Lineker and ‘Those People in the Boats’

I recently decided to live on the edge and do more dangerous things, so yesterday I walked into a Wetherspoons holding hands with an attractive Pakistani man. The response was akin to a western movie scene: drinks held mid-air, arrested on the way to gaping mouths, an atmosphere you could cut with a knife. I expected to hear, ‘you ain’t from around these parts’ at any moment, and the phrase, ‘if looks could kill’ was never more apt. I’m not saying, of course, that every person who frequents Wetherspoons is not a fan of immigration, but it’s not known as a multicultural hub either, so I felt it was as good a place as any to indulge in a bit of ‘culture jamming’. But why did I do it?

Simply, it was a satirical ‘detournement’ as the Situationists would have it, reflecting the outrage I feel at the current immigration proposals that Suella Braverman has been touting all over the media. These proposals are utterly devoid of humanity in my opinion, and hearing her dare to use the word ‘compassionate’ to describe them in some Orwellian inversion that’s an insult to anyone with an IQ above ten, or has a capacity for empathy surpassing that of the average psychopath, was particularly offensive. I’m surprised she didn’t burst into flames.

She knew full when she said ‘millions’, and then, ‘billions’ of asylum seekers want to come here that it’s an absurd statement, but the focus for her is on effective rhetoric, not facts, and the feelings it will ignite in the population, the images it will create in their minds. If she can heighten a sense of panic and feed the perception that we are under siege then job done. That’s Braverman’s tactic. It\s the ‘forty-five minutes to mass destruction’ strategy of throwing out baseless claims and watching the psychological fallout, no doubt with great satisfaction.

And now that Gary Lineker has been effectively accused of comparing those who support her proposed legislation to Nazis and all their horrifying crimes, it reveals the truly pathetic level of public debate in this country which is incapable of accommodating a variety of views and routinely distorts opinions such as Lineker’s in a screaming tantrum of sensationalised bullshit. The substance then is lost in the tsunami.

The word ‘Nazi’ has been seized upon by a stream of Lineker’s detractors who, on every news channel, have been invoking the holocaust and making sure to mention that Braverman’s husband is Jewish. This is the genuinely sickening feature of the debate, that it is these people who are using the tragedy of the holocaust for their own ends, not Lineker. It’s truly repulsive.

As for the presenter undermining the ‘impartiality’ of the BBC, well that’s a joke. I could write another entire article on why that’s a laughable assertion (in fact, I will so watch this space).

The BBC’s own guidelines are actually lenient regarding situations such as this, clarifying that although a presenter’s public statements on social media have the potential to damage the corporation’s reputation, ‘the risk is lower where an individual is expressing views publicly on an unrelated area; for example, a sports or science presenter expressing views on politics or the arts.’

Yet the discourse has been hijacked, it seems to me, by the very same people who flaunt their devotion to ‘British values’ – an exhibition usually cloaked in a deaf, dumb and blind patriotism that has them spouting garbage about ‘bringing freedom and democracy’ to countries which just happen to be strategically useful and have lots of oil. But as soon as they hear, in their own country, a view they do not like, suddenly these freedoms are not so palatable to them. How quickly freedom of speech is abandoned in a highly ironic backlash hurled at those daring to make use of this fundamental tenet of any civilised nation.

It’s all so predictable: you don’t support every illegal and immoral military intervention the UK unleashes? Then you don’t support ‘our brave boys’. You question government diktats on lockdowns? Then you don’t support our wonderful nurses and the NHS. This is the consistent trope we see used in any major public debate; a mendacious distortion of the discourse allowing for no nuance or rational analysis, which is why, today, on morning television I heard Gary Lineker’s words described as ‘an insult’ to holocaust victims. The commentator ploughed on with this theme, determined to willfully misunderstand the equation Lineker was seeking to make, that the rhetoric used by the Nazis in the 1930’s, was, indeed, not dissimilar to the repugnant statements spewed out by Braverman and her supporters in Parliament. Is this not true? Just check the historical record, it’s easy enough.

‘But we all know what that led to’, said the commentator, who, I assessed, is not a stupid woman, and could easily follow a simple analogy if she chose to. But no. It was no longer about the comparison of words used before the horrific events of the holocaust unfolded, but about a man outrageously accusing Braverman and all those who agree with her of being full-blown Nazis. How utterly absurd. It is Lineker, in fact, who had more right to warn of what that early fascist rhetoric led to, because the German people were not monsters, but targets of carefully directed propaganda by the master propagandist himself, Joseph Goebbels. He helped demonise Jewish people so thoroughly that in increments their rights were eroded by legislation presented as both reasonable and necessary.

It is this dehumanising aspect which Lineker, I believe, was trying to address. And rightly so, because it is the most dangerous of all mindsets in whatever strata of society it plays out, from playground bullying to an absence of pity for people fleeing countries which our own has turned into hell on earth with our ‘humanitarian interventions’. I actually once heard a woman who was leaving leaving Sainsbury’s say to a man collecting for the RNLI lifeboat charity: ‘I’m not giving to you lot because you rescue those people in the boats’. I was struck dumb, and left the shop with tears forming in my eyes. What kind of person would be ok with leaving men, women and children to drown? And this happened only a week after a baby had drowned when a boat of asylum seekers capsized in the English Channel.

For this woman, ‘those people in the boats’ are not actually people at all. They are ‘unpeople’. Those who do not deserve the rights and dignity that she and the rest of her crowd have. In fact, the modern historian Mark Curtis titled one of his most important books, ‘Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses’, which explores the danger of dehumanisation and governments’ role in perpetuating it. From the author:

The principal victims of British policies are Unpeople – those whose lives are deemed worthless, expendable in the pursuit of power and commercial gain….Through its own intervention, and its support of key allies such as the United States and various repressive regimes, Britain has been, and continues to be, a systematic and serious abuser of human rights. I have calculated that Britain bears significant responsibility for around 10 million deaths since 1945, including Nigerians, Indonesians, Arabians, Ugandans, Chileans, Vietnamese and many others. Often, the policies responsible are unknown to the public and remain unresearched by journalists and academics.

But what the public do get is the propaganda. Curtis’s book is entirely based on declassified government files which leads him to conclude:

The culture of lying to and misleading the electorate is deeply embedded in British policy-making…The foreign-policy decision-making system is so secretive, elitist and unaccountable that policy-makers know they can get away with almost anything, and they will deploy whatever arguments are needed to do this….humanitarian concerns do not figure at all in the rationale behind British foreign policy. In the thousands of government files I have looked through for this and other books…such concerns are invoked…only for public-relations purposes.

‘Stand guard at the door of your mind’ said a very wise man. Be vigilant of the propaganda bombarding you daily from governments of all persuasions and their compliant media. Corporate journalists routinely parrot their official sources rather than challenging them, so how long are you going to let these state stenographers shape your worldview and light the touch paper of your prejudices?

‘The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.’ said General Westmoreland in the Oscar-winning 1974 Vietnam documentary “Hearts and Minds.” Troops were encouraged to talk of ‘kooks’ in order to ingrain the dehumanisation of the Vietnamese people they were fighting and to enable the slaughter of innocent women and children. In Iraq, a million innocent people have been killed, yet in a ComRes poll, 44 percent of respondents guessed the number to be less than 5000, and 59 percent thought it was 10,000. Thank you mainstream media! Even before the war started, 500,000 children under five died as a direct result of western sanctions, according to the United Nations.

The UK population has been described as the most propagandised and apathetic in the world. I would say that the majority of the citizenry of western countries are equally ignorant of the terrible suffering their governments have unleashed upon nations, the citizens of which are now condemned for daring to approach our shores.

I declare a personal investment in this issue. I have two very close friends currently navigating the asylum system, one here in the UK and one in the Netherlands. My friend in the UK is an Iraqi Kurd who already has family in London and has been waiting six years for a decision on his status. You heard that right. Six years. Things have moved a bit faster in Holland with a decision expected a year and a half after my Syrian friend’s arrival. I could write reams about the carnage the UK is responsible for in both of these countries; indeed, I visited Syria in 2017 and 2018, talking to people in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo who testified to the torture, starvation and executions they suffered at the hands of Al Nusra (Al Qaeda inside Syria) and other Islamist groups with no interest in ‘freedom and democracy’ but which are funded and armed by NATO countries who rebranded them, with the crucial help of the mainstream media, as ‘moderate rebels’.

The legendary historian, Howard Zinn, said: ‘if you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.” This includes modern history leading up to recent times, the truth of which can arm you against the relentless propaganda made by those with a vested  interest in your gullibility, your ignorance of their real motives, and your blind trust that they have your best interests at heart. I can’t think of any entities I would trust less than a government or corporate media. For me that is just common sense. 

The problem is, far too many just want their biases and prejudices upheld and they will grasp at any nonsense that confirms them. They don’t want to know that the majority of refugees stay in regions close to their home country, or that other countries take in huge numbers. I would make this plea to such persons: remember that ‘those people in the boats’ are human beings! They are just like you. They have all the same aspirations, hopes and dreams for themselves and for their children, and the vast majority, like my friends, dream only of ‘an ordinary life’ free from the horrors they have left behind. 

I will give the last word to Charles Dickens from that classic appeal for empathy, A Christmas Carol: 

It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!’

Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews, an independent journalist and writer, singer/songwriter, and performance poet.

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