Hate your next door neighbour, but don’t forget to say grace

Happy Christmas to everyone reading this, and I hope you all got what you asked for. (For anyone who asked for world peace like I did, yeah, I know. Bummer, eh?)

So I was in the pub last night, looking back over the year with some mates. For some reason, the conversation got onto politics (what were we thinking?) and I was launching into a triade of abuse about Jack Straw’s kicking off the whole manufactured veil controversy back in October. The fact that people around me were willing to stand up for him I found unbelievable. As I wrote at the time, Straw’s original piece was a thoughtful and considered reflection on where one’s person’s tolerance meets another’s beliefs. For the record, I’ve always believed that you have the right in your house or workplace to make requests of people, as long as you’re prepared to offer a decent explanation.

However, that wasn’t really the point of it all. The point was to raise fear and resentment of British Muslims in an attempt by New Labour at raising some cheap populism. The tenor and management of it seemed very well thought out, so much so that I’m inclined to think the statements from various ministers had been got ready in advance. Straw’s article was the kickoff point. He either knew what his masters expected of him and jumped, or had that end in mind all along.

The most dispiriting thing this year for me (apart from the meaning of the term “wag” degenerating from a witty and irreverent person into something I wouldn’t want to be associated with in a million years) is the way the government and the right-wing press has again and again fallen back on the politics of fear, of hatred and division. They’re incapable of admitting they’re wrong, so they want us to be scared of our neighbours, scared of immigrants, scared of terrorist attacks. Every bullshit manufactured controversy, from the veil scare to the aircraft bomb plot (that wasn’t) to the fake war on Christmas, fractures the country and plays into the hands of the far-right, who are more than happy to have matters of race and culture put on the political agenda. That’s why Straw, and everyone like him who trades on hatred for political capital, will never be worthy of my respect. A happy new year to you all.


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