Hope and fear

With regards to the EU Referendum, I am not heavily invested in either camp, whether Leave or Remain. In truth I resent being forced to make a decision, simply to resolve an internal dispute within a political party; I’d rather I hadn’t been asked to take a stance on an issue so far beyond my pay grade. In the end, my decision was informed not by great arguments about the failure or success of neo-liberalism, but by the personalities of those leading the Leave campaign.

I have been familiar with one of them for well over a decade, ever since encountering him on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, which I would tune into on Wednesday evenings for several years. On a regular basis Michael Gove would posit monstrous arguments in defence of or against the argument of the day, with such appalling certainty and self-confidence that I would frequently turn the radio off in disgust. An unrepentant Neo-Con, he appears to be a man who cares little for facts or complex arguments. In 2006 he published his book Celsius 7/7, which was a confused apocalyptic manifesto for defeating the alleged Islamist threat to Britain.

In 2010, Michael Gove was appointed Secretary of State for Education by the coalition government. In the intervening  years he became an extremely divisive figure in education. When the infamous Trojan Horse scandal broke in Birmingham in 2014 — an alleged conspiracy incredibly employing the title of a chapter in his own book — Michael Gove appointed former counterterrorism chief, Peter Clarke, to investigate. Horrifyingly, Gove is now Secretary of State for Justice.

While it is Nigel Farrage who is roundly criticised for divisive politics, it is Michael Gove that exercises me, given his senior position in government. The prospect of what Gove and likely the most right-wing government in recent times do next terrifies me. It is pretty certain that his aim is to withdraw Britain from the Council of Europe’s European Convention of Human Rights, ratification of which is a precondition of EU membership. As long as we are a member of the EU, we are protected by the ECHR — once we withdraw, I fear that a suitably right wing government with determination will gladly draw up a new framework which protects only those it deems worthy of protection.

I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that Britain will soon find itself with an ever-more right wing government, which won’t give two hoots for the common people who have demanded change. Austerity will bite even harder than ever before — it is this government that has presided over welfare cuts, whilst simultaneously taking us into two wars after all. Funding for scientific research will dry up; our universities and education as a whole will suffer. All the while, government and the media will continue to scapegoat those at the very bottom of the heap — our migrant populations — for the ongoing suffering endured by all.

I hope to be proved wrong. I hope the dreams of those who voted for change come to fruition and that the brave new world brings prosperity and peace to Britain and the world. I pray that my worst fears will not come true… that fear that Europe will descend into a chaos dominated by fascist parties determined to divide us; I pray that this is not our Gavrilo Princip moment.

I pray that a better, fairer society is born as a result of this decision. But if the Leave campaign is anything to go by, I fear we may yet be disappointed. I fear there may be difficult times ahead.

Crises

Over the past month we have leapt from one crisis to another, the last one to occupy us so easily forgotten. Life is unpredictable. Our reaction to the unfolding events alone remain under our control. Navigating the chaos and confusion is an art form.

From Hull to Hampstead

In the analysis of what happened in the EU Referendum a few days ago, there have been a few articles now contrasting Hull with Hampstead — or whichever metropolitan centre that can lazily be caricatured as the realm of latte-sipping, Waitrose customers and Guardian readers.

For in journalism Hull is always the land that time forgot. Journalism does not acknowledge that Hull has its Hampstead within. It does not witness the confident enthusiasm for its culture, the overbrimming excitement for next year’s City of Culture festival. It does not recognise that Hull has its own nouveau riche, in its western suburbs and leafy avenues. Continue reading From Hull to Hampstead

Nice in crisis

Jeremy Corbyn seems like an extremely nice man. He is like the Rowan Williams of politics. But if we are now hurtling towards the most right wing government in recent times, as I fear we are, the country is going to need an effective opposition that can robustly counter its excesses, extremes and flagrant disregard for fairness and decency. In short, the opposition may need a rabble rouser who can carry people along with them. More a Giles Fraser or John Bell than a Rowan Williams. Principled, grounded in social justice, but articulate too. A voice which can speak to power confidently and effectively. For we have a new kind of politics now, but not the kinder politics envisioned by Corbyn. “Nice” just won’t cut it anymore.

Are you sure?

I am being interrogated by a child at the mosque. Are you English? Why are you here? How can you be Muslim if you’re English, it doesn’t make sense? I think you’re a Patan. Are you a Patan? What does English Muslim even mean? You mean a Muslim who speaks English? Are you sure you’re Muslim? You don’t have black hair. Are you sure you’re English?

I laugh it off, but sometimes I ask myself those questions too.

Frenemies

If you need proof what a dirty realm politics is, just check out the way Cameron’s friends and allies are talking about him today. Murdoch has turned on him. His advisers are twisting the knife in radio phone ins. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Verses ignored

It is interesting that our Book often contradicts or conflicts with ideas and beliefs that we are taught are part of our tradition, and yet we will zealously defend those ideas and beliefs regardless, convincing ourselves that our orthodoxies have priority over Verses clear and true. We’d rather put the Book to one side than reevaluate our inheritance or question what we have received.

Spot the difference

Scare stories about the anti-Muslim views of Slovakia’s Prime Minister (said to be the next EU President) are doing the rounds.

Please note that the European Council President (currently held by Donald Tusk) and the EU Council Presidency are not the same thing.

Slovakia will be taking up the latter shortly, a role which lasts 6 months and is really just an administrative role.

The next European Council President has not been announced; Donald Tusk’s first term will expire a year from now.

From January 2017, Malta will hold the Presidency. Slovakia will be long gone by the time any Leave negotiations have run their course.

This particular argument for Leave is meaningless therefore. However if you’re worried by Robert Fico’s views, now might be the time to familiarise yourself with Michael Gove’s.

Online personas

We’re all multi-faceted, and how we present ourselves online or in writing is as much a part of our personality as our “reality” offline.

Many of us just sink out in the “real world”. In social gatherings, we get lost in the crowd, driven to silence: our words disappear beneath the chatter, words stutter from our tongues, if at all.

We are the slouching ones, the socially inept, unable to string a sentence together or initiate conversation. Only in our writing, perhaps liberated online, do we find the means to express ourselves and make ourselves heard.

While it is true that you have to be careful of having too much faith in online personas, and being blinded by the supposed reality they present, so too must you be careful not to judge people purely by how they appear to you out in the wild when afflicted by the insecurities of company and environment.

You can be both an introvert and an extrovert, depending on where you find yourself, who’s company you keep and how you feel at any given time. Who is to say the online persona is not a person’s real self, unburdened by the shape of their body or the sound of their voice? Who is to say that who they are in the “real world” is who they really are? That this life is not equally manicured for public consumption?

In all spheres of life we are influenced by our environment and the expectations of others. You could clothe yourself in a garment of modesty, but have arrogance in your heart. You could drive a luxury saloon and be kind and humble, living a life of service to others. You could be a teacher of sacred sciences, whilst harbouring a crisis of faith inside. You could be known by all who meet you for your piety, humility and spirituality, while a battle rages within.

Online or off, we are all multi-faceted. The challenge for us all is to not judge: to neither write off our companions nor praise them beyond their due. Be realistic and reasonable: look in on yourself at what makes up your personality. The good and the bad, the hidden and the known, your foibles and prejudices, your strengths and weaknesses. Then know that others are just as complex as you.

We all have different personas which we present to different people at different times. It’s human nature, and the spice of life.