‘All this stupid little country has to do is stand in line and do what it is told for one miserable day, but can it do that?’[Pascal Sauvage in Johnny English]
‘It is an unmitigated disaster, English.’ (says Pegasus). ‘I couldn’t agree more, sir.’ (responded Johnny English) [in the film John English]
Perhaps that Rowan Atkinson film Johnny English was more forward thinking that we would have expected. The day after, with ‘yes’ for Brexit, is despair for many (at least around 48% of those who voted), triumph of insularity for others (most of the 52%), a sad day for the EU, a nightmare for the money-world, and a divided nation battered and exposed.
One commentator noted that he ‘went to bed in Great Britain and work up in Little England’! For some of us, though, our experiences suggest that we have always been sleeping and waking in a divided nation and in little insular England. Myths about ‘great’ and ‘united’ are just that: myths propagated by a certain kind of narrative to ‘put us in our place’. Great Britain’s back-side, front parts and whole un-shapely body politic have been laid bare and the ‘crab-in-barrel’ in fighting will now continue with venom. All force will now be unleashed to find scapegoats to exorcize the demons or jumbies that have been let out!
To be objective – we have lots of history here but it is history which is the result of encounters with others during Britain’s expansionist excursions, not to mention the ways in which the flag of St. George’s tried to hoist itself in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Without these encounters there is no English history: if only the English can understand this.
Perhaps, if you are like me, you who would not lose any sleep over what 52% of little Britain think of themselves! I may live here for years but do know my place – that of an outsider, sometimes overtly but mostly subtly! As Salman Rushdie noted years ago,
“…Britain is undergoing a critical phase of its post-colonial period, and this crisis is not simply economic or political. It’s a crisis of the whole culture, of society’s entire sense of itself. And racism is only the most clearly visible part of this crisis, the tip of the kind of iceberg that sinks ships.”
For years of conquest and looting and centuries of being told that you are far superior to all the foreign looking/speaking people have left a smell that has seeped into and across all of what make us as a nation. And while some have tried and are trying to neutralise the smell, here we are today with more insularity.
Given our tendency to historical amnesia through efforts designed at making us only recall just what has transpired a week ago, it would be timely if we remind ourselves of the late Margaret Thatcher’s famous victory address at Cheltenham:
‘We have learned something about ourselves….’a lesson which we desperately need to learn. When we started out, there were the waverers and the fainthearts, the people who thought we could no longer do the great things which we once did, that we could never again be what we were. There were those who could not admit it, but- in their hearts-they too had their secret fears that it was true: that Britain was no longer a nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world. Well, they were wrong.’
The leavers are delighted. I am not. I now know the places I am not welcome to (and some of these are multi-cultural). I am not fooled by the mantra of Britain’s independence nor her commitment to interdependence. All bloody rhetoric, selfishness, and a yearning for that ‘great’ which has always been tied up with others. And yes, some may suggest that the vote is about people protesting ‘austerity’. Well, I hope life gets better for all of us but I am not hopeful.
Mahatma Gandhi when he came to visit England was asked what he thought of English civilization. He replied: ‘I think it would be a good idea’. Perhaps, now is the time.
© Jagessar 24 June 2016