Friday, 4 November 2016

Why Gina Miller is Putting Refugees in Danger

I noticed the first signs of change on Saturday 9 July 2005 - three days after 7/7, the London bombings. I would spend most Saturday afternoons shopping with friends in Birmingham and it was always loud and busy in the city centre, but that Saturday was different. People were quiet. And it wasn’t just because there had been a tragic event in the news. They were looking suspiciously at each other. And they were angry. Feeling anger in reaction to an act of evil is understandable, but I noticed a shift in how the public shared in this anger. For the first time I noticed that the people in the city centre were openly projecting anger onto certain strangers around them – a threatening ‘other’ who they perceived to be responsible for these evil acts - and those on the receiving end of this anger were clearly feeling the pressure. A friend pointed out that the Islamic preacher who had a stall outside the library every weekend was noticeably absent. On the way home a man moved seats on the bus when a young Muslim girl came to sit by him. We hadn’t quite reached the level of hijab-pulling and name-calling in the street at that point, but there was a tension in the air, a feeling that the status quo was on a hair trigger and it would only take one step out of place to set off hell … 

The next morning I overheard an elderly neighbour of mine ranting at a lady walking her dog about ‘the bloody people coming into this country and threatening our people’ and how she hopes ‘they never let that lot come and live around here’. This was a quiet and gentle lady who I had never seen angry before and the stranger that she was talking to, who seemed very sensible and level-headed, was agreeing with her. Obviously conversations like this have always taken place, but they have done so behind closed doors and not loudly in the middle of the street with a complete stranger. I noticed similar conversations taking place all around me over the coming weeks. The social taboos that restrained people from expressing extreme opinions was breaking down and it was becoming acceptable to openly and publicly demonise anyone considered to be ‘other’. And the more that people participated in these conversations, the more they discovered like-minded people who felt the same way and the more they felt justified in their demonization of these ‘others’.

Just speaking to people in my local area alone, I could sense that there was a growing frustration that no-one was listening, no-one cared and nothing was being done to address their concerns about issues relating to immigration, terrorism and their perceived failings of integration and social diversity. Young girls being raped by newly arrived immigrants. Refugees coming into the country to claim benefits and live in extravagantly large houses. The man sitting next to you on a train could be carrying a bomb designed to blow up your family. You know the usual anecdotes that get rolled out. Some people felt that these worries were being ignored by higher powers, so they needed to take matters into their own hands to ensure that justice was served. And, sure enough, over the following years these conversations escalated into physical actions and eventually violence began to break out...

Then along came the EU referendum to provide a safety valve on this increasingly volatile pressure cooker of a society. Most leavers that I have spoken to didn’t care about the wider implications of the vote. They didn’t care if they lost thousands of pounds in savings or had their travel restricted or even the roofs ripped off their houses. They would have sliced their own nose off their face just to have their voices heard over the perceived patronising roar of the higher classes. And I expect many of these leavers were enamoured with the immigration promises because immigration issues and border controls were touted as quick-fix medicine for a wound that had been festering with security and safety fears for 15 years or more. This was an opportunity for a deal to be made. An opportunity for this swell of anger to be addressed and abated before the demonising conversations and the physical violence escalated beyond all control. 

I’m not a fierce leave or remain voter, but I am worried about what will happen to our finely balanced, hair trigger of a society if the cathartic sticking plaster of Brexit is ripped away, or even perceived to be loosened a little. It is all well and good both sides sniping and taking cheap shots at each other, but I can see the ugly, natural progression of things and we need to sober up and be careful about how we proceed from this point because the consequences could be extremely serious. If the calm appeasement that a Brexit vote brought to some people is thought to be challenged then I am certain that the anger will return, only with greater venom than before. What worries me is that the London-based higher powers are blissfully unaware of the openly demonising conversations that people have with each other and even with complete strangers at a street level now. They don’t see that the social fears and taboos that previously restrained people from acting on their anger have been broken down. They don’t see that, though mediums such as social media, people feel more confident then ever in uniting against a perceived foe. There is a seething anger out there that is becoming increasingly organised and socially acceptable and, if measures are not taken to address and engage with the causes of this anger, it will not be long before these individuals turn to extreme far right organisations, they take matters into their own hands with a renewed aggression and the result will be catastrophically explosive.

This is why I suspect that Gina Miller may have placed all refugees coming into the UK in the greatest danger that they have ever faced.  She is desperately stopping up the pressure cooker once again and she has placed every incoming refugee – and all those who have already settled in the UK - directly in the blast zone. But it is not only newcomers to the UK who will suffer. I fear that as anxiety levels increase and, as witnessed in the public backlash that Saturday afternoon and following most acts of terrorism since, everyone perceived as ‘other’ in our existing communities will eventually become a target. For that reason, I truly hope for Miller’s sake, she does not find herself with blood on her hands.

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