by BARNIE CHOUDHURY
Former BBC journalist
NO MATTER how old your son or daughter, you don’t want to see or hear them cry in pain. It’s absolutely heart-breaking, and worse when you cannot physically comfort them.
So, when Olivia, our Leicester-born, Cambridge-educated and absolutely resilient 22-year-old rang in tears, we knew something was wrong. At the end of a pretty bad day, during a summer holiday job in the south of England, a white man racially abused her before uttering the words: “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”
I immediately thought about the number of times I’ve been asked to do the same. How else could we not but conclude that this phrase is nothing but racism, pure and simple? But that was to be expected in the 1970s and 1980s. Surely not at the end of the second decade of the start of the 21st century, with a new generation, in an integrated and multicultural UK?
Last week, the same vile words were uttered by the world’s most powerful man, and yet the two men who were vying to become our next prime minister couldn’t bring themselves to use the ‘R’ word. Why? Simple. No backbone. In one fatal omission they lost any chance of my support, just as Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitic Labour party has done. I would hazard a guess I’m not alone.
If you see a friend hurt someone intentionally and cross a line, surely you must have the guts to call them out, explain why and ask them to apologise. It doesn’t matter if you lose that friend. Now is the time we need to live by a moral code, especially political leaders. Every time we don’t, that line between right and wrong erodes, until we have no boundaries at all. Suddenly we will find ourselves doing nothing when one country invades another for no other reason than the invaders were superior in numbers, technology and weapons.
This is not hyperbole. This is our shared world history. When one race or ethnic group thinks it is superior, wars happen. Forget Germany, Nazis and the Aryan race. I wouldn’t be so crass as to equate US president Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. But how about Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and the current tensions in Syria? History shows us that what starts off as hate-filled, racist rhetoric soon spirals out of control.
And what about the idea that if you criticise your country, you are unpatriotic? Well, I love Britain, my adopted country for the past 50 years. Thus far, I’ve never failed the Tebbit cricket test. But that doesn’t mean I won’t criticise the UK, or its leaders, if I feel aggrieved. It is the sign of true democracy, a freedom which comes with responsibilities, the primary one being to speak truth to power.
At least the home secretary, Sajid Javid, had the courage to put his head above the parapet. His speech last week went some way to rebuking the US president. And Javid is right – if we were to stop extremism, we all need to play our part in halting poisonous narratives. My only caveat is that we must have freedom of speech, and that is why we can and must have the right to challenge and confront dog-whistling politicians.
We need only to look at recent history to know what happens when governments force people ‘back home’. The dictator, Idi Amin, did just that in August 1972 and look how that turned out for Uganda. The disgraced despot, Robert Mugabe, decided to repatriate white-owned farms in the new Zimbabwe. That turned out brilliantly, didn’t it?
So let’s see what would happen if every south Asian went back to where they came from. No Moeen Ali or Adil Rashid to help a future England cricket team. The national dish would be no more. And we would see the return of browned-up actors with Peter Sellers-style Indian accents. Joking aside, the already creaking NHS would break, the UK’s treasury coffers would be poorer by almost £700 million, and about 105,000 people would be immediately out of work.
This great country of ours has been built on the sacrifices of people of all colours, millions of whom have died in its service. Our leaders owe it to my daughter and her generation to remember that long after we are gone, they will be the ones who will safeguard the home which their predecessors have lovingly and proudly built. No matter their race, colour or creed.