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

Related Topics

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?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales and Maketing Manager, St Albans, Hertfordshire

£55 - £70K OTE £130k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major multi-million pound la...

Drupal Developer

£40000 - £52000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Drupal developer v...

Operations and Maintenance Engineer - Solar

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum plus benefits/bonus package: The Green Recruitment C...

Sales and Maketing Director (Designate) , Watford, Hertfordshire

£60- £70K OTE £120k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major multi-million pound lan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
lowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands Embassy in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17  

To punish Putin for the MH17 disaster we must boycott Russia 2018

Jack Gilbert

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor