Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
I have a nightmare, a repeat offender, which leaves me unwilling to re-play its story on first waking, even to myself, let alone to you, so uncomfortable does it make me feel.
In the dream, I have been accused of a crime; at first I try to ignore the accusation. But it sticks, and soon “everyone I know” (in dreamworld) is judging me. The crime is unspecified: je suis Joseph K. But it’s terrible…whatever it is.
Let he without sin…well that’s not me. I don’t know what my dream-self has done in particular, but I do know that I’ve done wrong, not in general, but in too many different particulars to count. And so my protestations of innocence against that hidden accusation sound (in my sleep) strangulated, unconvincing, even to myself.
When I wake, hoarse, it takes a moment of forced concentration to recall: I’ve not murdered anybody. No-one lies dead because of my hand. Open your eyes. Breathe out. Look: you are not abandoned, alone, to your fate.
But I know I’m imperfect, both in reason and temperament, so at night my conscience, the dream-God, comes again to hold me to account. Stop judging others, the unconscious whispers, lest you too be judged. But without judgement, what’s left?
Reflex. Without judgement, we have reflex alone. Animal instinct.
The news from the Mediterranean, the hundreds of drowned refugees, the Islamists throwing Christians to their deaths makes me…what? Angry, I suppose. Not in a Katie Hopkins, “Look! I’m a repellent inhuman bitch!” type way. But angry, reflexively angry. One of my dogmas is that primal instinct is always fine; it’s how you choose to respond to that instinct which permits the measure of morality. (I “get” UKIP; I could never vote for them.)
What is the worst sort of accusation? The one to which there is no answer. This refugee crisis is such an accusation. “We” intervened in Libya; it caused upheaval, a break-down in civil order, has fanned Islamism in the region and undoubtedly sent refugees to our shore and others to watery graves. “We” decided not to intervene in Syria; this caused upheaval, a break-down in civil order…you know how it goes.
So in place of a definitive response – and I’m not accusing “us” for not being able to locate one – we could fall back on knee-jerks. Demand that an intergovernmental entity “do something”? Certainly, the EU should do what it once did, and recently decided to cease doing. But we – and this time I don’t need the inverted commas – we do know that the refugee boats still sailed, and that people still died, even before the EU stopped the Mare Nostrum exercise. Don’t we.
One solution with the advantage of clarity would be: this nation is proud of the help it gives refugees. Let us arrange for them all to be transported here, as safely as the Navy can allow.
Perhaps – I’d put it no more strongly than that – perhaps one reason there’s no such unequivocal clamour for Britain to provide universal refuge is due to something which we do not like to line up with phenomena such as the Mediterranean refugees. We prefer not to look at it at all.
Perhaps Abase Hussen is guilty of more than flag-burning, of contorting his face in hatred while he did so, and of raising daughters who think that the vicious murderers of the innocent make a fitting tribe to live with. Perhaps the years it took to get rid of Hamza, those images of Livingstone fawning over Qaradawi, the toleration of Anjem Choudary; perhaps all this has an endpoint other than the fact that thousands of British citizens have gone to fight with ISIS. Perhaps this all takes its toll.
Because the British citizens with a passion for ISIS, that “home grown” passion…we know that this passion is, in fact, less than three generations old, which to a country like Britain is no age at all. That this hatred of Britain and tolerance and decency was imported. That much of that importation took place under the aegis of providing refuge.
We have succoured those who would kill us. That we have succoured many more who would not kill us is irrelevant. We have succoured those who would kill us. I think this…realisation is still sinking in. I do not believe it will be without consequence.
So what should we do? Throw the children into the sea, and watch them drown? Let others do the throwing, but look the other way? Attack the pirates, and send the children back to their god-awful existence in inadequate “camps”? Send the children to the camps? - dear God. Or – because of course, they must come – let them come here, and accept that among that number will be men and women who would likely prefer us dead?
I don’t know what we’re accused of. I know we’re accused of something terrible. I know we’ve done nothing wrong, but nothing right, either. I have no answer to this question, which may not even be posable as a question. Tonight, I expect, the nightmare will come again.
The title of this piece doesn’t refer to the refugees: you do realise that? Tap your knee with a hammer, and your leg jerks. The movement gives the impression of choice, of free will, but it is, in fact, quite automatic. Such knee-jerking signifies nothing of substantive importance, but it passes the time until night-fall.