If the ultimate fate should befall Fabrice Muamba, the critically ill Bolton player who collapsed during Saturday's FA Cup match against Tottenham, his family might take the consolation described by my esteemed colleague Sam Wallace yesterday: "If there is such a thing as the English Dream, like the American one, Muamba has lived it." And if, as every right-thinking person in Britain hopes, the Kinshasa-born 23-year-old makes a full recovery, I hope that in this Olympic year he is held up not just as an example of sport's capacity for redemption, but as a personification of that much-maligned thing, the immigrant's tale.
George Orwell's assertion that "political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind" is never truer than when immigration is making the headlines. Fact and counter-fact, lie and rebuttal, denial and decree: the subject generates plenty of heat but little light, as readers of i have often noted.
Then along comes the shocking moment on Saturday when Muamba's heart stopped beating, and an outpouring of solidarity. Now, in newsprint, broadcast, and online, a light is being shone on the amazing journey that he and most immigrants make.
Muamba might have been a child soldier in the former Zaire; instead he came to east London equipped with only four words: "Hello, how are you?" The option of going back was always there, and he was tempted; but his father's political allegiance to the despotic Mobutu Sese Seko imperilled his entire family. So the young man from a poor family put his head down, studied hard, obeyed the law, learned English, and trained remorselessly, fulfilling his talent to become the second most capped England Under-21 player ever. What a hero.
Far from being the thieving cannibals of tabloid caricature, immigrants generally answer to descriptions similar to the above. They bravely tear themselves away from extended family, local culture, custom and comfort – in short, all that is most dear and beloved to them – in search of a better life for them and their families. "I just think about how far I have come," Muamba said when asked about how he felt on listening to our national anthem. "English people have helped me and I feel part of [England]."
It should be a cause of national shame that the two main political parties in Britain refuse to stand up for immigration, and are committed to making it harder for immigrants to come here – in other words, to criminalising the ultimate expression of what it is to be human, and to stop other heroes like Fabrice Muamba from inspiring their fellow patriots.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies