Mexrissey: A glorious celebration of colaboración intercultural

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It’s unlikely that even at the height of their fame any of The Smiths (Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke or Mike Joyce) would have expected to one day become the subjects of a Mexican tribute album. The Manchester trio became huge global stars in the mid-1980s with their songs of maudlin woe and overliterate self-pity striking a chord with misunderstood teenagers all over the world. On the surface it’s hard to see how their fey northern English sensibility might appeal to millennial Mexicans, but a portly deadpan genius by the name of Camilo Lara (together with the bandmaster Sergio Mendoza) has drawn on the threesome’s long-standing cult status in his country and amongst LA chicanos to create an album which mixes trip-hop and dub reggae with happy/sad mariachi trumpets and the swooning strings and tragic sobs of ranchera, all of which overlays the erudite gloom of the original songs to wonderful (and often hilarious) effect. Working under the name ‘Mexrissey’ (although the origin of the group’s name is obscure, the album’s title, ‘No Manches’, is a top-class chilango pun), he has given songs such as ‘Cada día es como domingo’ and ‘El último del gang a morir’ (I’ll leave you to work out which is which) a new twist which reveals new dimensions of sound and meaning.

Unlike most tribute bands, who just present a photocopy of the original work and look of their idols, Mexrissey’s histrionic performances (there is little Mexicans enjoy more than drinking, singing and crying all at the same time) are a outright celebration not just of the music of the three Manchester troubadors, but also of the joyousness of such cultural interaction. They reveal the songs of The Smiths to make more sense once uprooted from the petty, miserable, post-colonial melancholy that originally inspired them. While the young (was he ever thus?) Nigel Farage might once have felt some affinity with the line ‘England is mine, it owes me a living’ or stomped along to the song ‘Bengali in platforms’, he and his dwindling fanbase would surely feel affronted to hear it sung with such typically Mexican melodrama. Music is, after all, all about interacción and reciprocidad. It puts me in mind of one of the very best gigs I’ve ever seen: UK-born Cuban and Bangladeshi musicians bashing and tooting up a storm together in East London several years ago. For all the despondency of their source material, Mexrissey make music in much the same spirit. The three members of The Smiths must be encantados.

In unrelated music news, former-pop-star-turned-political-commentator (and, er, novellistMorrissey has announced that his new single will be a cover version of the Bon Jovi classic ‘Sleep when I’m dead’. In a break from tradition, the sleeve photo of the single will not be a portrait of one of his idols (cover stars have, in the past, included Myra Hindley and Benito Mussolini), but an image of the singer himself. You can see an exclusive photo of the single here.)

(Btw, Anne Marie Waters isn’t, as media reports are calling her, an ‘anti-Islam activist’. She’s a pro-death camp wannabe demagogue.)

(Bbtw: actually, Morrissey and I have a lot in common: we both have immigrant parents, for one thing, and we’ve also both been immigrants ourselves in Rome. That’s where some of his far-right bedfellows – the ones he’s been spending all day in bed with, if you like – just put up some posters advertising a demonstration against the ‘immigrant invasion’. Sadly for them and for him, one of those invading immigrants (me) was on hand to rip them right down again 🙂

Thanks to my baby daughter, I’m used to handling other people’s shit. Time to find a bin, one fit for unrecyclable, undifferentiated filth.

Che pezzo di merda sei, Morrissey.)

Italy has a terrorism problem – but it’s not what you might expect

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I’ve been living in Italy now for a year, and on the whole I’ve been made to feel very welcome. No one has put pressure me to go back to my own country or suggested that I’m exploiting essential services that should be reserved for locals, even though during that time my wife and I have smuggled into the country a basically infirm member of our family, one who has no concept whatsoever of hard work, has made no apparent progress in learning the language and appears to have who does nothing but use up vital resources. If it wasn’t for the amount of panolini our baby daughter gets through, Rome’s garbage disposal crisis could be solved at a stroke.

The kind treatment afforded to my family might be considered odd, given that Italy is currently undergoing a wave of xenophobic fervour, one that (for me) recalls the deeply unpleasant events in late 1990s Ireland. Within a few months from around late 1997 onwards, as a result of tabloid campaigns aimed at the small numbers of refugee claimants then starting to arrive (sample headline from The Irish Independent: ‘Asylum scroungers fake ‘torture’!’), black people were getting screamed at in supermarkets and bus queues. Thankfully, nearly a generation later, Ireland appears to have comprehensively pushed back such attempts to turn it into a famously unwelcoming country.

In neither Ireland nor Italy have I, as an immigrant, faced similar treatment. Did I happen to mention that I’m white? Of course, most Italians would not knowingly discriminate against people on the basis of their skin colour. Like Ireland, Italy has a long history of emigration, a history of ethnic diversity going back to the Roman Empire and also a more recent one of massive internal migration. But brutal discrimination against people of apparently different backgrounds does exist, and it is coming from somewhere.

That discrimination partly manifests itself in relation to housing. In my time here there have been at least two front-page stories from my adopted city (Rome) in which locals have (apparently) refused to let people with black skin live in their midst. A few months ago an Italian-Moroccan family, one which has been based in Italy for several years, was prevented from taking up public housing assigned to them. Today, Repubblica reports on the plight of an Italian-Ethiopian family, similarly stopped from moving into their new home by a mob of angry ‘locals’ and a certain number of increasingly familiar faces egging them on.

There is a context for these events, specifically in terms of the numbers of recent arrivals. Italy and Greece are being used as corridors by the EU, much like the ones overcrowded hospitals will stick patients in when there’s no more space in the wards. As it happens, there’s lots of space in Europe for newcomers, but, with the odd noble exception, there has been a lack of political will to point that fact out. The human cost of recent waves of migration is not actually borne by Italians, but by the migrants themselves, prevented by the authorities from settling down and by other EU countries from moving on. (A very detailed and moving account of this is given in the 2015 film ‘Mediterranea’.) Many newcomers would like to reach the UK, where, owing partly to the history of the British Empire, they have personal connections and/or can speak the language, which would make it easier for them to continue their lives. The refusal of the British to accept our historical and moral responsibility is utterly shameful. However, the fact that my own country has a history of racism doesn’t mean that I can’t condemn it wherever I happen to be living now.

The conflicts increasingly taking place in Italy are not motivated by the newcomers themselves, but by political forces determined to misrepresent reality in order to provoke division so as to gain power. Racist politicians like Meloni and Salvini are never off the TV, spreading outright lies about the benefits paid to recent arrivals. The country’s leading opposition political figure, Beppe Grillo, makes common cause with the far-right, responding to criticism by claiming that ‘anti-fascism is not my concern‘. But its not those individuals who turn up wherever there’s an opportunity for aggro. Any visitor to Rome will notice the hateful posters of the openly nazi group Forza Nuova, whose thugs were behind yesterday’s racist protest in Rome. Another group which openly boasts of terrorising immigrants and their supporters occupies a substantial building in the centre of Rome. Above the entrance the name of the organisation is engraved in a pathetic pastiche of Mussolini-era iconography.  Just like their counterparts in the US, the UK and Germany, such groups hate their ‘own’ country. One of their piccolo fuhrers is even on record as calling the anti-fascist partisans of the Second World War ‘rapists’. Their objective is the same as that of Isis: to divide people using violence and the threat of violence in order to gain power. It behoves all immigrants, regardless of our status or the colour of our skin, to speak out against them just as we condemn other forms of terrorism. Italy is, in the words of Cesare Balbo, “a multiracial community composed of successive waves of immigrants”, with “one of the most mixed bloodlines, one of the most eclectic civilisations and cultures which there has ever been”. For all the absurd pretensions of Forza Nuova and Casapound, it is not and never again will be a fascist country – alle fine, è il nostro paese, non il loro.

Merkel under pressure to soften position on murder in wake of elections

Berlin: The newly-reelected German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing increased pressure to revise her government’s stance on murder in the wake of the Bundestag election results. The formerly marginal AFM (Allianz für Mörder) party achieved almost 13% of the votes and will take seats in parliament for the very first time.

Mrs Merkel, who was reelected with a vastly reduced majority, will need to govern with the help of smaller parties. Germany’s second political force, the SPD, experienced a dramatic fall in its vote share and the Greens and left-wing Die Linke party were unable to match the performance of the AFM, particularly in the increasingly pro-murder east of the country.

Mainstream German political parties have maintained a solid consensus on the issue of murder throughout the post-war period. However, the success of the AFM, which believes that murder should be legal when the victims happen to have been born outside Germany and/or have different colour skin, will challenge this unanimity.

The Deputy Leader of the AFM, Beatrix von Storch, is granddaughter of the Finance Minister in the pro-murder government which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. She is a particular advocate of the murder of immigrant children, while party founder Bernd Lucke is said to be a close personal friend of the Anglo-German political figure Nigel Farage and a strong admirer of British murderers such as Dr Crippen and Fred West.

In response to the results, the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme has reported that it is now incumbent upon Mrs Merkel to respond to the concerns of AFM voters by relaxing what many see as excessively stringent regulations governing murder. It then broadcast a ten-minute interview in which someone who believes it should be legal for the government to murder people on the basis of their ethnic background was allowed to explain the reasoning behind her position.

For fuck’s sake.

21 facts that PROVE Donald Trump is NOT racist

  1. There are numerous photos in existence which show President Donald Trump in the presence of black people. Were he racist, he would have refused point-black to ever have his photo taken with any black people, punched them in the face and rapidly walked away from the camera. No racist on earth would ever think of not doing that, and it is absolutely inconceivable that Donald Trump could combine lifelong racist beliefs and behaviours with the occasional cynical photo opportunity for PR purposes. It’s also definitely the case that any black people who have been in shot whenever a photo of Donald Trump has been taken can be considered to have granted him unqualified support for anything he has ever said or done and will ever say or do. It’s like he owns them.
  2. A huge number of notable black people have expressed enduring respect for President Trump. Muhammed Ali called him ‘the greatest anti-racist activist that the world has ever seen’ on at least seventy-seven separate occasions, while Rosa Parks requested that the words “I would never have had the courage to sit at the front of the bus if it hadn’t been for the brave and principled leadership provided by President Donald J. Trump, truly the first black president” be chiselled on her gravestone. Rapper Chuck D even named his first three children Donald in tribute to President Trump. (N.B. Although there is no actual evidence of any of these things being true and it may well appear that we have made all of them up on the spot, we refer you to points 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 19 and 20. below.)
  3. Barack Obama once said something negative about white people, or something.
  4. Hillary Clinton allegedly used a private email server.
  5. The notion that Donald Trump is racist is part of a witchhunt orchestrated by the Deep State. The fact that there is no evidence suggesting the existence of a ‘deep state’ (an expression imported from Turkey) is conclusive proof that the Deep State is so powerful it has covered up all signs of its existence, (c/f ‘The Usual Suspects’). The current secret leader of the Deep State just happens to be…Lebron James!!!
  6. Racism doesn’t exist. Albert Einstein called the very concept “an absurdity, a transparent Frankfurt School fabrication and an attempt to disguise the natural superiority of the white race”. (N.B. This quote has also been attributed to Anders Breivik.)
  7. Slavery existed before the so-called slave trade, etc etc etc (see stormfront.org for more background on this).
  8. Barack Obama once said something negative about white people, or something.
  9. Hillary Clinton allegedly used a private email server.
  10. There is nothing ‘racist’ about believing that human beings can and should be divided on the basis of genetic differences which determine their innate abilities and characteristics, that white people occupy the highest position in the racial hierarchy and that their resultant socio-economic and juridical superiority may at times need to be enforced by violence.
  11. Donald Trump is himself married to an illegal immigrant who barely speaks any English.
  12. Barack Obama once said something negative about white people, or something.
  13. Hillary Clinton allegedly used a private email server.
  14. There were some crimes in Chicago, or something. (I can’t remember the details, it was on Breitbart.)
  15. It is President Trump’s repeatedly stated belief that heavily-armed self-declared nazis and KKK supporters bearing burning torches and screaming about the innate superiority of white people over blacks and Jews is unproblematic, even healthy, and that those who oppose racism and fascism are terrorists who deserve to be met with extreme force. Those who connect these beliefs with his family history of KKK affiliation and a series of 1970s court cases which conclusively proved that his family business systematically discriminated against black tenants, add in the fact that he used to keep a copy of Adolf Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, and draw the conclusion that he is and always has been racist, are somehow, for reasons we prefer not to go into, missing the point.
  16. Barack Obama once said something negative about white people, or something.
  17. Hillary Clinton allegedly used a private email server.
  18. Purported recordings of President Donald Trump repeatedly using the N-word while filming The Apprentice has been hidden by the series’ producer, a confirmed Trump supporter, so no one needs to worry about that. Phew.
  19. Barack Obama once said something negative about white people, or something.
  20. Hillary Clinton allegedly used a private email server.
  21. President Donald Trump is clearly absolutely massively racist, but his supporters can’t admit this to others or themselves, so they run around in circles performing logical somersaults, making up bizarre lies on the basis of utterly implausible hearsay and humiliating themselves beyond repair.

 

Zac Goldsmith: “I honestly don’t see what’s offensive about the word”

 

Numerous Conservative MPs have rallied round their colleague, Ann Marie Morris, who is reported to have uttered the highly offensive phrase ‘n***** in the woodpile’ in a speech at a public event about Brexit.

The first to rush to her defence was recently reelected Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith, who commented: “It’s quite simply a word I use all the time. We have an open fire in the main living room, and round the back of my mansion there’s a pile of firewood. When it’s cold, I have some of the servants fetch some wood and build a fire. It’s not an offensive term”.

When pressed as to whether he thought it was appropriate for politicians to use the other word in the phrase, commonly referred to as the N-word to avoid offence, Mr Goldsmith was nonplussed.

“I don’t even see why it’s called the N-word”, he responded. “It begins with ‘i’, for a start. It’s merely a prepo…”

At this point our reporter was obliged to clarify. When the nature of the word was explained to Mr Goldsmith, he was silent for almost two minutes. Eventually an aide (subsequently identified as his brother Ben) intervened and whispered something in his ear. Mr Goldsmith looked perplexed. A hushed conversation then took place, during which the MP seemed to grow agitated. He appeared to be seeking some sort of clarification from the aide, but further explanations only seemed to puzzle him even more. Upon moving closer to the conversation, our reporter was able to distinguish words such as ‘darkies’ and ‘coloureds’. After several minutes one of Mr Goldsmith’s butlers politely asked us to depart the premises. He explained that Mr Goldsmith was suddenly indisposed as he had been “working like a n*****” all week” and had to urgently prepare a speech for a Bring Back Slavery event at the Commonwealth Club the following Thursday.

In a subsequent email the MP for Richmond apologised for having cut short his interview. In relation to the question of his colleague’s remarks, he stressed that he saw “nothing racialist about the word ‘the'”, and said he hoped the whole issue would soon disappear, “like a n….. in a blackout”.

When asked for a response to Goldsmith’s own potentially inflammatory use of language, Prime Minister Theresa May said it would not derail her plans to appoint him Secretary of State for Race Relations in The Colonies in the upcoming reshuffle. As for Mrs Morris, she said, the prime minister herself would, in her capacity as leader of the Conservative, Unionist and Obviously Racist Party, soon be making a formal apology on the MP’s behalf to any woodpiles who “may have taken offence” at the use of the term.

Lesson plan: “You are a refugee”

Wherever you happen to teach there’s a chance that your class includes refugees and/or racists. The point of this lesson is to increase the level of understanding of the plight of the former and encourage the latter to be less so. Linguistically the lesson lends itself to concentrated practice of various conditional forms. In terms of vocabulary, the ‘text’ is quite lexically dense so I wouldn’t attempt it with anything lower than B2. As you will see, discovery and development of relevant vocabulary is written into the task as it will be repeated various times.

To set it up you will need access to a pc, ideally with an IWB/projector; it also requires that students make use of their own phones.

Procedure

1. As students to write down the name of anyone they know who had to leave their home for a prolonged period, maybe because of war, political instability or a climate catastrophe. If they don’t know anyone personally ask them to think of any famous people who fall into that category, or even any films they’ve seen which depict such a situation. Ss discuss in small groups.

2. Share ideas, obviously sensitively if anyone in the class has had such an experience. In the process elicit, board and clarify key vocabulary: refugee, seek refuge, protection, asylum; escape, flee, run away.

3. Tell ss they’re going to imagine that they’re refugees. Ask them to guess which country they might be escaping from. Tell them they’re going to face a series of dilemmas and see if they’re successful at reaching safety. Point out that the scenario is based on the real experiences of millions of people.

4. Show them this page from  the BBC website and recapitulate the scenario. Point out the vocabulary that has already come up and highlight the words ‘traffickers’ and ‘deportation’. Clarify any misunderstandings.

5. Tell then you’re first going to do the task all together. Decide on the balance of the class if ‘you’ are male or female.

6. Show them the first dilemma: Egypt or Turkey. In pairs, students discuss for about two minutes, then vote as a whole class.

7. Take them through the dilemmas, clarifying vocabulary as you go. If you like, you could highlight the 1st/2nd conditional forms on the board.

8. See how ‘you’ end up. Gather reflections on the success/failure of their route.

9. In the same pairs, ss repeat the task on their phones. Monitor in case they need help with language.

10. After a couple of attempts, gather reflections on their experiences.

Homework: Students repeat their task at home and write the story of what happened in the past simple, first person, adding details as they go to make it more real.

Extension task: in a following lesson you could the videos on the same page to practise talking about unreal scenarios using 3rd and mixed conditionals, eg. ‘If they had paid the smuggler…’, ‘If he hadn’t decided to go to Libya’, etc.

هذا هو!

In his attitude to Islam, Bill Maher is on the same side as Trump

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The US comedian and chatshow host Bill Maher has been on the rant about Islam again, saying that it needs a ‘reformation’. This is a common trope on the right, and Maher’s latest declarations are, as this excellent article details, just the latest in a long history of anti-Muslim statements which place him firmly on the right of the political spectrum in relation to one of the most disturbing developments of the Trump Era.

It’s typical for those caught out making crass and ill-informed generalisations about Muslims to defend themselves by arguing that their quarrel is with religious faith itself. Maher did make a documentary called ‘Religulous’ (2008), which attempts to satirise all the world’s leading religions. His show has often featured the ‘New Atheist’ Sam Harris, whose work has, since the publication of a book in which he tries to use secular beliefs to justify the use of torture, been a rallying point for islamaphobes. Thankfully, partly thanks to being articulately challenged by people like Reza Aslan, Harris recently seems to have had doubts about drinking from the same pond that outright nazis like Pamela Geller piss and bathe in, and he has spoken out forcefully against Trump’s “Muslim Ban”. The internet doesn’t work via reasoned debate, however, but by memes. On social media it rarely takes more than a short scroll down the followers lists of people quoting Harris to find proper full-on racists who also include antisemitism and white supremacy in their repertoire of photoshopped hatred. His assertion (on Maher’s show) that Islam is “the motherlode of bad ideas” has had a vigorous afterlife despite his having since sought to distance himself from his more rabid disciples. Daring to question the wisdom of Harris on Twitter is like removing the pivotal can from the bottom of a pyramid of tinned human shit.

A standard trope among those on Twitter who declare themselves ‘atheists’ is the idea that because Muslims are not a ‘race’ it is legitimate to unleash the most violent impulses against people of that faith. This belief is supported and encouraged by Maher, and may even be derived from him: he said in 2010, expressing sentiments that anyone who has spent any time on social media will recognise as those of the far-right:

“Am I a racist to feel alarmed by that? Because I am. And it’s not because of the race; it’s because of the religion. I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?”

(From http://flavorwire.com/600169/reminder-bill-maher-is-garbage)

Anti-Muslim prejudice is also fast becoming the Achilles’ heel of self-styled progressives. In  more than one pro-Bernie Sanders Facebook group I have seen the most horrendous far-right material being shared and commented on approvingly. Isis and their affiliates know what they’re doing in trying to eradicate basic liberal principles, and their allies on the far-right clearly appreciate the effort being made.

Harris, of course, is not a theologian. None of the New Atheists are, even their Pontiff Richard Dawkins. Terry Eagleton’s classic takedown of Dawkins in the LRB is sublime:

Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

While Dawkin’s mischaracterisation of religious faith is seemingly based on a Sunday school understanding, adult faith is infinitely far more profound and complex. I was inititally attracted by the work of Dawkins and Harris, but I quickly lost faith in such a simplistic and deterministic view of human affairs and became curious about other ways of thinking and praying. I can see a great deal of sense in Kierkegaard’s line about the function of prayer being not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. I also identified with William James’ notion of a ‘will to believe‘ – what is (for example) confidence in ourselves but a form of faith? Several years ago I started attending Quakers meetings. I wanted to develop a commitment to making the world a better place which was not rooted in rage and resentment and to seek communion with others in a spirit of shared compassion and reflection rather than kneejerk condemnation.

I also wanted to have an area of my life which is not conditioned by the ideology of selfishness and social darwinism that Dawkins – with very great eloquence – espouses. I wanted to try (pace James) to develop a conscious faith as opposed to being controlled by assumptions and impulses that I don’t understand or control or often even recognise.

Blind faith and superstition play a huge role in our lives. Our entire way of life is sustained by a set of unquestioned assumptions, whether that be in the supremacy of the market, the integrity of a sports team or the primacy of our nation state. All of the above are affirmed in rituals of consumption, fanship and symbolic allegiance which are entirely irrational and often intimately related to discrimination and violence in the form of the dispossession and/or humiliation of others. We also suffer greatly from a vague and largely unexamined notion that somehow ‘technology’ (in some ways a metonym for the global market) will somehow liberate us from environmental pressures, that staring at our smartphones will redeem us from reality, that this peculiarly narcissistic medium will save us from nature’s revenge.

You also don’t need to be a theologian to see that the popularity of Dawkin’s book at the same time as the West’s attack on Iraq was no concidence. It’s not by chance that an culture of intellectually tearing apart the Koran appeared just as agents of a supposedly more rationally-based societies were systematically destroying one of the oldest civilisations on earth. Dawkin’s work also raises issues of privilege and complacency: the belief that the world is simply the way it should be, that the distribution of wealth and life chances has been ordained according to logic and science and that faith in something greater is therefore ‘unnecessary’. This is a return to late-19th century positivism at its most arrogant. That does not imply that all those taken in by the arguments of Dawkins et al are guilty of racism. However, anyone doubting the link between New Atheism and Trump’s attempts to exclude Muslims from the United States would be well advised to watch this video, gleefully retweeted by Dawkins in 2015. It also suggests that his attitude to feminism is not all that far removed from that of either his many bigoted followers or, for that matter, Islamic fundamentalists.

Interventions like Maher’s make such stuff respectable among an audience that likes to think of itself as progressive. This is not, after all, a theoretical intellectual debate taking place in a vacuum. It primes them to accept further abuse of Muslims by a Government they should in theory have no affinity with and draws them into the sphere and influence of the far-right.

In saying all this I want to be clear that I am aware of the stultifying and repressive nature of religious belief, particularly when organised into hierarchical and bureaucratic institutions allied with terrestrial power structures. Religious beliefs have also been exploited throughout history by Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and everyone else under the sun to pursue psychotic murderous agendas. Anyone wanting to argue that Islam was uniquely prone to violence and destruction would have to point to a continuous history of such violence in Muslim societies over the last 1,400 years. Nor is there anything particularly distinct about Islam’s treatment of women. From Northern Nigeria to Central America and from West Virginia to East Africa, barbaric manifestations of both Christianity and Islam seek to control women’s fertility. The Misogynist-in-Chief himself is an odd kind of Christian, one who apparently doesn’t believe he’s accountable to God for his moral actions. He’s not a good advert for such a belief. The presence in his administration of figures like Mike Pomeo and Betsy DeVos, both of whom actually welcome the ‘Apocalypse’, should be a screaming red alert for liberals. For American progressives to think that such problems (and their political priorities) lie elsewhere right now is bizarre.

Comedians don’t make for good political leaders, any more than primetime ‘billionaires’ do. Michel Houellebeqc was prescient in making the main character in ‘The Possibility of an Island’ a Doug Stanhope-type comic who becomes a cult leader. Charlie Brooker predicted something similar in ‘Black Mirror’. Both could well have been predicting the Italian agitatore-in-capo Beppe Grillo. The world is awash in comedians-turned-political-preachers urging their audiences to question all authority! – except their own authority as narcissistic/megalomaniac white men making the most of their God-given right to be listened to.

Even among comics, there are better role models. Louis CK’s personal campaign against Trump was heartfelt and humble and didn’t entail his putting himself forward as an alternative. His views on religious faith allow for a certain ambivalent respect in relation to others’ beliefs:

“I’m not religious. I don’t know if there’s a God. That’s all I can say, honestly, is “I don’t know.” Some people think that they know that there isn’t. That’s a weird thing to think you can know. “Yeah, there’s no God.” Are you sure? “Yeah, no, there’s no God.” How do you know? “Cause I didn’t see Him.” There’s a vast universe! You can see for about 100 yards — when there’s not a building in the way. How could you possibly… Did you look everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom? Where did you look so far? “No, I didn’t see Him yet.” I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet; it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m just waiting until it comes on cable.”

Then there’s Russell Brand, who, burnt by the failure of his highfalutin political pretensions, is now educating himself on the subject of religion and global politics (and sharing what he learns here). Perhaps Maher should do something similar. Or maybe it’s time for him to be retired before his constant and deliberate flirting with far-right ideas does any more damage.

I’m proud to be an immigrant

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As I leave the metro station near my work on Tuesday afternoon I see a sticker from a fascist organisation reading ‘Italy for the Italians’.

At work, while waiting for the students to turn up, I read an article via Facebook that says that Theresa May is going to take away the right of EU nationals to settle in the UK ‘within days’.

I’m an immigrant and I’ve been one for most of my adult life. I’ve lived in six countries other than my own. I chose to move to each of those countries of my own free will and no one attempted to stop me. I’m also a second-generation immigrant, because my father was born in Germany but left in 1950 with his mother, who had met a British soldier and emigrated to Guernsey. My father recalls his journey to the UK as an interminable process, with different visas required for each country he passed through. He later went on to work in countless countries, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, before eventually settling in Sheffield.

My wife isn’t an immigrant now, but she has been one for a total of 13 years. Our brand-new daughter is in a more ambiguous situation, in that she was born to one Italian parent and one foreign one (me). Actually, thanks to a little bit of foresight, my wife now has a British passport by virtue of having lived in London for six years. She had to do an absurd quiz with questions about horseracing, cricket and the Commonwealth, and then she had to swear allegiance to the Queen. I helped her prepare for the test but I didn’t know the answers to most of the questions, and I would have objected to having to paying allegiance to someone just because they occasionally put on a supposedly magic hat.

I’ve always felt welcome in every country I’ve lived in. I’ve never been the object of hostility. On my very first night in Dublin (where I lived for six years) someone in a kebab shop remarked on my foreignness with what sounded at the time like aggression, but on reflection they were almost certainly taking the piss.

In terms of my immigration status I’ve also been extremely lucky. I’ve never had to worry about keeping a low profile or lie awake worrying about possible deportation. I’ve never even had to do a visa run, and my status has never depended on my language skills.

Moving back to the UK in 2006 after thirteen years abroad felt a little like moving to a foreign country. For the first few months in London I kept automatically referring to ‘other foreigners’. It felt natural to spend my time with others who’d lived or came from abroad.

When I went to live in China the paperwork was immense, but it was all available in English. Last year I got annoyed when the Thai embassy insisted on a particular form of bank statement which our narco-sponsoring bank didn’t want to provide. There was a way around it, one which didn’t inconvenience us unduly.

I wanted for a long time to migrate to Brazil, but I basically never had the courage to live and work undercover in a country where foreign teachers are very rarely granted visas. I’d hate to build a life somewhere and see it destroyed overnight. That’s what happened to one of my sisters when she went to work in the USA. She popped over to Mexico for the weekend and wasn’t let back in. Her experience of deportation was extremely distressing.

All the Italian people we’ve spoken to over the last month have been very congratulatory about our daughter. Nobody’s told us the country is ‘full’ or told her to get back where she came from. Nobody would ever tell an actual individual that to their face unless they were actually insane in several important ways; such notions are political abstractions. The fact that our flesh-and-blood child will use up space and resources has never been mentioned.

The stories we’re hearing now from the UK and the US are staggering and heartbreaking. They result from decisions made by people who have no understanding of the risks and sacrifices that human lives entail. Or maybe they do, but they shut their eyes to the implications of what they’re doing. Perhaps I in my examining job have blithely made decisions about people’s language skills which have meant they had to go back to someone else’s idea of where they belong.

I’ve got friends and former students who’ve spent years of their lives dreaming of studying in the UK only to find that large parts of the ‘education’ system are no more than a scam to rip off gullible foreigners. In much the same way, no one travels thousands of miles in the back of a truck to sell selfie sticks outside the Colosseum or roses outside the cinema. Immigrants are useful for other things than political scapegoating.

I’m an immigrant, but an immensely privileged one. In my case, leaving my country was in many ways the obvious and easiest choice. It’s largely by virtue of an accident of birth that I’ve been able to get status and find work. I didn’t get a job in Portugal in 1999 because I was an experienced teacher, but because I have the right accent and passport.  I’ve also benefitted from a favourable historical situation as far as living in Europe is concerned. In most cases, it takes courage and initiative to move to another country.

As it happens, my country’s wealth came in large part from invading other territories and forcing people to migrate. One factor propelling the whole Brexit nonsense is a denial of that history, a resentment at the notion that Britain should and could learn from its past, and a forlorn hope that it can somehow relive the experience. Italy, a country whose cultural richness derives in large part from the ebb and flow of different civilisations, had its own vainglorious attempt at imperial expansion, but fortunately reviving that particular epoch is the dream of a persistent group of loudmouthed oddballs at its political fringes, rather than the historic mission of the most reactionary elements of its political elite.

I’ve tried all my life not to be ashamed I’m where I’m from, to overcome my sense of discomfort at my origins. For me, my unconscious personal project of distancing myself from my roots and trying to be from somewhere else is symptomatic, I now recognise, of a generalised cultural disavowal – there are few things as typically English as pretending not to be. It has also been conditioned by my family background. I have also always enjoyed a certain relief at not possessing any sort of claim to pureblood status or any mooted connection to the ‘soil’. I’m proud to be an immigrant son of an immigrant parent, and it would be absolutely wrong for me for me to do anything other than express my full solidarity with my fellow immigrants all over the world, especially those whose experiences have been less charmed than my own. Of course, that solidarity has to be more than verbal – I need to get involved in specific initiatives to help those less fortunate than myself. Voicing solidarity is easy – it needs to be expressed in actions to have any actual meaning. I believe that in terms of resisting Brexit and Trump, or combatting exclusionary EU policies elsewhere in Europe, helping and supporting (relative) newcomers to our countries is one of the most useful and important things any of us can do.

(This piece was written with suggestions from Andrea, Federica, Federico and Patty.)

Milo, Miller and Marine Le Pen: Pedophiles, Nazis, and genocidal Islamophobes

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No thinking and feeling human being can do other than take great satisfaction from the downfall of the white supremacist activist/’libertarian’ ‘provocateur’ (aka racist troll) Milo Yiannopoulos, who was exposed this week as an advocate for pedophilia. This icon of the “alt-right” movement clearly thought we as a  civilisation had reached the point where all forms of abuse of the vulnerable by the powerful could be openly celebrated, but it turns out he was wrong. From now on all coverage of the alt-right should include an explicit reference to its chief figurehead’s support for the rape of children.

The speed with which the far-right fake news outlet Breitbart dumped their star turn shows that they are more vulnerable to media exposure has been assumed. It’s unfortunate that no such outrage has accompanied the news that White House spokestroll Steven Miller is also an outright white supremacist. Progressive elements in the mainstream press should counter any tendency to normalise such affiliation by seeking not just to expose him but actively seek to oust him and others like him.

The global far-right movement knows how to stretch the boundaries and to insinuate their values into mainstream and even ‘progressive’ opinion. Yesterday  I saw this in practice. At some point over the last few months I must have liked or signed up to a US-based Facebook group called ‘Real Progressives’. It seemed mostly made up of Bernie ‘supporters’ who had been naive and/or arrogant enough not to heed their hero’s warnings at the most crucial time, and thus helped Trump into power.  Still, with the election out of the way and all radical forces united in opposition to the new ‘President’, I would have assumed that we had essential values in common.

That turns out not to have been the case. On Tuesday someone who, judging from their profile, was clearly a pretty serious racist posted a meme showing the French fascist leader and Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen calling for children wearing headscarves to be expelled from France. The immediate response from members of the group was not just approval, but a collective outburst of genocidal racism. There were even people calling for Muslims to be sterilised. My remonstrations (and those of a few others) had little effect. We pointed out she’s on the same side as Putin and Trump, and that she proudly associates with holocaust deniers, but they weren’t interested. She’d thrown a bone and they went for it without hesitation.

The far-right knows how to position itself and how to frame its messages. These ideological mengeles know where to insert the needle to get their poison directly into the veins of people who, although they go on believing themselves radical and progressive, are now primed to accept the fascist agenda. These were people in this group of ‘socialists’ and ‘Greens’ openly calling for, if not the rape, the physical abuse of children on the basis of their religion.

Perhaps if Milo Yiannopoulos had specified in his rant that only Muslim children were fair game for sexual abuse, his message would have found a more receptive audience. I hope not, but what I’ve seen in pro-‘Bernie’ and Jill circles makes me suspect that it would have gone down well with at least some of their self-declared supporters. All of us on the Left need to be extremely vigilant and very vocal with regard to any anti-Muslim racism appearing in our midst. That is the Trojan horse being used by the smarter elements of the far-right to insinuate their insidious messages into supposedly ‘progressive’ milieus.