Post-Referendum Racism

Following the EU referendum, there were claims of a sudden surge in racist incidents. Remain campaigners made the inevitable claim that this surge was due to the Leave campaign, as if it had magically caused decent people to transform into racists. Which, of course, is nonsense: there were no more racists the day after the referendum than they were the day before, whether or not the scumbags had been emboldened by the result.

In fact, it was difficult to be certain if there was a direct link to the referendum. Aside from the fact that the Remainers had immediately started a campaign to record all incidents of racism and xenophobia, which raises the possibility that incidents that would previously have been ignored were being recorded, in the same period, we’ve seen a number of terrorist incidents and the ongoing, high-profile reporting of the migrant crisis, which could easily offer justification, if any is needed, for people to launch attacks and abuse. For example, monitoring of online anti-Islamic abuse shows that it spiked after Brussels, Paris and Orlando, none of which had anything to do with the referendum; clearly the same people abusing Muslims then, are the ones who are abusing them now.

And, those people are not the majority of Leave voters. Indeed, I wonder if the sort of ignorant thug who behaves in this way actually bothered to vote, or understood the issues. Leaver voters are not a homogenous bunch and had many and varied reasons to vote as they did. In fact, many are immigrants – a large number of people of Asian origin voted Leave for the simple fact that they trade with Pakistan, India and China rather than with Europe and see no reason for the red tape the EU brings as they don’t benefit from the single market. Nor are the white-British Leave voters insular – a surprising number of those interviewed have Chinese wives, and even Nigel Farage’s wife is German – and, while two-thirds of Jews voted Remain, a third voted Leave, making the throwing about of Nazi as an insult all the more unpleasant, especially when so many in the Remain campaign have expressed anti-Semitic views.

Now, there have been around 6000 incidents reported since the referendum, representing a 50% increase on the year before. Now, those numbers do sound like a lot, but, if you pause to consider them, the picture being drawn from them isn’t accurate as there were 4000 incidents reported the year before without the excuse of the referendum to justify them. Whether 4000 or 6000, it’s too much – one incident is too much – but such is the way that the numbers have been used (or misused) that we end up discussing the numbers rather than condemning the abuse. If you were to listen to some Remainers, it would seem that 4000 cases of racial abuse and assault is acceptable. Of course, that’s not what they intend to imply, but they seem to lose track of the people who are the victims and the people onto whom they are attempting to shift the blame. Remember, even if we assume that every incident involved a separate attacker (and, I’m sure, plenty were carried out by the same thugs) and that each of those attackers is a Leave voter, they would still only represent one-twentieth of a percent of the over-17 million people who voted to leave the EU. Even if several attackers were involved in an incident, they still represent less than one percent. It is unjustifiable to try and use such a tiny fraction to tar the morals of the majority.

However, while I do not believe the increase in incidents is a direct result of the referendum or reflects the views of Leave voters, I do think there was a link between the referendum and the rise in incidents, but not for the reasons most commentators have given. The referendum debate was a particularly febrile and unpleasant one with a lot of abuse being thrown about and I believe that this has created an atmosphere in which people, who previously would have remained civil, feel that it’s acceptable to abuse strangers. Indeed, at the same time we had reports of people being racially abused and Remainers complaining that they felt unwelcome in their local pubs, there was a torrent abuse unleashed against Leavers, who were accused of being racists and Nazis merely for the way they voted, and also reported similar incidents of being made to feel unwelcome. It was all part of the same political disease afflicting Britain – polite disagreement and reasoned debate have been replaced by hatred and abuse.

In the same period, we’ve seen the abuse released by the Labour leadership contest, during which Angela Eagle received death threats, a bus passenger being punched in the face in Brixton during a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest, and a Jewish university student being bombarded with anti-Semitic abuse after winning a two-year battle against York University Student Union for anti-Semitism. These incidents are part of the same lack of respect for others that is becoming horribly prevalent in the country.

In fact, the attempt of the Remainers to dismiss the Leavers’ position by labelling them as Nazis continues the course of ignoring the views of a large number of people which not only led to the success of the Leave campaign, but has the potential to push people into the arms of the extremists.

Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, expressed a clear assessment of the situation in his comment in the 1st July, 2016 issue, saying “It is the refusal to take any notice of the views of large swathes of the population that gives extremists life. Our freedom from the EU will make extremism less, not more likely, as the pressure cooker is released.”

Ironically, as well as devaluing the very real evil of racism by trying to co-opt it as a political weapon, the Remainers have shown naivety in their reaction to the ‘spike’ as if it represents some new and previously-unknown racism and bigotry in the UK, when anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, in particular, have been disgustingly common in recent years. Indeed, a lot of that abuse has come from sections of the same people now bleating about it, as well as heaping abuse on those whose politics they disagree with!

We desperately need to restore a sense of decency to public discourse, so that nobody feels they have the right to be abusive towards others. Everybody is entitled to their view, but how they express it is a different issue entirely.

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