Argyll is fortunate with the editors of its local newspapers. One who has stood out over the years as resourceful, committed and wise is Craig Borland of The Buteman, part of the Johnston Press portfolio.
Bute is now known more widely in the United Kingdon as the most memorable of the Scottish destinations for some of the first of the Syrian refugees accepted by the UK from long term residents of camps on the Syrian border – and double checked first for being who they say they are and for not being radicalised jihadis in disguise.
Despite all the First Minister says about Scotland being a tolerant country, the reality – of course – is that Scotland is no more tolerant or intolerant than any other, no less fearful than any other and no less self protective than any other.
The country has, as do most democracies, a healthy sector of middle class liberals who are, at least theoretically, open and inclusive. Also, as do most democracies, Scotland has a hefty enough welter of those who instinctively distrust and dislike ‘difference’, ‘otherness’; and a substantial number who express themselves most articulately in acts of violence.
This is an unhappy time for the first of the Syrian refugees to arrive in Scotland – accepted by the UK from long term residency in refugee camps on the perimeter of Syria and double checked that they are who they say they are and are not jihadists in mufti.
Bute – welcome and hesitancy about hosting refugees
Bute is now more widely known as one of the destinations in Scotland for some of these refugees.
Craig Borland has reported thtt The Buteman has been receiving a handful of local grumbles, that ‘we should be looking after our own first’; and that we should be doing something else with our taxes.
He has made a courageous public statement about this in the national press yesterday, 18th November, saying: ‘..these are just not very thinly veiled ways of people saying ‘I don’t want them in my backyard’.
‘Well, I do.
‘I want Bute to be a place where people who come here with little more than the clothes they standing in can feel safe and at home.
‘I want Bute to be a place known not for narrow-minded bigotry but for its warmth and humanity and willingness to help people who have nothing in whatever way it can.
‘The families coming to Bute [Ed: a single digit number of people] have been through things we can’t begin to imagine. Surely, as human beings, we have a duty to help?’
This statement is a powerful counter to the tendency to demonise, ghettoise and alienate the unknown as much out of fearfulness and self protection as of bigotry.
‘The enemy within’
The provocation of the awful massacres in Paris has seen in Scotland, as elsewhere, violence and intimidation targeted on long standing residents of local Muslim communities and on Muslim businessfolk.
The Mosque is increasingly concerned at these behaviours, reporting that Muslims now feel that they are all seen as ‘the enemy within’.
This is a dreadful way for the vast majority of innocent British Muslims to have to live – but the awkward reality is that there is an ‘enemy within’ and that this enemy is indeed Muslin – and within and well as without the Muslim community itself.
This does not remotely compute to a single Muslim community. never mind every single Muslim resident anywhere in the UK.
The British jihadists who went on commit acts of indescribable and unthinkable primeval violence belonged to British Muslim families, had friends and school mates in the Muslim community and beyond it with people of other races, including British kids.
One of them, the infamous Jihadi John, now eliminated by a targeted drone strike, recently announced that it was his intention to return to Britain ‘and carry on beheading people’.
With immigrant communities living largely separate lives, how can anyone outside them know who is a threat to their survival and who is not?
Self-protectiveness understandably comes alive in these sort of circumstances; and it is easier to keep your distance and treat an entire community as suspicious rather than, lacking the insights and the contact, attempt to identify the dark souls.
Living as the innocent ‘enemy within’
I have some personal understanding of what life must be like today for so many of the innocent Muslim community – since I am Irish.
For years my country’s men and women randomly bombed on the British mainland, often in London, killing and maiming innocents in the name of Irish republicanism – always more nationalist than republican.
These bombings left dead and destruction on buses, in and under buildings from the Arndale Centre in Manchester, the bus on the M62, the pubs in Birmingham, to pubs in Guildford, to Canary Wharf and to the Baltic Exchange in London, to mention a few.
Such atrocities – and more of them – were also, of course, carried out on ‘home soil’ but that seemed at least our own problem. Exporting such destruction of the innocents though, for no reason other than that England – a very different earlier England – had once been the colonial master of the island of Ireland and remained, unwillingly, the political senior of the state of Northern Ireland – was a matter of the most profound guilt by association.
My job as an academic in Northern Ireland – and as an arts critic for broadcast media on the side, saw me fairly often on the UK mainland, often in London. I learned quickly that my accent brought immediate instinctive recoil – as did the occasional Irish coin amongst the sterling currency I had brought for the duration.
I self-edited. I spoke almost not at all. It is perfectly possible, smiling reassuringly all the while, to manage a wide spectrum of transactions wordlessly – and to choose what you do according to what can be managed in this way. Behaving like this was using a form of disguise and made me feel oddly subversive – not in any exciting way but in one which underlined my real status as a suspect outsider.
In this experience I had the huge advantage of not being physically or visually identifiable as ‘different’ or ‘other’. I just had to keep quiet and I could go about my business as I wished, passing without notice or remark.
The innocents in the Muslim community, which is today’s inevitably indiscriminate ‘enemy within’, do not have that immense advantage.
They are racially and visually identifiable. Many women routinely wear the hijab or the burqa. They will be keeping to an absolute minimum the occasions on which they leave their homes. When they do, they will try to remain as invisible and self effacing as possible. And if they are ill-served or even abused, the last thing they can possibly do is to complain or protest. They can only take it and get offside as fast as possible.
This is no way for innocent folk to have to live.
Is there a solution to this?
There is little that can be done about this in the immediate instance – but is there anything that can be done to address the obvious problems of parallel lives in parallel cultures in the future?
Where immigrants come to live here who cannot and do not speak English – as English emigrants to Chiantishire or the Dordogne often do not bother to learn Italian or French – bonds cannot be made with local residents and their cultures, nor can personal connections be made.
The UK Government is considering the tested ability to speak English as a condition of entry to this country. This has something to commend it – but were it to be the deciding factor on entry, the downside would be that terrorists intent on infiltration would be certain to speak the best English.
If the children of current UK residents of all races and children of newly arriving immigrants attend the same schools and study the same curriculum – taught only in English – it will progressively act against the damaging perceptions – from both sides – of ‘otherness’.
We need secular state schools to be statutorily compulsory for all young people to attend.
We need – now – to start cutting state funding for faith schools of all kinds in transition to this.
Will it happen? Unlikely.
The faith lobbyists have a firm grip of politicians of all parties.
However, together, these measures form the only strategy that has a chance of creating a cohesive multi-ethnic citzenry, living in mutually assured survival, in which the genuine ‘enemies within’ would be more accurately identifiable – and, seen as the universal enemies they are – would be identified.
Lynda Henderson, Editor