Mixed race and proud
I have always regarded my Scottish, Irish and Lebanese blood as an intoxicating and exotic mix. It manifests itself in my physical appearance but has also broadened my view of the world. During the 1950s I spent four formative years in Pakistan where I learned an incalculable lesson about the resourcefulness of mankind. I recall the unrelenting toil of men and women who, even at my young age, I recognised as perched on the very edge of existence; whose poverty appeared to me so complete that, if even for a second their work-rate slowed-up, they risked falling into the abyss.
Despite that grinding poverty, my over-riding memory is of a people smiling. At the time I had nothing with which to compare the paucity of their existence and only later, when I returned home to Britain and witnessed for myself the enormous gulf in material conditions that existed between the two places, was I able to see their obvious suffering.
That experience left me with a healthy perspective that has stayed with me ever since and which I have called on during periods of crisis in my life. Over the years I’ve endured homelessness; I’ve lost jobs, businesses and loved ones and I’ve seen relationships fail, but during those testing times I’ve always had, as a touchstone, the memory of those people in Pakistan and how they existed, often with nothing but an inexorable determination to survive. Because of that experience I’ve always been able to recognise that however tumultuous and overwhelming my sufferings may seem at the time, that they are relatively insignificant and ultimately survivable.
Resourcefulness we need
Now I see people who have lost everything clamouring for a place in the world where they can work their fingers to the bone and create a life in peace. We call them migrants. By the time they have reached Europe, they have already displayed the very courage, inventiveness and resilience we so desperately seek in our own low productivity marketplace. Many of them have seen horrors beyond our imagination – the slaying of loved ones, the bloodied stinking corpses of those killed indiscriminately and left in the streets. Many have sheltered children and elderly people by putting their own bodies on the line. They have gone without food to ensure the most vulnerable have enough nutrition to cling on to life. Then, when they see a chance to escape to freedom they take it – just as you and I would. We have never had to face that choice.
Challenging man’s inhumanity to man
These are people who believed the claims of western governments, who bomb their lands in the name of liberation, that they are standard bearers for human decency and freedom. Never could they have ever imagined that their treatment at our hands would be so dehumanising – that they would be referred to in a language reserved for insects and characterised in some of our most rabid tabloids as an infestation. How people in our midst can become so detached from their own humanity that they accept this descent into cheap and reckless red top slang is beyond me. Jimmy Reid, one of Scotland’s great orators, warned students at Glasgow University, against this form of inhumanity as far back as 1972.
“Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially dehumanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping. The irony is, they are often considered normal and well adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else.“
These words were spoken at Jimmy’s Rectorial address at the University and ring truer today than ever.
Our mistake is to see migration as a British issue. It is not, although we have been culpable in our stirring up of cultures of which we have no understanding. Of one thing I am certain. Treat people as though they are of a lesser breed, and you are guilty of a monumental folly, which will always rebound on you. When will we ever learn that lesson?
Our starting point in this debate must always be that we are dealing with human beings, that bleed as we do, love as we do and have ideals and ambitions as a we do. In one respect only are they different – circumstances have given them a determination, a hunger and a work ethic that we have lost.
Without immigration our economy will wither. Never believe those that will contradict that because the economic history of western nations speaks of that as an inalienable truth.