Brexit is important because it’s a closing-in of the British mind that we should all fear.
The horrific murder of more than 50 LGBT revellers in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the equally shocking murder of the British politician Jo Cox moved have moved me like they moved millions – and they have made me vocal and angry about not only the two murderers but about the whole undercurrent of hatred and bigotry that cultivated their murderers’ mindset.
It is impossible and duplicitous, for example, for American establishment figures to wring their hands about what happened in Orlando while at the same time turning a blind eye to the fact that Ted Cruz, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination, was happy to shake hands with a right-wing pastor who advocates execution for gay people. Similarly, it is impossible to ignore the obvious connection between Cox’s murderer shouting “Britain First” and the paranoid and distorted rhetoric being used by UKIP posters and the loose-canon Brexiteers in the run up to UK’s referendum on leaving Europe.
The revolting drip-feed of negativity towards ‘migrants’ and Muslims in British newspapers like the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express is clearly complicit in this national drift towards an atavistic and small-minded fear mentallity. It is out of this tragic and terrible manure that the murderous acts spring. Not from some ‘evil’ unconnected to the press and the media.
Rather than bracketing the Orlando killer and Cox’s killer into the ‘insane’ or the ‘jihadi/extremist’ bracket we have to acknowledged that these men acted in a context of increasing bigotry and close-mindedness. The brutality of these men (and indeed of ISIS executing gay men and non-Muslims) is the very extreme end of a spectrum that begins with civilised people closing their minds and hearts to people who are different from them.
One of the heart-numbing aspects of the Brexit debates in the UK is the idea that there always have to be a ‘balance’. That if most people (for example 95% of scientists and economists) agree that leaving the EU would be disastrous for the country and our children’s future in the world, then we have to find someone in the 5% to “balance” the argument. Both are given equal airtime and the truth is distorted. If most people (100% of scientists) believe that evolution provides a robust explanation of life on Earth, then we don’t have to give a platform to the nonsense of Creationism as a ‘balance”.
The fact is that some things are just bad ideas. Putting your hand into a fire is a bad idea. We don’t need to balance that by having someone argue that it is a good one.
Toleration, kindness, openness, communication, trade, dialogue, open-mindedness, co-operation, compassion, curiosity are qualities that lead to positive life constellations. Bitterness, close-mindedness, greed, deafness, rigidity, isolationism and hatred lead to increased misery and conflict.
I don’t doubt that there are a huge number of Britons who sincerely believe that leaving the EU will be good for the country. But the overwhelming evidence shows that it will not. The EU (flawed as it may be) has brought environmental safeguards, labour laws and peace and prosperity that our grandparent’s generation only dreamed of in the post-war years. The access to culture, funding, research, trade, security and social fields is a huge boon for the generations to come. The Brexiteers who clamour for ‘less red tape’ are also the free marketeers who are keen to scrap maternity leave, sickness pay and labour protection. The energy and tax that young migrants bring into an economy far, far outweigh the cost to the infrastructure of a country and besides, as a union of 500 million people we have a duty to help the many millions displaced by a war in Syria that we are indirectly responsible for.
Staying in Europe makes it easier to police our borders and protect our welfare. (Do the Brexiteers imagine that France will continue to hold refugees at Calais once Britain leaves the EU border conventions?) Being part of the EU will allow our youngsters to study in universities that get European research grants and work abroad and be inspired about being part of a wider European family. And quite apart from the mere economic benefits, I feel that there is a much more resonant cultural and emotional connection.
I have always been delighted to feel part of Europe. To hang out in Berlin, drink Pernod in Paris, eat paella in Barcelona, explore the Carpathians, swim in the lakes of Mazuria. I have taken full advantage of studying for free in Berlin, working in Germany, paying tax in Germany and using German swimming pools and roads paid for by my taxes. I have criss-crossed boarders willy-nilly and learned languages and I am constantly learning from the counter-point that other nations brings to the experience of being English.
When I lived in Berlin in the 90s I came into a much clearer and prouder relationship with both my Britishness and my Englishness. But I also came to be full of admiration for the unique history that Berliners lived through and had a much more vivid sense of the Second World War there where the scars of the Cold War were still so visible. Being a European is just one concentric circle in my life. Within it there is being British and being English. Beyond it is being a Buddhist and being a human. Many circles makes for resonance.
What terrifies me is the growing constriction of circles that Brexit hints at: closed borders, closed economy, closed minds. It’s an isolationist creed that finds echoes in Donald Trump and i believe it’s the very opposite of the thing that has always made Britain great: our openness to the world, to science, to trade, to diplomacy and to others. Voting to remain a part of a greater whole can only empower us. Closing doors will leave us to stagnate and founder.