In the increasingly polarised, frankly bonkers political climate we are all being dragged through, I have been trying, to hold on to the fact that we are all human and most of us, however differently we view the world, essentially mean well.
It’s a state of mind my instincts usually lead me to but it has been challenged somewhat today by the Brexit Party, who are almost admirable in their steadfast refusal to behave in any way which might display the British sense of decency and fair play we are famous for. They abstained from voting on a European parliament resolution yesterday which called on Iran to release EU-Iranian nationals in prison for no coherent reason that the Islamic Republic is able to give.
They gave their explanation, I listened to them and it’s clear that my cat has a wider emotional range than the Brexit Party representatives. They named Nazanin Raghari-Ratcliffe, in their list of people who they couldn’t give a stuff about. I have written about Nazanin in this column many times and do my best to support her husband Richard as she languishes in an Iranian jail for no reason whatsoever other than the Iranian government are on a quest to prove to the world just how cruel they can be.
It’s chilling, frankly, to know for sure that if I went snowboarding in Iran (as many of my British friends do, there’s good snow in Iran) and was arrested and thrown into prison without committing a crime, the Brexit Party, who claim to stand for “British People” would not consider me British enough to fight for.
They would, in calm, polite tones as they did yesterday to the EU, explain why I should be left to rot. Like Nazanin, I am British but was not born here. Like Nazanin, I have dark hair and wheat skin and a name I have to spell out for Starbucks baristas. I try not think that these things influence how some people feel towards me, but I’ll be honest, right now this puppyish optimism is slipping away from me. I’m guessing, just guessing, that if, say Joanna Lumley, when she went to Iran to film her excellent documentary series Silk Road Adventure (did you see it? You should. It’s wonderful) was thrown in prison, the Brexit Party would not only have voted for a resolution but would be on the streets, at the Iranian embassy hurling rock cakes at the windows and demanding her release. The Daily Mail would rightly talk of nothing else until she was home and the thought of “Well, she wasn’t born here, she was born in India so she’s not really one of ours” would not cross their minds. This is just a hunch mind you. One I have only based on their words and actions.
Happily, looking on social media, the outpouring of disgust towards the Brexit parties helps me to keep perspective and take heart in the fact that for every icy “she’s not one of ours” compassion-voids, there are many more people who can trace their ancestry on this Island back to ancient times who do not see Country of Origin of newer Brits as a barrier to belonging. They understand that Nazanin and I are as British as Basil Brush.
On Twitter today, I found myself writing back to trolls whose attitude is “Good! She made her bed she can lie in it!” This is never any good to anyone. I’ve decided to change what I react to on Twitter. For all its ability to eat your time and boil your blood, social media, if used responsibly, can also light up glorious things which are happening in the world for the benefit of all of us. The climate strike for example, as even if you’re not able to join in, it feels good knowing that human beings all over the world are joining forces and peacefully saving our earth. Looking at the pictures on social media today has been like balm to my screen-weary troll-battered soul.
Twitter, if used incorrectly, can swallow you into a vat of other people’s hate and frustration and, if, like me you have a compulsive personality, you can fall into to it for so long that your view of what the world can actually be like, pretty damn marvellous, is distorted.
Here’s some good news I chanced upon on Twitter, the comedian Guz Khan has a television show in production, Man like Mobeen on BBC3.
Khan has set up a training scheme with his producers, Tiger Aspect, to give working class people in his native Birmingham a chance to get experience in the television industry. “I want to see working class people get involved in every aspect of our show”.
These are paid places. Doors to the media and arts world are so often slammed in the faces of people who do not have a financial safety net or are made to feel this world is not for the likes of them. Guz Khan is not pulling up the ladder. Another comedian, Josie Long, co-founded Arts Emergency as a way to set up an alternative to the old boys network and get young people from poorer background into the arts through a mentoring scheme.
Look them up. Look for all the good news. The rescued dogs, the baby pandas falling off weighing scales. Look for all the good news stories and let the trolls and the playground taunters shout themselves hoarse alone in the wind.
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