Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: What hope for tolerance if we treat foreign artists like dirt?

Some of the most accomplished from abroad are being humiliated, refused entry or sent packing. The Russian poet Alex Galper was thrown out

Share
Related Topics

British politicians know that to win seats they must satisfy the powerful tabloids and never, ever come out against the anti-immigration delirium. This is the hysteria that cyclically sweeps through the nation, dangerously so, for example, during the last election, leading to populist promises and a surrender by both main parties to baleful forces. For millions of indigenous Britons, all their economic woes, their pain, societal upheavals and lack of ease can be blamed entirely on those who came to stay and the zillions they think are trying to sneak in, using whatever dastardly trick they can invent. The issue is toxic, word of the moment.

That's why government ministers and the UK Border Agency are in a tizz, implementing senseless entry laws and immigration regulations thus revealing both a lack of foresight and basic skills of governance. Just one example – many more follow – to show their snout goes in one direction while the back legs try to run the other way. Universities minister David Willetts, has gone off to Brazil to buy us 10,000 fee-paying university students, who would or so he believes, the two-brainer, bring sacks of cash to our universities. But at the same time, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is cutting by at least 85,000, the number of non-EU students coming to study in Britain. Universities object and they are ignored. Please tell me how this adds up to a coherent policy? Officials should arrange for these two to have coffee soon.

Then there is the failure of soft diplomacy that this hysteria represents. Last week I interviewed Lord Malloch-Brown, previously at the UN and briefly in Gordon Brown's cabinet. We talked about England's enduring appeal even in regions of the world blighted by colonialism or more recently, catastrophic wars started by vainglorious leaders. I am writing a book on how the old land still draws global citizens to its ample lap.

People want to come here and we should feel pride that they do and worry that soon they may give up altogether. May's matronly, "just say no" approach is leading fast to some serious culture wars too. No surprise there. These Tories, led by the Chipping Norton set, are obstinately philistine. Their idea of a great time is champers, tickets for Wimbledon and Henley.

Our summer days are alive with festival music, concerts, big sounds, also countless literary gatherings in beautiful places, film seasons, plays, untold pleasures. Visitors fly in to take part or just to join in – it's what we are famous for and rightly in the creative and open nation which showcases the best talent, wherever it was born.

Now, some of the most accomplished from abroad are routinely being humiliated, refused entry or sent packing. The Russian poet Alex Galper, a protégé of Allan Ginsberg and an American citizen, was invited over for a poetry reading. He was detained and thrown out. Some musicians at Glastonbury complained they were treated as if they were the Taliban by border control staff. I personally know brilliant playwrights, screenwriters and actors from several countries who, furious with the way they have been treated by immigration officers, say they will go to Stockholm, Berlin, Rome, but no, not London, their favourite city.

According to one Indian arts promoter more and more artists are turning their backs on Britain. Idrissa Soumaoro, a Malian musician expected to play in Manchester with the hugely popular Malian singers Amadou and Miryam. They made it so hard for him to get a visa, he never came. Grigory Sokolov, one of the greatest pianists ever has been a victim of the iniquitous system; the Caribbean dancer Vybz Kartel had to cancel his European tour because the UK would not grant him a visa and Iraqi artists were not allowed to attend an exhibition of their own work in Manchester. A survey by the GLA found 70 per cent of arts organisations have had programming badly affected by these asinine rules.

When successful and famous non-European visiting artists are treated like scum by our agencies, it is another small victory for the relentless xenophobes who next will want their land cleansed of any "foreign" presence. The biggest lie told by politicians (and their campaigning anti-immigration friends) is that "tolerance" of immigrants gets better if the state is hard on new incomers and visitors. The exact opposite happens. State bigotry leads to intolerance flooding into the lives of even third-generation migrants. I do not wish to slander those Britons who are receptive, fair, internationalist and egalitarian, but am describing those who are not, and who contaminate the air, creating a fog of prejudice. Nothing diminishes their hostility because they hate not what we do necessarily, but who we are.



So, I am on Dateline London, BBC News Channel, on Saturday morning, discussing the News International saga and say, in jest, that Murdoch is a "bloody foreigner". It was a joke, guys. That was it. A deluge followed attacking all incomers, migrants, settlers, refugees, asylum seekers, Muslims, and most rancorously and tellingly, non-Anglo Saxons who don't quietly clean lavatories at dawn and instead overreach themselves.

Yes, I'm on this list of treacherous high achievers, so too the benign Lenny Henry, "that half-caste" Leona Lewis, Shami Chakrabarti, the Russian owners of The Independent, and Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party – she really gets to them, she does. One prominent Asian businessman said to me just last week: "I get so sick of this, so sick, who do they think they are, or we are? I feel like shouting, 'I'm an Immigrant. Get Me Out of Here!' I have over nine hundred people working for me, many English – isn't that enough? Forty years and never taken a penny from the state. At a family wedding this year, half the guests didn't get visas. My company would collapse if I was as scared as them."

But they are scared, just as they have been of the Murdoch empire. The latter may lose its grip, but not the fear of immigration, which always brings out the worst in our leaders at the best of times. And these are not the best of times.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk



React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected