In Britain a 40 year old Polish man, Arkadiusz Jóźwik, lost his life after allegedly been beaten to death by five youths merely because he was speaking a language other than English. Notwithstanding rank hypocrisy of the tabloid press – which arguably colluded in this crime (see image above) – or the role of the far right in promoting racism, questions must be asked about how much hate there is in UK society of the ‘other’.
So how did we get to this point? And was it always like this?
The uncomfortable truth is that Britain has never been a tolerant country, though many people in other countries have been sold this myth. You only have to look at Britain’s colonial history to see that the British Empire was not about ‘civilising the world’, but about invasion, war, economic exploitation, massacres and even genocide.
So, is it no wonder that a nation built upon violence has so much hate? And can this be changed?
Most youngsters adopt prejudices learnt from their parents or from their peers (who in turn learn from their parents).
Perhaps it is significant that History is now only optional in schools. Old-style history tended to be about kings and queens and battles and how great Britain was. History needs to be a core subject again, but with a far more objective approach, in order that young people are able to form a wider perspective than the narrow, bigoted and blatently factually incorrect descriptions of the world as retailed by the tabloids or the purveyors of hate.
Ignorance is an excuse, but does not need to be one. How many youths, never mind adults, know, for example, that during World War Two ‘the few’ who Churchill referred to in the RAF who gallantly took to the skies to see off German bombers were mostly Poles, who had escaped Nazi occupation, to join up with one of the few remaining countries that were still capable of resisting invasion? One could even say that if it was not for the Polish airmen, Britain may have lost the war. And how many of Britain’s youth know about the hundreds of thousands of men from India who joined the British army during that same conflict, to fight in the trenches of northern France and lose their lives? And how many youngsters know that when the British invaded Australia we almost succeeded in our campaign of genocide and massacres to wipe out an entire race of people?
History is not only important, but essential, if prejudice is to be combatted.
As a first act in a move towards ensuring schools become an incubator of tolerance, it would be helpful if every school in Britain at Assembly time give a short lesson on the role of Polish people in helping the UK defeat fascism. This would be a fitting tribute to the Polish man in Harlow who lost his life for merely speaking the language of his birth.
The ignorant never see beyond their own prejudices. For example, they think it’s perfectly fine for Brits to work abroad, to live abroad in their hundreds of thousands, to migrate in their millions, to take up citizenship of other countries, but to retain their British culture wherever they are. However, to the ignorant, if ‘foreigners’ coming to Britain do the same, they are to be reviled.
Imagine if a Briton was kicked to death on a Spanish resort for merely speaking English? And if that was repeated and more Brits were attacked, they would naturally be afraid and perhaps want to return to the UK. The tabloids would be suitably horrified. Yet this is the exact situation many Eastern Europeans now see themselves in, particularly after the referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Many people from Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries, etc, now feel threatened and under siege and in some areas are afraid to go out.
In the lead-up and immediately after Brexit, hate crimes soared. Police stated that 3,076 hate crimes and incidents were reported to forces across the UK between 16 and 30 June alone – one week before and one week after the referendum vote on 23 June. The real figures could be higher, with past studies suggesting just one in four hate crimes are reported to police: 52,000 hate crimes were recorded in 2015, but a national crime survey suggested 225,000 was the real figure.
So who will be next to be murdered out of hate? A boy with autisism? A doctor in an NHS hospital who looks foreign? A tourist visiting the sights in London?
Hate crime can be crime against people with disabilities, or people who adopt a new gender identity, or people who profess different religious beliefs, or people of different ethnic heritage, or people with a different sexual orientation.
Protests, nor protestations by leading figures, are not enough to curb this ignorance, this hatred. Anyone in any position of authority will be grossly failing in their responsibilities if they not only condemn the hatred, but also take positive steps to turn things around.
Back to schools – just two ideas… twinning and exchange projects with schools in other countries; inviting representatives from local cultural centres of ethnic minorities to come to schools to talk about their culture and their fears.
Combatting hatred is the duty of everyone – of all of us – to intervene at every moment it raises its ugly head.