I’m worried. That in itself isn’t new, worrying is the favourite pastime of us woolly liberals. In fact, worrying is precisely the reason that I haven’t eaten anything Nestlé in years, or why I have never had a cup of coffee from Starbucks in my life.
But this is different. Overt racism, currently in vogue in its Islamophobic manifestation, is suddenly thriving in the United Kingdom [and The West at large] and it really worries me. Worse than that, I would argue that liberals are giving these formerly extremist views an almost free passage into middle ground politics. When fear mongering about Muslims ‘conquering Europe’s cities, street by street’ is not only accepted but praised and commentators are confident to make statements like ‘The Serbs figured [it] out... if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull’em’, I worry that we have a serious problem on our hands. A problem compounded by a self-imposed liberal myopia that refuses to accept the prevalence of racism in our society.
No matter where you stand on the issue, it would be hard to deny that racists and racism are apparent through all levels of society right now. They are in the papers that we read, they are representing some of us in office, they are gaining a legitimate foothold in the national discourse. Heck, they are so confident that they’re taking to streets, in numbers.
And Islam seems to be taking the brunt of this xenophobic wave that’s washed up on our shores. For instance, the English Defence League (EDL) is slowly but surely becoming more confident in its actions, and its arguments are more honed to deliver a message through which Muslims are invariably cast as the proverbial boogie men. And what’s even more surprising is that whilst hundreds of EDL protesters marched through the streets, throwing Nazi salutes and racist chants, most of my friends [well educated folk and mostly woolly liberals like me] are unaware of the EDL's existence, let alone their actions. You could argue that the EDL by themselves aren't actually the main problem, the main problem is that the EDL are just the tip of the iceberg you see. Wherever they go, the ugly face of racism appears. They’ll be marching through the streets of Manchester later this week and the signs of yet another wave of racial attacks have begun propping up everywhere. Just last Friday, over 25 Muslim graves were desecrated in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester, an item of news that didn’t even get a couple of lines in any national newspaper. It worries me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we’re experiencing the dark days of fascism all over again but no matter how many times we joke about the way they look, how many times we dismiss their views as marginal, how many photoshopped pictures of their leaders sporting toothbrush moustaches we release on the blogOsphere, no matter how inconsequential we feel it is that some of them gained public office, dismissing it as nothing more than a ‘fluke’ or a ‘wake up call for the mainstream parties’. No matter any of these things, the racists are moving further and further towards the centre and they’ll openly be on our televisions soon. And soon we’ll have to hand over a large wad of taxpayers money to these elected members in public office for their campaigns. No, I’m not suggesting we’re experiencing the worst of fascist racism but it worries me how easy it has been for them.
And what worries me even more is how much of the responsibility for this sad state of affairs – where a person of Nick Griffith’s calibre is one of our faces in Europe and a legitimate political option in the United Kingdom – lies in the heart of the mainstream left. Many would argue that racism has always been there and that closet Mosleyians are just feeling more confident in expressing their views, making this fresh wave of overt racism a bi-product of complex social circumstances. But none of these arguments gets us off the hook. We cannot dismiss the intellectual bankruptcy in leftist flanks that has allowed this situation to arise.
Whereas previously the Griffiths, Caldwells and Manchester rioters of this world would’ve been met by a strong, committed left; confident in its own values, arguments and merits. Whereas before we could have seen off the challenge of a racist party in electoral contest, now, we have to sit and stare. Now, the only heated arguments we feel confident to hold are with other lefties about the tactical merits of ‘going green’. We’ve lost our intellectual backbone, if you ask me. Where are our EP Thompsons and our Battles of Lewisham? Even that vanguard of left-of-centre journalism The Guardian can sometimes get muddled up in the dark waters of centrist appeasing. You can go and blame Tony Blair for that. I blame all of us.
When faced with these great political challenges of the 21st Century, we’ve resorted to navel gazing. When faced with one of the greatest racist uprisings in our country in the last 50 years, we have resorted to the intellectual equivalent of ringing doorbells and running away. We are far too ready to shout ‘racist’ but not that willing to stand our ground and defend our point. This cerebral anaemia is not only unacceptable but it’s also untenable in modern society.
We need to be ready and willing to challenge racism wherever we may find it, whatever shape it takes. Dismissing someone’s fears over foreign appropriation of jobs or the country being ‘overrun’ by over-breeding, benefit-claiming asylum seekers as simply racist without instead providing a reasoned and sensible challenge to these views, is not only unhelpful but worse, it helps recruit supporters for those who are trying to stir up feelings of victimisation for the "indigenous population". Regardless of whether they are backed up by fact or reality, the concerns of the British working class people who are now turning their backs on the Labour party and are instead joining ranks with the likes of the EDL are genuine concerns that cannot, and should not be dismissed with a cry of racism. Our reluctance to face these issues head on has paved the way for a malignant racist minority in our society to successfully foster a culture of misinformation, rife with stereotypes and prejudice. It’s our duty to challenge them rather than dismiss them. Crying ‘racist’ only plays into the hands of the wolf.
This brings me back to my original point. Muslims are the main target of that part of our society where prejudice and xenophobia breed and prosper. And although I truly believe that the open hostility towards this important part of our society is purely symptomatic of a deeper, more dangerous and, suddenly, more confident and vocal racist streak embedded in the very fabric of western culture, I worry about the immediate consequences this may have, especially if the Left doesn’t come out of the wilderness with a revived sense of purpose and, more importantly, a stronger intellectual backbone. Until then, I worry about what might happen. But I guess I’d say that because I’m a woolly liberal, right?
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