HARPERCOLLINS £16.99 (376pp) £14.99 (free p&p per order) from 0870 079 8897

Kandahar Cockney by James Fergusson

Exile and exploitation

HARPERCOLLINS £16.99 (376pp) £14.99 (free p&p per order) from 0870 079 8897

I do so want to be wholly enthusiastic about Kandahar Cockney, to agree with Nick Danziger and others who see it as a unique journey into the terrifying life of an asylum-seeker in London. Which it is; and, God knows, we need such writers and such books to describe the desperate dispossessed who crawl to this island. They break laws and embark on perilous journeys that would kill Indiana Jones. To do what they must, to take their chances, they have to call up all their reserves of courage, invention and endurance. This is heroism of a kind, but their heroism is our problem and we can find no welcome for it.

The rabid right-wing press, Blairite and Thatcherite politicians and dilettante "liberals" from the wastelands of the left have gathered forces in the most ignominious of alliances to turn the nation's heart against these arrivals. They carelessly accuse all asylum-seekers of wrecking social cohesion and the welfare state, of committing deadly crimes, of contaminating the very air of this country. Punitive laws add to the hysteria. Few of these soothsayers have ever met an asylum-seeker. Perhaps to do so would weaken their resolve. This is a war, and the enemy has to be objectified.

Asylum-seekers and illegal migrants have no faces, no lives, no credible stories. They are only ever liars, bogus, felons, disease-ridden bastards who deserve less pity than stray dogs. Even those who do wrong surely need to be seen as human.

So here comes James Fergusson, an evocative journalist, to give us not only a cracking story with a dramatic though depressing ending, but real, empathetic Afghan asylum-seekers - his friends, of sorts. His writing is clear and intimate. We enter their world immediately: swarthy, masculine men, traversing the underworld of London, coming up in markets, smoky minicab companies and communes.

In 1997, when Fergusson is in Afghanistan, he employs a Pashtun interpreter he calls Mir. As often in these conflict areas, the journalist and interpreter develop a deep bond. Fergusson vaguely promises Mir help to enter Britain if the need arises. Soon afterwards, Mir and others in his family are tortured and end up in London, seeking asylum and their good friend Fergusson.

Honourably, he assists Mir and a gloomy chap called Gulabuddin through the iniquitous asylum system. Meanwhile, they learn some Cockney and work illegally. Then Gulabuddin is accused of raping a white woman. All the stereotypes, all the prejudices of our various institutions rise to engulf him. He claims it was consensual sex. The descriptions of the shame he feels as an Afghan, Muslim man, are deeply affecting. There is no solid evidence of rape, but of a rough sexual act in a confined space. But he is condemned because, in the words of the judge, "he has abandoned the moral high ground in this country". Fergusson once more remains steadfastly loyal.

Some uncomfortable questions do arise. Mir apparently consented to the book, but as with Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul - in which the Norwegian correspondent lived with the bookseller's family and wrote a brutally honest account that brought her money and fame - there is something exploitative in this relationship. Foreign correspondents can be indifferent to the fall-out of their interventions. Was Mir tortured because of his contact with Fergusson? Will Mir understand this book, or is the gamble that his English will never be up to the task? Does he get a healthy cut?

Foregrounding the role of the writer in this way is also sometimes off-putting. Other British writers have transmitted tragic stories of foreigners in our country without giving themselves as much space or kudos. Yet none of this diminishes the power or urgency of this book, nor the good faith in which it was written.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's selected journalism, 'Some of my Best Friends Are...', appears from Politico's next month

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn