The Sound & the Fury

In the last fifteen years, the threat of Islamic Terrorism has loomed across the globe, an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object, an all-encompassing shadow of unadulterated evil. Once again, the West looked on in horror as cataclysmic events unfolded at home and abroad. World leaders sipped figurative glasses of brandy in figuratively darkened rooms, plotting their counter-strike. But as they let slip the dogs of war, the proletariat ranks found a voice, swelled into something truly formidable and crushed any hopes of a patriotic assault on the strongholds of tyranny. Evidently, this was going to be a very different sort of conflict.

From the ashes of the old order, extremist groups on both sides of the frontier rose to a position of newfound prominence. To the chagrin of anyone with an iota of commonsense, the BNP became the foremost standard-bearer for white nationalism in Britain. The ranks began to swell, slowly but surely. Illuminated by faint candlelight in a corner of the aforementioned chamber, Nick Griffin’s expression of consummate superiority left a marked impression on the assembled company, aided in no small part by a certain, familiar adage: “we were right all along!”

Eventually, the prospect of a place on a flagship BBC programme beckoned, and that self-righteous figurehead of intolerance and hatred grasped it with both hands. But he received a taste of his own medicine, and wasn’t very happy when the press came knocking: damning accusations had been directed towards the defenceless leader, forming a tapestry of intense interrogation which spanned an entire hour.

Soon, the BNP crumbled into the depths of political insignificance. Griffin’s now out, expelled in a cloud of ‘financial mismanagement’ for which the modern party has also become famed. Now budgets are measured in the pennies retrieved from the bowels of cut-price sofas. But the acceleration of this tragic fall was just one of the outcomes which emanated from the Question Time controversy. Discussions over the apparent gulf between the competing freedoms of speech and religion also swept British media outlets, exemplified by a backdrop of extremism and hostility. Earlier this year, a deplorable raid on the headquarters of left-wing satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo breathed new life into the debates of 2009, and, once again, the BBC found itself at the very epicentre.

Right-leaning historian David Starkey emerged as an ardent supporter of emancipated expression and defender of the controversial French publication. With clarity and flair, he argued that any lines in the sand “should be drawn as narrowly as possible,” using the example of holocaust denial to justify his view: watertight assertions might sway the ignorant or deluded, but concrete laws will just add fuel to the fire. So perhaps Griffin’s humiliating television appearance as the previous decade drew to a close wasn’t the greatest of noble stampedes after all.

It’s impossible sway the deeply prejudiced panellists or audience members of a Question Time studio within the space of an hour; even if you fling a few irrefutable arguments in their direction and make them look a bit stupid, it’ll all fall on deaf ears in the end. But a few allegations of corruption and fraud will send them scrambling for the lowest bidder.

I’m not suggesting we should have the BNP back on primetime television in the foreseeable future: that’s meant to be a timeslot for the prominent, the influential, the high-flyers. But if the grubby little scoundrels rise to that level again, have them back on, by all means, and don’t even skew the debate against them. No, give them a fighting chance and see them fail on national television.

So let’s steer clear of racism for a change: it’s a charge which won’t get us anywhere. I’d even advise avoiding those golden allegations of corruption and fraud. Instead, let’s do something completely out of the blue and focus on concrete policy instead. Watch them flounder when the Tories take them to task over nationalising the railways, for example.

“You support public ownership? Don’t you realise that would be a massive expenditure for the great British taxpayer, how insignificant the reward would be? Oh, so something more gradual, then. Yes, these are tough times. Line by line? What, like the Labour Party? So you’re crawling into bed with your accursed foe, then, the proponents of mass immigration and the multicultural experiment?”

That’s rather a poor line of reasoning, I know. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure it would do the job. And now that the attack on Charlie Hebdo has happened all over again, now that Paris has become the keystone of terrorism in the Western World, now that a new threat has revealed itself, it’s a strategy more relevant than ever.

Why Ask Why?

To wade through discussions concerning the recent crisis on Europe’s borders appears somewhat futile at the moment, as any symposium ends in a quagmire of terminology, cross-questioning and accusations of media bias. A beautiful sense of inevitability pervades each and every debate, from the sublimely eloquent to the ridiculously short-sighted, hence my willingness to clear up any issues of this kind before the next few paragraphs present themselves further down the page. Unfortunately, this simple piece of clarification takes an entire article to justify and explore.

Displaced from their war-torn home and fleeing the land of their Fathers, fatigued Syrians who cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of a new life are, unquestionably, refugees. Their bravery should be commended, their needs met, their treatment free from the shackles of bureaucracy and intolerance. Conversely, when this flock pitches tents at Calais and embarks on nightly raids to thwart our borders and enter Britain illegally, reclassification becomes necessary. Across the English Channel, a tidal wave of migrants pushed security to breaking point by means of criminal damage and a callous disregard for the nation state, threatening the prospect of asylum in the prosperous continent which encompassed it. The determination to travel from developed country to developed country, and the contrast between these environments and those of desolate African cities, fuels this change of language.

However, such assertions must be handled with great care, and there’s another basic question which the media never quite got to the root of: why here? More specifically, why did the prospect of life in France appear so awful that a score of prospective immigrants risked limb and liberty through the Channel Tunnel? Perhaps the British should turn their backs on this curious demonstration of resolve, wave the Union Flag and utter pride in their status as prominent standard-bearers. But exactly why migrants would express such a firm desire to find themselves in one particular first-world democracy rather than the somewhat more geographically convenient options of Continental Europe still isn’t very clear. Blissful ignorance is hardly the way forward.

It would seem there’s a wide range of reasons. The questionable legacy of the Empire and our more recent military actions must feature somewhere among them, a burden that must be shouldered forevermore. It’s also conceivable that Britain’s pitiful intake of asylum-seekers was badly misjudged: five-million human beings need a new place to call home, but the Essential Relationship binding Cameron and Obama appears to have paid attention to only a tiny fraction of these desperate pleas. And while they talk the talk of international cooperation, a widespread, comprehensive strategy seems as distant as ever.

Nevertheless, the two most significant motives which spring to mind ring a little too true of the Daily Mail for comfort: “the evils of excessive benefits and the dangers of health tourism brought on by the NHS,” as that tabloid might well put it. Within these foremost aspects of state Socialism, it may be possible to decipher part of the solution to the elusive conundrum with which politicians and journalists alike have been faced. It’s true that British welfare claimants receive two to three times what their European counterparts would, and that a publically funded healthcare system opens loopholes for shady misuse. But they’re also terrific institutions to be proud of, and certainly don’t provide the whole picture. Nothing does.

The significance of asking “why” must never be underestimated, nor the power of questioning all that we see or hear. It’s also a principle which appears to be lacking in the age of spoon-fed opinion and received wisdom, and one which we must recapitulate to gain a lucid perspective of life, the universe and everything.

I found myself seated in the stalls of the Barbican a few days ago as one Benedict Cumberbatch immersed himself in the trials and tribulations of Hamlet. The emotive brilliance of his portrayal was matched only by an unexpected plea for solidarity and compassion in Europe which closed the matinee: this inspired me to pen the article above. While in London, I was informed that the new transport campaign which was set to feature in last week’s article was facing teething problems, and I’d have to delay publication. That’s why it all went silent for a while, but I don’t intend to make it a habit in any sense of the word! NK