Journalist and author Gary Younge spoke to Unity the day before the Convoy to Calais left about refugees, racism, resistance and the political situation in Britain, and the US with Black Lives Matter and the Presidential election
From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies email@example.com
How does the Convoy to Calais fit in with the current political situation?
There’s a constituency in Britain that has not yet been courted by the main parties. It is not xenophobic and is not antagonistic to asylum seekers—people who do want to extend the hand of solidarity and assistance.
It’s very important that people see that because the rhetoric we get primarily from the right—but frankly not just from the right—is that refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants are only a problem. Somehow our capacity to see them as human beings and to support them is supposed to be diminished by their poverty.
And since we’re human beings we can’t let that happen.
We can look back in history to times when that has happened before and it didn’t end well. We need to ensure that doesn’t happen again. These people are being demonised, and we should support them.
What about the French attempt to ban the Convoy to Calais?
It’s interesting, isn’t it? If I were to move a million pounds from Britain to France I’d have absolutely no problem. There’s no control over capital movement. But if a person who is poor, possibly starving, running away from war, tries to cross a border they are stopped.
And even if we try to cross a border to support them we are stopped. So money has more rights than people and that’s a disgrace. And particularly in this moment when people are talking about the benefits of free movement in the EU—notice that it’s free movement as long as you aren’t going to help the most desperate.
The arguments round the EU have been pushed to the right—there’s been a competition between leaders of official campaigns to say we can both stop free movement. It’s curious. During the Cold War they used to say that the most terrible thing about the Eastern Bloc was that they didn’t let people travel and politics kept them in. But as soon as the wall came down they said they can’t travel and economics kept them out.
I believe in free movement and travel. People should be able to move around the world. It’s our world and we should be able to move in it. But you don’t have to embrace that view to support this demonstration. But it’s curious the degree to which both sides in the referendum are either apologetic or apoplectic about the fact that human beings are allowed to travel freely across the continent.
Do you think the media has a ready narrative for events like the Orlando massacre or the murder of Jo Cox?
I think we should always be open. We should always wait for the facts. Whether it’s a Palestinian that kills an Israeli; or if Israel bombs Gaza; or the murder of Jo Cox; or the killings in Orlando. We should never support the collective punishment of a group for the actions of a minority.
Jews are not responsible for Israel. Muslims are not responsible for everything that a Muslim does. Interestingly we’re not going to talk at the moment about whiteness and white people. Frankly that’s a good thing. I wish that every conversation that took place in the moments after an act of terror could be framed like this.
What’s clear even now is that the notion that he was a lone crazed killer. But this thing happened in a context. You don’t kill an MP by accident. That’s not an accidental target. It’s an act of political violence and has to be understood as such, in the same way that Orlando has to be understood as a hate crime and an act of homophobia.
Those facts are already clear; then we can wait for the other facts to come out.
The image you get from the US is of an enormous xenophobic tide. Surely this can’t be an accurate image of all of the US?
No. And the flip side of the Donald Trump phenomenon is the Bernie Sanders phenomenon of people who are incredibly hopeful, engaged and spirited.
Unlike Britain, America does have a story that it has to tell itself about immigration. If you start from the basis that immigration is a bad thing then give it back to the Indians. I saw a great bumper sticker once that said, “America: love it or give it back”. So there should be some breaks.
But what America is experiencing is the same as throughout the Western world, which is that nobody paid the price for the crash. You can’t get your hands on the people who caused your wages to stagnate, your tuition fees to go up, your health fees to go up—so you look for the person closest that you can find to blame. They could be Mexican; they could be Roma; they could be asylum seekers. In a sense to the assailant it doesn’t matter. In that sense America is no different to here. So there you have Trump, here in Europe you have Le Pen, the True Finns, Geert Wilders. They’re really all doing the same thing, which is playing on popular disaffection and leveraging it for their own sectarian interests.
We hear less about Black Lives Matter now. Is there still an ongoing movement?
One has to be careful of the degree to which one understands it as a movement as opposed to a series of connected but somewhat spontaneous responses that were connected by a theme—the state execution of mostly but not exclusively black men. And to that extent it is still going on. Interestingly in America when electoralism comes to the fore politics recedes.
What’s amazing about the Black Lives Matter movement in a way was that what it did wasn’t that it showed a huge rise in police killings, but that it shone a light on ongoing events. That’s still happening. Those that are caught on video make a splash—sometimes. There’s no real urgent, obvious logic as to what makes the headlines and what doesn’t.
But a generation has been galvanised in a way that we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights movement. That will go in ebbs and flows but it’s not going away.