Sunday, August 08, 2004

More on Xenophobia

I do not think any one subject has elicited so many comments, which suggests that Dennis Matyjaszek has hit a raw nerve, or our response to him has struck a chord. Anyway, thank you to all those who told us they enjoyed the piece.

As for the xenophobia slur, it is of course, garbage. In normal human group dynamics, different groups pick on each other's differences and then accentuate them.

Mr Matyjaszek chooses to highlight the behaviour of English football fans abroad, or when confronted with a foreign team at home, but if he thinks the response is xenophobia, he is very much mistaken.

To prove him wrong, all you have to do is watch the crowd reaction when local sides play. The rival fans cheerfully hurl insults at each other, based on the local characteristics of the teams: coming from North London as I did originally, my local team was Tottenham Hotspurs and whenever we played Arsenal (another North London team), the accent in the chants was always very much on the first part of the word. And, of course, should any teams – and anyone in general – come from south of the river (Thames), they were always, automatically "poofters" (gays).

It is unsurprising, therefore, when teams of different nationalities play, the fans will always pick on the most prominent differences – and that will inevitably be nationality. But this is not xenophobia. It is simply group dynamics.

What people like Dennis Matyjaszek also don't understand is that English humour relies heavily on the insult, so much so that to "insult" someone can be a sign of affection and friendship. I would, for instance, only call a Frenchman a "frog" if I was very good friends with him. In the EU parliament, one of the other English groups had a French assistant, and he himself used to delight in calling himself the "token frog".

Living in Israel for a year, on a Kibbutz, I had a Dutch room-mate with whom I was the greatest of friends, but would never refer to him in company in terms other that "that Dutch bastard". I don't know what he called me, because it was always in Dutch, but one of the Dutch girls who heard him describe me blushed a deep crimson.

On the other hand, you sometimes need to beware of Englishmen you know who are polite to you - that means they don't like you. We have a special way of being acidly polite which is far more insulting that any actual insults.

These stupid so-called "tolerant liberals" who are neither tolerant nor liberal, don't understand that either. They want everybody to be "inclusive", gender and race neutral, and thus stop normal human exchange. That way they simply poison relations, as everybody is looking for implied insults, or being terribly careful not to give offence. No one can relax and you can never get to know people.

That is not to say there is not xenophobia around. One of our correspondents reminds us of a speech given by Chirac in June 1991 at Orleans, who observed of Muslims and blacks,

How do you expect a French workman to feel who with his wife earns about 15,000 francs and sees crammed in on the landing opposite a father, with four wives and a score of kids, making 50,000 francs a month on welfare- naturally without working. If you add to that the noise and the smell, that French worker on the landing goes crazy.
“One wonders”, our correspondent writes, "how or why a man of Dr MacShane's sensitivities has missed the mote in the European apple of his eye".

Talking of that "European apple of his eye", to see real "xenophobia" go to Belgium. Not a few years ago, I had to give a speech at the Catholic University at Leuven, deep in the heart of Flemish Belgium. To get there, I took a taxi from Brussels, with a French speaking driver – no doubt a Walloon.

Finding the university was not easy but my driver could get no help from any passer-by. He was a French speaker and they contemptuously ignored him. Eventually, it was left to me, an Englishman in a foreign land, with no Dutch, to ask the way. A charming young man could not have been more helpful: he led us on his bicycle all the way to the front door of the lecture hall.

That, incidentally, was between whites. When we flew in to Charlerloi by Ryanair to attend the parliament, very often there would be a young negro with us. He worked in the parliament, just like us, had a British passport, just like us, and was a weekly commuter, just like us. Yet, at immigration - every damn week - the officials would hold him up and scrutinise his papers minutely. "Don't be black in Belgium", he told us.

Eurosceptics – "latent xenophobes"? Pah!

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