Waking up on a Saturday morning, there is always the experience of getting up early, sinking a strong coffee with breakfast and open-endedly reading the pages of news stories while thinking through how to best utilise the weekend. The themes of Brexit, Europe, the upcoming UK General Election and the recent local elections fill many of the pages of online commentary today.
In my mind, and given what I have seen, heard and experienced having returned to Britain after six years away is how far matters have retreated backwards. There is so much sheer hate and indignation towards Muslims and others thought to be different from a sense of dominant white English society. Britain has changed for the worse, although it was already heading in the wrong direction by 2010, the year I left Britain, two years after the global financial meltdown. There is so little room left for accepting differences, even though these differences are minimal. Most people are content with trying to do their best as citizens of the state in spite of feeling voiceless, inhibited and even silenced by the workings of society. A pervasive, meanness streak affects the culture in offices, in working environments everywhere and even within households.
It feels like an especially foreboding time. Britain is at the precipice of taking on Europe and losing. Few wish to acknowledge the risks of becoming a meaningless construct among a group of nations whose only coming together is to ensure collective success for nations with a history of fighting and war. Britain believes it can make a success of itself on its own terms. This is sheer folly, however. It is an allusion to a once inglorious past. A reflection on a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. There is simply nothing else that England can market on the global stage on its own, and as it steps out of the EU and potentially the Act of Union that made Britain what it is. All the trends in the world suggest that nations are only looking out for themselves. Regional and global cooperation is seen as a choice rather than a necessity.
Beyond my concerns at the supra-national level, I worry most about the state of the nation from within. Two decades ago, questions of diversity and differences in society were moving away from viewing them as challenges to society, to a situation where these cultural, intellectual and social additions were merely that. An enhancement on the current collective sense of the nation – one that was inclusive and forward-looking, yet self-assured and poised to take on the world through an embrace of globalisation. Fast-forward two decades and Britain is seen by many as bigoted, reactionary, inward-looking, intolerant, spiteful and worse of all blind to all criticism and oblivious of all that has shaped the post-war experience – one of immigration, diversity and difference. It is a retreat to little Englandism. This dark and disturbing sense of national identity is woefully ignorant of the history and contributions of British imperial subjects and others elsewhere to the development of British society today. The almost fetishisation of anti-Muslim bigotry, hyper-normalised in the sphere of everyday politics is deeply worrying. Few see the bigger picture. Media and politics enlarge the focus on the problem elements of minority communities to the extent that Islamophobia is not merely a heavy cold but now a growing a malignant cancer of the nation’s soul.
I worry for the future of my children and their children should they decide to have any. God help them if they do. I worry for close friends and colleagues in the academy, trying to get a foot on the ladder, believing in meritocracy and hard work, working with their hearts and minds devoted to building a better society, but who struggle for recognition or acceptance. I worry for the scholarship that ultimately emerges when the gatekeepers see more problems than opportunities. I worry for my parents who grow old and weary, and I dread the thought of them getting too ill. I worry about the situation two years down the line, when a rampant Tory Party will take Britain out of Europe, with little or no opposition, leading to a desperate state of affairs for the poor, the infirm, the minority, the immigrant, the visitor… What future now?