Framing the rejection of Trump’s Muslim ban in mere nationalistic terms is a sad indictment of the bankruptcy of our political elites, argues TOM MUNDAY
OUTRAGE at US President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” came thick and fast almost as soon as it was announced.
Images of scores of protesters blockading airports, human-rights lawyers sat cross-legged on terminal floors working pro bono against deportations and Muslims and non-Muslims linking arms and standing in solidarity and common humanity.
It was stirring stuff to be sure; a much-needed reminder that perhaps people aren’t as abjectly terrible as they sometimes seem.
The assembled punditry was likewise up in arms. The general consensus — even among would-be sympathisers — being that this was, at best, a sledgehammer being taken to a nut, clumsily handled in the extreme and crassly implemented.
Besides anything else, the lack of clarity had evidently sent those agencies tasked with implementing the ban into a state of meltdown, some appeared willing to risk their livelihoods in the defence of common decency, while other desk-bound Mussolinis actively leapt at the opportunity to finally exercise the full powers invested in them by petty officialdom.
In particular, the status of dual-nationality citizens from outside of the seven affected countries became a major topic of debate.
What, they questioned, would become of high-profile, foreign-born, British Muslims? Somali-born national treasure Mo Farah was given particular prominence in such discussions, as was Iraqi-born Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who rather awkwardly has two sons enrolled at Princeton University.
How dare our “special relationship” allies treat high-ranking members of the British cultural firmament with such contempt?
It was a relief then when Boris Johnson brought word from the US embassy that, mercy of mercies, British nationals would be exempt from the ban.
Even before anyone could actually get a hold of the embassy itself to confirm the news, (which, it turns out, was false) the talking heads of the British Establishment and media were out in force, prostrating themselves before the magnanimity and benevolence of our wise overlords.
Thank God, mewled Tim Farron, that “the president has acknowledged that a Brit is a Brit no matter their background...”
Yes, Tim. Excellent news indeed that a sociopathic tyrant had deigned to recognise the barest minimum that should be expected of a functional human. It didn’t matter that the news was completely bogus of course.
Here was the line in the sand: yes, be awful to their Muslims — the bad Muslims — but don’t you dare slight our good, our famous Muslims. All hail Theresa May, the people’s unelected technocrat, long may she reign.
In general, there has been a serious problem with the response to Trump so far from large sections of our political class.
Yes, self-evidently, he’s a terrible person, not to mention hopelessly incompetent. But to state these facts baldly is to see the “what” and utterly miss the “why.”
In fact, we don’t even really get that “why” from looking at Trump.
The Trump phenomenon is far too obtuse to really reveal much subtlety. Where we do get it is precisely in the kind of craven responses against Trump that emanate from those in positions of power.
The framing, used by our political class, quietly recognises the validity of Trump’s proposal, that their objections to the ban can be quantifiably measured against the degree to which the ban affects us “Brits” — the implication being that if the ban affects “us” less, we should be less bothered by it.
The problem will be instantly recognisable to anyone who identifies with another “us,” other than “Brit.”
The terminology sets up the only category worthy of attention as fundamentally nationalistic in nature: “Brits are Brits” first and foremost — nothing else matters!
The sense that the ban is wrong in and of itself is utterly lost among the cod-patriotic verbiage.
This proves beyond doubt that the groundwork for Trump was laid well in advance that we cannot even oppose it without talking about it in complimentary terms.
It’s a sad indictment of political bankruptcy and a paucity of ideas that pass for high principle these days.
So long have our politicians been suckling at the teat of immigrant-bashing, they appear to have entirely forgotten what it was like to not blame all worldly woes on a funny-sounding “other.”
Even when they try to defend them, they cannot but stumble into a wholesale erasure of cultural difference and with it reduce Iraqis, Syrians, Iranians, Somalis, Libyans, Sudanese and Yemenis into indeterminate and unimportant collateral.
The reason for this is simple. Immigration, Muslim or otherwise, is not an issue that much bothers Farron and co, outside of checking poll ratings.
Those Ukip-ish complaints you hear trotted out time and again — changing neighbourhoods, cultural clashes, unfamiliar languages on the bus, etc — refer to entirely abstract phenomenons as far as they are concerned.
They never feel the existential need to take a stand.
When the drunk in the local starts mouthing off about “Muslamics,” they see a voter with “legitimate concerns” who must be appeased. They don’t see a threat to their bodily well-being.
Instead they feign interest, simulated outrage, all the time calculating how it should intermesh will the hot button issues of the day.
The net result is an utterly hollow politics, one that never attempts to challenge (or, dare I say it, “lead”) people and instead confirms their every worst gut-bias.
This vicious cycle, in turn, is what ends up in Trump: constantly confirming to people that they were right to suspect their foreign-looking neighbours; that those neighbours’ identities are unimportant next to the all-encompassing monolith of “Britishness.”
That constant, unreflected upon repetition of deeply ideologically-loaded concept creates fertile ground for demagogic monsters, no less than the constant repetition from supposedly left/liberal voices that we need to “start talking about immigration.”
Once again this comes back to an issue of experience and performed concern. To many of those in power, “Britishness” simply isn’t the loaded term it is to those of us lower down the pecking order.
It’s a uncomplicated thing that can be bandied about with no material consequence, a useful rhetorical flourish.
Likewise we can “discuss” immigration over and over again to our hearts’ content. The performance is harmless. This is what you see in that response — “a Brit is a Brit” — deployed as though those were completely innocent terms.
And who is a Brit? Oh, it’s Mo Farah — all he had to do was earn four Olympic golds for that privilege. Oh, it’s Nadhim Zahawi — all he had to do was attend a series of exclusive academic institutions and be a multimillionaire and high-ranking government official. These people became “Brits” by virtue of extraordinary circumstance. Clearly if you want membership and protection of our little club you better be seen to be earning it.
The Farrons of the world operate with the glib deafness to human commonality as people secure in the knowledge that their “Britishness” would never be questioned.
It’s not good enough and it never should be. Trump may be the one waiting to push us over but it was these care-free jokers who merrily brought us to the precipice.
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