Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Taking My Country Back

When I was at school studying Hitler's rise to power for GCSE History I remember thinking that thank goodness we had learned from the past. It was a time of hope, the years that followed saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, glasnost, Nelson Mandela's freedom and the end of apartheid in South Africa. With the optimism and arrogance of youth I truly believed that we would never go back to a time where we would allow politicians to create a climate of fear due to differences in skin colour or religion. How naïve I was.
This week saw a major UK politician, Nigel Farage unveil a poster shamefully reminiscent of Nazi propaganda that was clearly designed to stoke fear of outsiders. A poster that showed hundreds of desperate refugees, a picture that should invoke compassion and a horror of what a bitter war is inflicting on its ordinary citizens, was instead used to scare people into believing an invading horde was coming to take over their country.

Spot the difference

 This isn't the only example of course, last year the Daily Mail published a cartoon comparing Muslims to rats, again mimicking Nazi propaganda and there are constant newspaper headlines suggesting migrants and refugees are invading the UK.

Just a small selection of anti-migrant headlines

With such messages becoming rife in the mainstream is it any wonder that we're seeing a rise in far right groups? Of course these groups have always been among us, from Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts through to the National Front and BNP but they are slowly and surely becoming legitimised thanks to the drip feeding of hate from the likes of UKIP, rightwing newspapers, and politicians who would rather appease than oppose these views. When I was growing up the far-right was associated with hooliganism and ordinary people loathed their thuggishness. Now most people know somebody who has liked Britain First's Facebook page or shared one of their posts and it's far from uncommon to hear the refrain, "they have a point."
During this bitter EU referendum we've all seen the comments about taking our country back. Many people will mean back from what they see as EU interference and bureaucracy but it's obvious that others mean something far more sinister. They want the country cleansed, back to what they see as its rightful Anglo whiteness, Eastern Europeans, POC and Muslims sent "back to where they came from." Somehow this has become more acceptable rather than repellent. I will be voting to Remain this week, I cannot and will not support a Leave campaign that instead of building a fair and responsible case against the EU (something that was entirely possible) has instead relied on lies and xenophobia. I will not be complicit in giving hope to far-right extremists and allow them to believe this is their time. I've seen their Facebook pages, I've seen their hatred, not only towards immigrants and POC (particularly but not exclusively Muslims) but also towards those who oppose them. I've seen them accuse people of being traitors, tell women they should be punished by rape, call the LGBT community unnatural perverts and talk longingly of bringing back concentration camps and gas chambers.
I want my country back, the country that stood up to fascism, the country that when it joined what was then the EEC dared to hope, the country that I know can be welcoming, inclusive and a refuge to those in need. A country where we celebrate our differences because they are all a part of what makes our shared humanity. We are better than this. So no, I don't believe everybody who will vote Brexit is racist but I will not let fascism become our friend. As Jo Cox said, "there is more that unites us than divides us." That's the country I want.

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