I’ve contemplated a number of different ways that I could write this post. By rights, I shouldn’t be posting at all in the midst of exams; however this is a burning issue that I can’t ignore. My last posts (many moons ago) were a move away from the polemic and towards a more objective position, something I struggle with when it comes to this subject.
I’ve chosen the title of prejudice, to escape the pedants that will try to ignore the generalised use of the word racism and excuse their prejudices by saying “Islam isn’t a race, how can I be racist?”, or similar. Patently ignoring the fact that for many they visually categorise someone as Muslim using their skin colour, something they often get wrong especially when moaning about turbans instead of motorcycle helmets (if this confuses you, look up Sikhism).
There has been a recent explosion of racist, anti-Islamic and anti-immigration sentiment on social media in recent weeks. This I feel comes from an undercurrent that has been bubbling away below the surface since the effects of austerity measures due to the global economic meltdown have been felt en masse. The eruption was sparked by the recent local and European elections and the frenzied media attention awarded to UKIP (both good and bad). The UKIP debate has I think drawn a line in the sand, between those that harbour prejudice views (from mild annoyance with immigration to full-blown race hate and Islamophobia) and those that don’t. This is not directly to do with UKIP; they have not explicitly towed a party line of prejudice views on an official level, however many members have been exposed by the press as bigots in recent months. It is the ideas raised by the UKIP debate that have stirred up dormant feelings of prejudice amongst the people of Britain. At this point, I think it is important to reiterate the fact that this undercurrent of prejudice and the culture of putting blame on immigrant communities for current issues is entirely unfounded, and remind everyone that we have no money because of a global economic meltdown. A financial crisis instigated by the finance industry felt across the globe. If you manage to pin that on Eastern European immigration, or Islam, I will be stupefied.
This highly worrying tendency towards prejudice views has been fuelled in part by social media. Groups such as Britain First have made huge strides on social media, gaining a large following in a relatively short timeframe. Britain First are perhaps the best manipulators of social media that I have come across, as they share memes and images on a regular basis that aren’t explicitly prejudice, yet appeal to the lowest common denominator. Items such as “Life sentences for paedophiles” evoke the expected emotional reaction: people share, others agree, they like the page (sometimes unaware of the undertone of the group) and are at once co-opted. Abhorrent views that people would not dare utter in public suddenly become commonplace due to the protection provided by a computer screen. This detachment from the comment itself is a very dangerous thing. People begin to share views that they may have harboured privately in the public domain of social media. More dangerous still are the bandwagon jumpers. Perhaps they’ve heard something about Burqas or immigration from someone they know and felt uncomfortable at the time – however when a few thousand others have shared it on Facebook, with hundreds of vitriolic comments backing it up, they have the affirmation of the mob. They fulfil one of the basic human needs for inclusion in a group setting; by merit of being white and British, they’re in the club.
Studies have recently proven a direct correlation between prejudice views and a lack of intelligence, something that may come as little surprise to some. The research indicates that those less adept at dealing with new concepts and ideas close off and become defensive, something that might sound similar to anyone that has tried to debate race with a staunch racist.
The metaphorical line in the sand is clearer than ever. Through debates that I have held recently (both on social media and face to face) I have witnessed the gulf in thought that exists within modern British society. There seems to be a collective that are intent to link all societal woes to minority communities, with not an inch given in the realm of debate; diametrically opposed to those that vehemently oppose prejudice ideals and will argue vociferously against them. It is evident on which side I sit, I make no apologies for it and will never do so. I do think it’s important however to all those on both sides to remember to keep debating as civil and controlled as possible. Personal insults lose arguments and I believe this debate deserves more than a metaphorical penis-measuring contest.
Sadly I see the country shifting towards the right. I hope that this trend is reversed before the general elections next year, otherwise we may end up in the same position that we were under Thatcher in the 1980s – perhaps this time the UK could realise that a heavy-handed response to hardship rarely fixes anything, without having to go through nearly a decade of it. Social media can be used as a tool for hope as well as hate and I hope that a well-structured opponent to this frenzy of right wing sentiment appears soon. If I have time when my exams are finished, I may even try to instigate it myself.