This country becomes more contradictory every day – or at least, that’s how it may have seemed to many people watching the BBC’s six o’clock news bulletin on Friday.
It led with the announcement that the Advertising Standards Authority would be investigating the scheme in which vans sponsored by the taxpayer (via the Home Office) have been driving through London, allegedly stirring up racial tensions by telling illegal immigrants to “go home”. Elsewhere, the vans have been criticised because they have encouraged people to report fellow British citizens as illegal aliens, and immigration officers carrying out spot-checks have also targeted people who were born in this country because they “didn’t sound British”.
Another item was about two British women who suffered traumatic injuries in an acid attack in Zanzibar, where they were working for a charity. The motive was not known but the report concentrated on tensions between Islam, the island’s main religion, and others, remarking on signs asking foreigners to respect the local culture and dress appropriately – covering up, rather than wearing skimpy outfits that would upset local people. It went on to say that the attack victims were, in fact, dressed appropriately at the time.
A third item put a spotlight on Switzerland, where race relations are deteriorating rapidly. It seems the authorities have been passing racial apartheid laws as ways of controlling immigration – and it was easy to imagine why this would be permitted after watching the report on the trouble Oprah Winfrey, one of the richest citizens of the United States of America, had buying a handbag there.
Oprah, in Switzerland to celebrate Tina Turner’s wedding, was continually told by a shop assistant that the item was “too expensive” for her. The knee-jerk conclusion for an onlooker is that the assistant was making a prejudiced judgement based on the fact that Ms Winfrey is not white.
So we were presented with three stories about racial tensions. In the UK, the issue was augmented with unwarranted accusations against people of foreign descent who were, in fact, born here. In Zanzibar the extra factor was the possibility that religious intolerance between Islam and others was behind the attack. And in Switzerland there was the out-and-out racism in the inference that a black woman could not possibly afford an expensive handbag.
These stories were indictments in their own right – made even more uncomfortable viewing by the fact that the news anchor for that bulletin was Mishal Husain who, although born in Northampton, has parents from Pakistan and is a Muslim. We can also expect her to be reasonably well-off, considering she has a high-profile job in television.
Vox Political has huge respect for Ms Husain. Her high-profile appointment as a presenter of Radio 4’s Today Programme is well-deserved and our only regret is that this will take her off our TV screens. She fronted these stories with good humour and a twinkle in her eye – which seems amazing restraint, considering the way they each highlight circumstances that could be applied to her.
There is no way of knowing what she thought of the developments she was chronicling and it would be inappropriate to ask. Having said that, did nobody else wonder what was going through Ms Husain’s mind when she told us the ASA said it had received many messages of support for the so-called “racist vans”?
There is no out-and-out party political message to this article; racism and religious intolerance can spring up among people on all parts of the political spectrum – and is an indictment against those who practise it, wherever it does.
Because it is something that may affect all of us, it is something that we can all fight. In the 21st century the thought that a person may be victimised because their skin is a different colour, or because they have different philosophical beliefs, makes a mockery of our claim to be civilised.
Don’t put up with it. Don’t sit in silence while others are attacked. Complain. Campaign. Turn back this ugly tide.
Otherwise, one day, you might wake up to find that it’s your turn to be the victim.