Theresa May was in the news last week talking about government proposals to take away the passports of people whom the government thinks might want to go to Syria to do bad things.
Whilst I can certainly understand where she is coming from, I have serious concerns about the effect this policy will have on society. British governments have shown marked suspicion of Islam over the last dozen years or so, and there has been much conflicting information spread by politicians and news outlets. Muslims are peaceful, Muslims are all terrorists, Muslims oppress their women, etc. We are encouraged to seek out moderate Muslims (they’re the good guys, you see) and to report preachers who radicalise our youth.
Then, if we think you or your children are going to skip the country, we’ll take your passports and deny you your right to free movement.
I guess this is one of the problems with elected representatives: it doesn’t matter whom you vote for, you always end up with a politician. In recent history, we have ended up with politicians who got in by trashing the opposition and not really concentrating on what they are actually going to do themselves. Personally, I’d prefer to vote for someone who tried to get me to vote for them and not someone who just wants me not to vote for the other guy.
If, however, the tactic of trashing the other guy works and gets your team more MPs than the others, you end up in government. People in government face some difficult problems that the rest of us would rather not deal with (this is why we elect representatives, after all). The difficulty with that is that those very same representatives only seem to know how to trash the other guys without actually presenting compelling arguments for something.
It’s all very well arguing against radicalisation and travelling to take up arms in a far-away land and spreading the story that life once you get there is not remotely like you’ve seen on the YouTube adverts. I guess that kind of message is important, but it is completely hollow on its own. You need to give reasons why life at home is worth a damn. You need to create a compelling argument to be proud of Britishness, of our cold drizzle, warm beer, greasy chips, tikka masala and kebabs.
In a half-hearted and slack-wristed attempt to seem like they’re doing something positive, the government decided to codify what they call “British Values”.
British Values are, like Britons in general, hard to pin down. British people know what they are but will have great difficulty putting it in to words. It’s a bit like our constitution. It’s there, but nobody has ever bothered to write it down.
They had to come up with something, so they finally settled on “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”*.
Nice and vague, like the best of British.
Then they decided that they had to compel schools to teach these things. Because individual liberty is best served when the government is controlling the way you think before you even learn to write. Because tolerance of those with different faiths is best affirmed when you bad-mouth an entire religion.
The promotion of these so-called British Values in schools and nurseries works directly against the so-called British Values. It is a cheap cop-out that lets the politicians say that they are doing something without actually taking the time to construct a coherent message or a compelling argument about what is actually good about being British, or what is great about our islands and our culture. It is all about fear of what might happen if we let those other (brown) people have a voice in shaping our society, an eventuality we must fight against by coercing the youngest to think in a particular way.
The true way to promote British values is to be British, to be the best we can be, to show our immigrant communities our hospitality, our warmth and our welcome. To allow our curiosity to get the better of us and to let ourselves learn about Eid, Diwali, Vaisakha and so on. To invite each other round for a cup of tea and to open our hearts and our hearths to others. To do what Britons do best.
If you have to rely on coercion, you don’t even believe your own message. You have failed.