This post is, in part, a follow up to this piece I wrote back in June about patriotism. Back then, I was able to recognise that all forms of nationalism are based on ignorance and fear, however I still found patriotic sentiments ingrained into my psyche. Why this was, when all rational thought told me that patriotism was nothing more than a smokescreen for politicians and a comfort blanket for the closed-minded, I could not tell.
Recent events have made think about the issue of patriotism once more, and have led me to conclude that in order to be the kind, compassionate human being that I want to be, I need to completely reject all ideas of nationality completely. One of the things that made me feel this way was a conversation I had with some people who I considered to be among some of the most generous and loving people I knew. These people agreed with UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s stance that people who are HIV-positive should not be allowed to immigrate to the UK. I was aghast and deeply upset by this. Their reasoning was that these immigrants were crippling the NHS (not the cuts that the government has imposed, then), and that the UK had a right to turn them down. I struggled to reconcile this incredibly mean opinion with these loving people who I once thought were so kind.
It got me thinking about where these opinions came from. When ‘immigrants’ are just an abstract concept that the right-wing press tells us is destroying our economy, I suppose it is unsurprising that people forget that these immigrants are actually people, too. They are viewed as statistics at best, and at worst – pests. It then struck me that these inhumane opinions all stem from a sense of nationalism. These people, like Farage, don’t want HIV-positive immigrants in the country because they will be using the NHS – and the NHS is ours. It is this notion of ‘ours’ versus ‘theirs’ and ‘us’ against ‘them’ that thrives from the rotten roots of nationalism.
The right-wing would like us to define ourselves based on people who are different to us. They would have us focus on the differences between ourselves and immigrants rather than our many, many similarities. None of the differences between people from the UK and anywhere else in the world, be it the US, Russia or Sierra Leone, are unbridgeable. Language, culture, religion – none of these takes away from our shared humanity. However, right-wing parties such as UKIP are attempting to dehumanise people from poorer nations. If they are not British, then they do not warrant the same perks that we do. We have been conditioned to think of immigrants not as people, but as scavengers, who aim to take away what is rightfully ours.
The fact is, though, nothing is rightfully ours. I was only born in the UK by pure chance. I could equally have been born into a poverty-stricken country, never having a hope of clawing my way out of my dire situation. Only when we recognise this does the whole notion of patriotism seem completely absurd. As children, we are taught to share, yet as we become adults, this lesson becomes void. If we are fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy country, then we are conditioned to believe that this is not some mere coincidence, but that we have somehow earned our position among the privileged, and must protect this privilege from the invading hoards at all cost.
These politics are rooted in policies of exclusion and entitlement. If we are ever to consider ourselves compassionate individuals, as most of us would like to, then our politics must reflect this. As it stands, however, swathes of Britons are taking an anti-immigration, and therefore anti-human, stance, all based on the lie that they are protecting something they are somehow entitled to. Having thought long and hard about this, I have come to regard the UK with a new sense of objectivity that I previously lacked – I can recognise its perks and its flaws from the point of view of an impartial observer. Only when we climb out of the red, white and blue bubble that we were forced into can we begin to think about the issue of immigration with open eyes. And only once our eyes are opened, and the fear-mongering of the nationalist right-wing is pushed aside, can we see just how clear-cut the issue of immigration really is.