Civis Hibernicus Sum1
Malinkin reflects on today's Britain whilst Tony Bair shakes hands with Colonel Gadaffy2, Libyan leader and repented sponsor of international terrorism. Malinkin finds a Britain he can no longer belong. Read on to find out where he is going and why. - Editors' Note
While visiting British troops on exercise in Oman3 in October 2002, Tony Blair4 made a speech which sparked little interest at the time, but which could have wide-ranging consequences for the future. The premise of Mr Blair's argument was that the traditional concept of the nation state had changed. Whereas national groups have previously defined themselves on the basis of a shared ethnicity, the Prime Minister suggested that in the future nations would be organised on the basis of shared cultural values. Obviously he was trying to lay the ground of the pre-planned invasion of Iraq just six months later. But Blair was also developing his future vision of world which seems typically reliant on his crude dualisms: the future world will split into two groups, one freedom-loving, democratic and just, and the opponents of this committed to violence, tyranny and terrorism.
Blair's Britain is clearly destined to belong in the former. This nation is set to be a beacon to the uncivilised world, a country where humans have their rights upheld and live by the rule of law. More dangerously, the dialogue has slipped into a patronising and simplified discussion which rests on the opposition of glib terms - we are all, we are told, caught up the battle of "good" versus "evil". The government has seized perhaps the two emotive words in the English language and has squeezed out any room for sensible debate outside these parameters. Any terrorist is evil.
Mr Blair's vision of new nation state should have broader consequences for immigration policy, but many in Britain, including many tabloid journalists, do not share the view that citizenship should be awarded for a shared belief in the meaning of "good". Was he suggesting that we should be more willing to accept refugees who share the same higher values that we do? We have long known that the ability to get a British passport is directly proportional to your willingness to donate to the Labour Party5. (Although I am sure that the Hinduja6 brothers are also freedom-loving people.) There is a mish-mash of ideas and the government insists on pandering to those who fear the non Anglo-Saxon. It is clear, however, that for the past seven years Mr Blair has been trying to forge a new sense of what it means to be British, one which celebrates diversity of ethnicity and cultures while sharing a belief in our way of life.
But what is this way of life? If you were to ask Mr Blair what he believed in, what would he say? (Of course, Mr Blair refuses ever to give a straight answer, which does make one question the true value of democracy if our paid representatives will not engage in meaningful discourse.) I suspect he would not reply that he believed in socialism, or trade unions, or active government interference in narrowing the gap between the over-wealthy and the impoverished. I very much doubt that he would even say he believed in the Labour Party. The perfect Blairite answer to this is: "I believe in rights and responsibilities".
Of course, like much of Mr Blair's rhetoric, there is a wide gap between the theory and the practice. Although it is good political practice to use sentences without verbs, the public are left superficially satisfied without being able to understand the consequences of this. We can all be good Britons if we discharge our responsibilities. But there is an increasing sense that our rights, including our right to be incorporated into our own nation, which we expect to be absolute and unconditional, are actually contingent on us discharging our Blair-given responsibilities. And these duties are placed on us by the government for the government's own benefit, and in our flawed democracy the people are left with no say. Modern democracy involves little more than passive involvement in governance, the five-yearly invitation to pass a vote of confidence in one party or approve of an alternative whose policies are no different. Any desire for political activity outside this is severely frowned upon, and now even falls in Blairspeak into the category of "uncivilised" or even "evil" behaviour. The War on Terror is not a demonstration of higher values but stems from an arrogant refusal to consider worldwide injustices or acknowledge the threat of unchecked globalisation. Blair's self-righteousness in ignoring the mass demonstrations around the world over the Iraq invasion has led to a real feeling that democracy does not work. And it is exactly this, the lack of faith in political systems, which are the real cause of violence.
The crucial question is whether there is a difference in morality between committing a terrorist act which kills scores or hundreds, and refusing to take the action which could save thousands of lives. 18,000 children die in Africa every day from malnutrition, and several organisations have estimated that $40 billion would be more than enough to solve the problem of Third World starvation. Blair knows this, and is well aware of the desire among millions of British to get this problem solved: yet little is said about the fact that the civilised western world spends one billion dollars each day in subsiding food production, which is then dumped on the developing world whose own farmers cannot compete. When our governments refuse to do anything about this, it must force us to question their definitions of what is "good". Can we condemn the person who, unable to alter policy through democracy, feels that he can only make his voice heard through terrorism?
2004 was supposed to be an important year for Western democracy. We have already seen general elections in Russia and Spain, and plebiscites are due later this year in the Ukraine and the USA, among others. Despite the ousting of Aznar7's government, we can still have little hope in the power of people to influence their governments or shape the cultural values which are supposed to bind us. And the recent Russian presidential elections was the worst possible advertisement for democracy, the ultimate proof that a system can be labelled democratic and to all extents appear democratic, yet the ruling elites will always have their way. Events in Madrid have proven not that democracy works, or even that terrorism works, but only that without a real effort on the part of our leaders to consider widening the scope of the debate, the violence will continue. And Blair, and Putin, and Bush, are all as much to blame as the terrorists I have always rejected rigid concepts of nationality. My family moved to the United Kingdom from Ireland after the end of World War II. (My grandfather, a staunch royalist, successfully applied for British nationality as he wanted to be a subject of the King, and even fought for the British Army in the War.) I was born in England, speak English, and have always felt English. I had never considered that fact that I may not belong here, until Blair's Oman speech and his invasion of Iraq.
I reject the sanctimony and hypocrisy of the arguments used to justify war. The fact that Saddam Hussein used his WMD against his own people did not give us a higher right to use British weapons against them in order to protect them. Despite the assurances of Julie Burchill8, the American government did seem more concerned about securing a military and industrial presence than the rights of Iraqis. And it is coming increasingly apparent that, despite Blair's efforts to draw a line under the issue, the government did not go to war as a last resort, or out of clear and present danger to our nation, but actively embellished the evidence to justify a war of aggression, apparently ignoring advice from government officials and without a clear legal basis.
All this poses the Prime Minister with a serious problem as he strives to forge a modern nation in his own image. He argues that we should no longer rely on a common Anglo-Saxon heritage to define our nationhood. But we can only construct a new nation based on cultural and civic values if those values are acceptable to the people. The very fact that the principles are determined by a white, middle-class and Christian leadership, itself detached from the multi-ethnic and often impoverished populace that they are supposed to represent, means that those who disagree with government policy are left alienated, without a means to protest or help forge those values. They are left without a nation.
Hence I cannot be the only Briton who is beginning to feel increasingly nationless. The government is forcing this country along a route which is causing deep concern to the public, and yet we are just as helpless in influencing events as the average Iraqi, Russian or Palestinian. I have voted with my feet, though with no effect. I left the British civil service when we invaded Afghanistan, and protested when we invaded Iraq. The only thing I can do is reject the values which Mr Blair proposes on our behalf, and renounce my British nationality. I am turning to Dublin and applying for Irish citizenship, in an affirmation of those values which I admire, Irish neutrality and their un-militarised society. I want no part in British culpability in the Iraqi war for oil, or the wider war on terror, the scale of which is as yet unknown. And I concede my mercenary motives: I want an Irish passport so I can travel the world without being scorned as an imperialist. And it is possible that if this does degenerate into a large-scale conflict, the British government may elect to conscript its own citizens.
There is something about Ireland which feels homely, though I do not want to glamorise the issue. I am aware that Ireland has its own share of problems with immigration and racism. However, there is something about its fierce defence of its values in the face of wider global pressures (EU pressure to set aside its neutrality, for example), which sets itself in stark contrast to the Blair preponderance for ravishing capitalism and American hegemony. There is something there which appeals in the search for decent language, something which appears more honest than the skewed political agenda in Britain. Having Irish grandparents, my application for citizenship should in theory be a formality. I hope, to me at least, they say yes.
1 "I am an Irish citizen" in Latin. Hibernia is the Latin name for Ireland.
2 Colonel Gaddafy was known as 'Mad Dog' during the 1980s when US bombers flew from their UK bases to bomb this country, injuring members of his family. He's also known to have supplied arms to Irish terrorists among others, and was responsible for Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of a British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, outside the Libyan Embassy in London, and strained Anglo-Libyan relations for over a decade.
3 A Gulf state closely associated with Britain.
4 Tony Blair, British Prime Minister since 1997.
5 Labour Party, the governing party in the UK, known as New Labour due to espousal of market economics and disposal of its socialist roots. [It is unlikely that an ordinary Labour Party donor would get a British passport. The recent passport scandal in Sheffield would suggest more of the 'cock-up' rather than conspiracy theory of history. - Ed. note]
6 The Hinduja brothers are Indian steel barons based in the UK, who obtained British passports under dubious circumstances.
7 Jose Maria Aznar, former Spanish Prime Minister and ex-leader of conservative Popular Party, heavily defeated at polls and Blair's key ally in Europe, especially over the Iraqi war.
8 Julie Burchill was famous in the 1970s as a teenage journalist on the New Musical Express (NME) during the heyday of the punk music. Today she is an acerbic celebrity journalist.
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|Copyright ╘ 2004 by A. Malinkin|
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