The Fugees and Hashtag Democracy
Dan Hodges @DPJHodges (sort of righty-lefty, self-described ‘tribal neo-Blairite’ – think of a sort of less unpleasant but literate John McTernan) tweets: “The idea that if you’re a politician you have to put a refugee in your spare bedroom to show your care about refugees is bonkers.” It’s a beautiful tweet because it captures Missing the Whole Fucking Point in one lovely 140 character capsule.
It’s supposed to be a slightly cynical wry metropolitan put-down which is Hodges schtick. Instead it just exposes how far behind the curve the commentariat (and some politicians) really are. Only a few short days ago the entire public story about borders, immigration, refugees and asylum seekers was being driven and shaped by an unholy alliance of the Conservatives, UKIP and (crucially) their friends and funders in the tabloid press. The amount of Syrian refugees being allowed in could be held on a single train carriage, now they are being talked in the tens of thousands. Now, in a hilarious about turn, these people are having to make policy and media backflips in response to a wave of public opinion that’s stopped their message of hate in its tracks. As Cat Boyd points out in The National:
“Is it any wonder that good people forget our common humanity and our history when every single day, media coverage dehumanises people with nature-like metaphors: flocks, contagions, or even “cockroaches” for Sun columnist Katie Hopkins.”
“We’re told time and time again that resources are “scarce”, that Britain is “full” and that there simply isn’t enough to go around. The truth is that there is more than enough to go around – there’s just a lack of political will to redistribute wealth and power. The scapegoating of refugees, asylum seekers or migrants is an irresponsible and disgraceful lie.However, in the last fortnight something truly exceptional has occurred. The relentless wheel of hatred ground to a halt and started, slowly at first but then at a pace, to turn in the other direction. David Cameron has been forced to climb down from his “tough talk” and to accept a measure (just a measure, mind) of humanity in refugee policy. In the latest announcement, the Prime Minister said Britain would take 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. Small beans, in truth, but far from “the good old British common sense” of earlier weeks.
Let’s be clear: with honourable exceptions like this newspaper, the traditional media has had almost nothing to do with this transformation in public mood. The usual suspects served up the usual tripe. But increasingly, citizen journalism spurred by non-traditional media forms allows us to mock and condemn the previously-inevitable rule of compulsory bigotry. Online petitions, including one proposal to swap Katie Hopkins’ massive head for 50,000 Syrian refugees, have gone viral. Thousands have become involved in organising support through churches, trade unions and social media networks.”
This is a massive psychological victory. Seeing Germans applaud and hand out food and soft toys to arriving refugees is a landmark moment. Seeing Cameron on the back foot whilst Farage is (presumably) foaming at the mouth in the snug of some bar in Billericay, for once ignored by the media as they desperately play catch-up is also a moment worth savouring.
In 1970 Carol Hanisch argued that ‘the personal is political’ – and Hodges is wrong not because MPs and MSPs putting up refugees is a practical solution, but as an act of solidarity, and as a declaration of simple humanity it is in-step with the mood of the moment. In our networked era, professional politicians (and scribes liked Hodges) don’t get to always set the agenda any more. Of course thuggish police and thuggish governments still hold power, but we hold influence. What we need now – and for this sake thank god for the EU (a flawed and rotten body as it is) – is a European-wide coordinated approach based on not just emergency but longer term thinking about the crisis and its deeper underlying causes.
So we will need more than a hash-tag to prevent Cameron’s drone warfare and we will ned more than a temporary generosity of spirit to prevent future conflict. We need to reclaim our democracy not just our humanity. The Positive Action in Housing project is brilliant and essential. But, as Cat Boyd says: “many who make it to Britain, like those trying to escape misery in Calais, will also face a degrading UK asylum system, where, barred from working, you live on less than £40 per week, with the threat of indefinite detention in Dungavel or Yarl’s Wood.”
The latent racism of not just the British State, but even our lowly political class, like the disgraceful Gordon McAskill, shouldn’t be underestimated, but neither should the strength of public solidarity, unfettered now from the moral guardianship of the likes of pornographer Richard Desmond who have been shaping the narrative about race and culture for years.
If the image of Aylan Kurdi provoked a massive backlash, as important are the images of Germans meeting refugees …
MUST WATCH: This footage is almost as if Disney was directing Germany’s response to the refugee crisis. https://t.co/06swrybTBF
— oliver king (@oliverjamesking) September 6, 2015
One of the key arguments being won here is we’re not ‘full-up’ and we’re not ‘too poor’ and we’re not being ‘over-run’. We live in a land of plenty and we have plenty to share. But as Slavoj Žižek has put it:
“Most important and most difficult of all, there is a need for radical economic change which would abolish the conditions that create refugees. Without a transformation in the workings of global capitalism, non-European refugees will soon be joined by migrants from Greece and other countries within the Union. When I was young, such an organised attempt at regulation was called communism. Maybe we should reinvent it. Maybe this is, in the long-term, the only solution.”