Western civilisation ? Lest anyone think I’m simply being sectarian here: we’re talking about people who support the fascists in Iraq who are not only murdering innocent civilians, but killing our soldiers as well. What a disgrace. I’d rather have Boris Johnson as Prime Minister than Livingstone.

Additional minuses for Livingstone are his philistine disregard for London’s heritage and opposition to Heathrow expansion – things that I, as a born and bred Londoner and a frequent flyer (though probably not as frequent a flyer as Ken himself) deeply resent.

Having said all that, Livingstone has one great advantage over Johnson: he is a passing phenomenon. He will serve one more term and can then make way for a more palatable Labour candidate. By contrast, a win for Johnson could be the thin end of the wedge, leading to a Tory-controlled London for an unknowable length of time, and perhaps paving the way for a Tory victory at the next general election.

So I’ll cast my protest vote for Brian Paddick, with a transfer to Livingstone. I should add that I dislike the Liberal Democrats as an essentially irrelevant party and the ignominious recipient of the anti-Blair Guardianista protest vote at the last general election. But Paddick seems a decent enough chap.

I’m sorry if none of this sounds very idealistic, but such is the choice that we in London face tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll be given a better choice next time around.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008 Posted by | London, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left, Transport | Leave a comment

How to rescue Trafalgar Square

Walking through Trafalgar Square recently, I was pleased to note that the incongruous statue of a naked pregnant woman with no arms had been removed from the ‘fourth plinth’, but disappointed to see that it had been replaced by something still more out of harmony with the aesthetics of the square: a multi-coloured glass sculpture (pictured above). For those who do not know, Trafalgar Square, in the very heart of London, has a plinth in each of its four corners, three of which have long been occupied by statues of King George IV and two nineteenth-century British generals, Sir Charles James Napier and Sir Henry Havelock, while the fourth was empty until 1999. Since that year, the fourth plinth has been occupied by a succession of sculptures by contemporary artists. Lacking the vision and the courage to choose a suitably worthy figure for a statue on the fourth plinth, the London authorities have simply turned it into the site for displaying pretentious artwork that rightfully belongs in the Tate Modern or on the South Bank, and that destroys the visual balance of our capital’s central square.

The best that can be said for this arrangement is that it prevents the fourth plinth from being permanently blighted by whatever monstrosity the Powers that Be would probably select for it. London Mayor Ken Livingstone is on record as having suggested the removal of the statues of Napier and Havelock as well, on the grounds that ‘I think that the people on the plinths in the main square in our capital city should be identifiable to the generality of the population. I have not a clue who two of the generals there are or what they did.’ Such a mentality really is beyond parody – one could joke that Livingstone would probably like to tear down Lord Nelson (‘Nelson who ?’) and replace him with the statue of an EastEnders star, a Big Brother contestant or a large-breasted ‘celebrity’ like Jordan or Abi Titmuss, but it would not quite do justice to the sort of wilfully destructive philistinism that his statement reflects, reminiscent of Chairman Mao’s assault on China’s architectural heritage in the Cultural Revolution.

Livingstone has, indeed, emulated Mao’s genocide of China’s sparrows with his own campaign to rid Trafalgar Square of the pigeons for which it was famous. Another of his innovations has been the scrapping of the traditional ‘Routemaster’ double-decker bus and the introduction of the widely despised ‘bendy buses’. The excuse that the Routemaster was unsafe for passengers and unsuitable for disabled people was never very convincing – Livingstone’s rival mayoral candidate Boris Johnson is apparently backing the introduction of a safer and disabled-friendly version of the Routemaster, an idea that appears obvious. But it is not just politicians of the Left who have shown themselves ready to destroy London’s heritage: the Conservative era saw the replacement of most of our red telephone-boxes with a hotchpotch of different but equally characterless phone-booths that, as I understand, are the consequence of the privatisation and breaking up of our telephone network.

The problem is not modernity or newness. London’s two most iconic landmarks are probably Big Ben and Tower Bridge, which are both relatively recent additions to the capital, dating only from the second half of the nineteenth century – the same period that gave us the statues of Havelock and Napier in Trafalgar Square and, indeed, Paris’s Eiffel Tower. A thoroughly modern yet beautiful building like the City of London’s ‘Gherkin’ can rapidly and rightfully become a treasured landmark. The problem is small-mindedness and philistinism. The most depressing aspect of the whole Millennium Dome fiasco was that such a unique and spectacular building should have been built with only a limited lifespan – the Victorians built great buildings that continue to define London today, while our contemporary politicians do not seem to think in such grand terms.

The danger of erecting a permanent statue on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth is that it might prove the occasion for an act of architectural vandalism. One of the oldest colleges in Britain’s second-greatest university – Oxford’s Balliol – has been architecturally ruined by the addition of modern extensions that jar with the older architecture. In Cambridge, one of my personal favourite pieces of the university’s architecture, Pembroke College Library, built in the 1870s, has been ruined by the addition of a modern extension, as shown in the image below:

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth needs a statue that will merge both visually and thematically with the existing statues and with the square as a whole. Given the patriotic and military theme of the square, and the fact that two eminent generals occupy two of the other plinths, I would suggest a distinguished British military commander of our own age. One possibility might be Major General Sir John Jeremy Moore, who died last year at the age of 79 and was described by the Guardian’s obituary as having been ‘the most famous military commander in Britain’ and by the Daily Telegraph’s as ‘a household name in Britain, most of the English-speaking world, and in Argentina’. The choice of Moore might therefore satisfy even Mayor Livingstone. Moore commanded the British land forces in the Falklands War and received the Argentine surrender. This was, of course, a decisive factor in the overthrow of the military dictatorship in Argentina and the restoration of democracy.

The Falklands victory is often viewed by liberals and leftists, in their all-too-typically self-centred manner, simply in terms of its supposed role in keeping Margaret Thatcher in power (‘Stuff the Falkland Islanders – all that matters is that Maggie loses’). Even though the Labour leadership itself supported the military campaign to liberate the islands. Even though it is a myth that Thatcher won her second election victory because of the ‘Falklands Factor’ – the Conservative vote actually declined in the post-Falklands 1983 general election in relation to the previous general election in 1979. The Conservative victory in 1983 had much more to do with other factors, above all the weakness and unpopularity of Labour and the split in its ranks that gave birth to the Social Democratic Party. It is a disgrace that even a genuinely defensive war against a fascist aggressor, waged cleanly and with minimal civilian casualties, should be condemned purely on sectarian domestic political grounds. Erecting a statue of Major General Moore on the fourth plinth, quite apart from honouring a distinguished British soldier and visually rescuing Trafalgar Square from its current aesthetic martyrdom, might help to give the Falklands campaign the profile it deserves.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008 Posted by | Falklands, London, The Left, Transport | Leave a comment

   

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