Monday, 29 September 2014

Chakrabarti's commendable considerations


I'd rather be Chakrabarti in the UK than in France, Germany, Italy and possibly all over the white western European world

Thus Shami Chakrabarti in yesterday’s Guardian. She is the director of the British civil rights organization Liberty.

I have always found Chakrabarti principled yet realistic, idealistic but seldom dogmatic. If only more intellectuals could debate like her: respecting the public’s intelligence by providing it with nuanced reasoning.

You do do that voodoo so well, Shami. Balanced whilst rebuking. Critical whilst appreciative. Grateful for and proud of what the UK is but  rightly so  never satisfied, always on guard, ceaselessly working to improve and further British tolerance whilst acknowledging that this country nevertheless is as tolerant as they (so far have generally) come.

As a black Swede who’s lived in the UK for the last couple of years, I am gobsmacked at how British intellectuals baselessly yet habitually point to other countries  not least Scandinavia  as lands of Cockaigne, where everything is somehow better (because it’s not British), society is imbued with flawless tolerance (unlike the British), and unicorns roam free.

Shami Chakrabarti. Director of Liberty
I beg to protest and would instead profess that it’s actually the British, the UK, that generally stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to tolerance, and in many other fields too. That’s not to say everything  or even anything  is perfect, not at all, but one must at least put things into some form of factually based comparative perspective.

In the UK, meritocracy comes before ethnicity to a far greater extent than in other European countries. Compare for instance the relative success in Britain of well-educated second generation immigrants (Chakrabarti herself being a prime example).

Or look at the degree of intolerance towards the usage of racist terms in the British public sphere. In Italy, black politicians can be likened to monkeys by colleagues, in Sweden, blackface theatre is still de rigueur. In arguably all other European countries, a black footballer who has a cardiac arrest on the pitch would’ve had to accept racist tweets as part of the package  in the UK, senders of such tweets are imprisoned.

Or compare the parliaments, suffused as they are in the rest of Europe with racist parties, whilst there’s nothing of the kind in Britain. Not even Britain’s own version of these parties is actually racist, which says it all. True, UKIP might comprise several swivel-eyed loons, but it’s not an ethnic nationalistic party; neither do you in that party find strong currents of neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism or fanatic Islamophobia, which you readily find multiple examples of in most other European parliaments, not least in Scandinavia.

Fair enough, it might precisely be that streak of self-criticism in the British ethos that is the reason for why Britain is so far ahead of other countries  never allowing itself complacency in the field of tolerance  but I would think it advantageous if the UK could distance itself somewhat from that self-deprecating modus operandi, and instead allow itself a bit less modesty and a bit more self-congratulatory praise and pride.

This would be advantageous for the rest of Europe. Because by ceasing to habitually sneer at itself in a western comparative context, believing it only has to learn, the UK would hopefully realize how much it could contribute  even rightfully lecture to  other western countries in this field.

As Chakrabarti consistently and commendably proves, ’tis indeed possible to be constructively critical whilst simultaneously appreciative and proud.

A great woman in general, Shami, just like Britannia.