Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: If we close our borders, we close our minds

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The Independent Online

A fear creeps up on me. I hear my late mother's exhortative voice, her frequent warnings: "Don't show your anger to them. They will take away your passport. Then where will you go?" They are those faceless men and women with the power to decide who may enter this country, who has citizenship, who can be incarcerated, handcuffed and thrown back to their sad badlands. The millions of migrants in this country have ingested the message. We are here on sufferance and must never forget that. Capricious new regulations could whip away our hard-earned rights at any time. As the uber-patriot Norman Tebbit once told me on the Today programme, we may have British passports but can never really belong. Last year at Heathrow airport, for reasons that remain unexplained, I was escorted away for a long interview with two non-uniformed men whose tone and manner left me feeling so afraid and helpless I wet myself. All my brio dissolved into piddle. Not funny.

Since last year they have grabbed more control, which they exercise with whimsical tyranny not unlike the maddest of Roman emperors. The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) has extraordinary discretionary powers. New Labour brought in the points-based system for migrants and visitors to mollify fierce anti-immigration attitudes. The hardline approach means contemporary Iraqi artists could not attend an exhibition of their work at Manchester's Cornerhouse Art gallery. The Chinese artist Huang Xu was similarly kept away from his UK exhibition. Lisa Appignanesi, President of PEN, the campaigning writers' organisation, told me a number of artists and writers "have been marched away at dawn like criminals". Human rights activists and journalists – from China to Azerbaijan – were denied entry to the Free the Word festival. How do we laugh at Monty Python ever again when we have such real bureaucratic lunacy?

The Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami, thought by many to be the artistic inheritor of India's legendary Satyajit Ray, was commissioned to direct Cosi fan tutti for the English National Opera. He withdrew: "My decision was based solely on the disgraceful treatment to which I was subjected. I travel regularly to France and Italy and am no stranger to the dances we Iranians need to perform to obtain visas. However, the actions of the British Embassy were of a wholly different order ... I felt trapped in the very circles of hell."

Oppressive legal instruments are sold to the public on grounds of security or national interest. They are useful too to prevent racial and ethnic "contamination" and keep out the indigent. All too soon though the laws are used indiscriminately on anyone and everyone. So it is in this case. American singer Danny Dean was refused a visa and the hugely talented Canadian singer Allison Crowe was rudely deported and barred from ever coming back. Russian ballet dancers – once welcome – are now kept out.

British Universities have a bleak future without overseas fees; schools teaching English as a foreign language, theatres, arts centres, literary festivals, international conferences are all complaining. The reputation, nay the whole future of this country, is jeopardised by the mandated philistines; the UKBA and Home Office. Yet Lin Homer, head of UKBA, is seen as a success, she even won an award for her upward moving targets on refusals and deportations.

The Tories want to keep this efficient system. We are still – just – a cultural and educational hub. But not for much longer. Under them Britain will be one big Grantham grocery store with no cultural outsiders swamping the place. Voters can't say they weren't warned.

Who had the last laugh? Not me

Oh, he thinks he is real and really droll, Frankie Boyle, and he's from Glasgow, which gives him cache. Thousands agree and spend hours in the theatre rolling about as he lets his wit rip. Me, I don't see the point of him or his ugly haircut, stupid glasses, lizardly eyes and gags that trample over the last pathetic remains of political correctness. But they like him and have made him rich and famous.

As they have that hideous Johnny Vegas and other sons of Bernard Manning. Only, last week, Mr Boyle suddenly found out that anything doesn't go. His riff about how funny and stupid and badly dressed people with Down's Syndrome are ended, he says, in the "most excruciating moment" of his career.

Sharon Smith, mother of such a child, and until then a huge fan, got upset. He responded with further insults. What a laugh. Not.

Right now it seems we must hoot at any old comedic abuse or be damned as humourless and sour. Smith found she couldn't laugh when jokes touched her own life. Yet she seemed happy enough when others were caught in Boyle's mouthtrap. She didn't object to his targeting other groups; so, though I try, I find it hard to sympathise with her.

Take note Barking, there is life after the BNP

As election fever rises and the BNP seem set to take Barking, we should remember the upbeat story of Southall and Ealing . It is possible to drive the racist skunks away. In 1978 the borough was overrun by the National Front, who were on housing estates and streets outside schools, in the local police forces and in your face.

They terrified Asian children, swore, spat, and made their presence felt. Anti-racists took them on, politically and on marches like the one when Blair Peach, a teacher from New Zealand, was believed to be killed by coppers. I was there and, that day, thought we would never overcome the enemy. But we did. They've never come back in the same numbers.

I was talking to film director Gurinder Chadha about this the other day. She grew up in Southall, but look what she did next. She became one of the bright voices of New Britain, made the country speak through her sensibility, particularly in Bend it Like Beckham. Audacious still, her new movie, It's a Wonderful Afterlife, was made in Ealing Studios, home of quintessentially English comedies.

Yes, it is a wonderful afterlife once you see off the fascists. Are you listening, Barking?