As David Cameron stood in Westminster pretending to apologise for the actions of British soldiers in Derry in 1972 he kept his lips tightly sealed about Ballymurphy. Few, even in Ireland, outside the Republican movement have ever heard of what happened from 9-11 August 1971 in the Belfast housing estate of Ballymurphy. I’ve been to Ballymurphy. My friend, Fr. Paddy McCafferty, is the parish priest at Corpus Christi parish on the estate, and I had never heard of what the British Army did there. The Channel 4 documentary the other night was an eye-opener.
The counter-voice – such as the political voice of the SNP, Sinn Féin, or Plaid Cymru – is the modern equivalent of the pillory or the stocks. This is where the enemy is presented, carefully framed and expertly mitigated, so as to make it serve the purposes of the state. We may hear the voice and see the face of Nicola Sturgeon, for example, but the narrative – the most important element of “the news” – is always that of the British state. No BBC broadcast featuring a counter-voice will leave the audience in any doubt as to dangerous nature of that voice.
As royals of the same royal family that did this to Ireland, it would be different had they come to apologise for the barbarity of British rule on this island and for the part Queen Victoria – “the Famine Queen” – played in the utter ruin of Ireland during the Great Famine, but they didn’t. Harry and Meaghan came – as British royals – to play the part of international celebrities, stars we were all expected to flock to see. They didn’t seem to notice how empty the streets were, how so few people turned out to welcome them.
As Britain hastily cobbles together a black history of Britain the coming of the Windrush generation is being framed as an invitation. It was nothing of the sort. The British Empire was imploding. In order to offer a lifeline to its predominantly white imperial ruling caste in the colonies it granted citizenship to former subjects, not thinking that the native populations and the decedents of former African slaves would take up the freedom this citizenship offered with such relish.
Brexit is merely the latest development of this ugly racist British nationalism. In the past two decades ethno-nationalism and racism have played a growing part in British politics, forcing both the Conservatives and Labour to lurch to the nationalist right to win support from an entire section of the British public that has had its mind and soul poisoned by a really horrible and bitter angry nationalism. We might even be correct in seeing in Brexit a completion of what was begun in 1982 with the limiting of British citizenship to those “born here.”
Well nothing that Graeme said was racist. He’s playing the game. His racism, like the racist watermelon references across the water, is encoded in the image. Chemical Ali – or “Comical Humza Yousaf” as Graeme labels this image – is a symbol of Middle Eastern tyranny, and as such plays on the white supremacist trope of the Crusades – a symbol used also by the Nazis. It is a holophrastic reminder in that it is a visual cue pointing to a whole package of meanings. This is the enemy; the dark skinned Muslim enemy who poses a threat to “our heroes” – our white, Western, Christian, crusader heroes.
This deeply racist use of the term – no reflection on the Anglo-Saxons themselves of course – has continued on in British politics, and not merely in the street politics of the far-right. The relationship between the term Anglo-Saxon and the idea of white English-British racial superiority has sunk deep into the fabric of the Westminster political establishment, and this is particularly the case when it comes to the Conservative Party – David Davis’ party.
Once upon a time “poppy day” was an annual event most of us slept through, marked by an irrelevant old woman putting down a wreath at a pointless monument to violence in London. A box of cheap red paper poppies would appear in our classrooms at the start of the month and the teacher would tell us some patriotic lies about brave soldiers and we could “remember them” at the cost of just 5p a poppy. It’s all different now.