I never got the attraction of tolerance as a virtue. I don’t quite get why tolerance is given such weight. I’m concerned with Britain here, but it could apply to other places too. This tolerance seems little more than being contented not to deport someone or lock them up because you don’t like the look of them or you don’t like the sound of them. Or maybe it’s being willing to endure what you find objectionable because you don’t want to disturb the social peace by unleashing an outbreak of violence.
It’s better than nothing, I suppose. But it’s hardly worth elevating to the status of a Value That Makes Us Great As A Nation. I doubt anyone feels a sense of gratitude that they live among people who don’t really like them and don’t have any interest in their welfare or what they might have to say about anything, but who are not presently minded to have them ethnically cleansed.
Mind you, Britain does seem remarkably tolerant of things like Nigel Farage, and UKIP, and the Prime Minister referring to migrants fleeing war as a ‘swarm’. It seems to be quite good at tolerating lurid stories about benefit scroungers that are intended to demonise people whose access to housing, health, decent wages and social supports has been expropriated. The tolerance of vast wealth accumulated by the financial sector is really quite impressive, considering all the damage it has done. Elected politicians and media professionals exercise a strikingly robust tolerance of expressions of racist and chauvinist resentment, which they then truss up as ‘legitimate concerns’, in case anyone’s reserves of tolerance might be tested by the unvarnished truth.
Yesterday Nigel Farage stood in front of a billboard campaign poster for leaving the European Union that echoed actual Nazi propaganda, as plenty of people pointed out. Later in the day Jo Cox, a Labour MP who had campaigned for the rights of Syrian refugees and Palestinian children was murdered by a man who had bought a gun from a neo-Nazi grouping and who, according to eyewitnesses, shouted ‘Britain First!’ as he brutally attacked her. Those two events, so close by, will inevitably prompt some thinking about causes and effects. Yet foremost in a great deal of media coverage about the killer were the details that he was a ‘loner with mental health issues’ (The Daily Telegraph); a ‘helpful and polite loner with history of mental health issues’ (The Times); ‘quiet, polite and reserved… would help (neighbours) with gardening and did voluntary work’ (The Guardian). It seems hard to imagine that the same kind of detail would be so much to the fore if the perpetrator of such a horrific act were to have shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ beforehand. There would be no trouble relating the act to some form of Islam, whereas insisting on relating this particular act to British nationalism and its outworkings does not feel like the kind of thing right-thinking and decent people get up to.
The thing about classifying the killer as mentally ill is that it removes the need to explain any further. The genesis of the act can be located firmly inside the perpetrator’s head, rather than in the racist paranoia stoked by Britain’s press. And if he was a ‘loner’, well, that means he wasn’t really one of us, was he?
Do you think the Nazi-style billboard will mean an end to Nigel Farage’s appearances on BBC Question Time, for example? I am guessing it won’t, because Nigel Farage is a creature of the British State. The reason he has received so much attention down the years, so many appearances on Question Time and so on, is that he speaks in a language that they understand. He articulates positions that appear reasonable and may even make some kind of sense within this purview. The racist underpinnings of his rhetoric simply appear as part of the great rich pageant of British public discourse, the cut-and-thrust of Oxford and Cambridge Union Societies debates projected into every TV set and radio station throughout the land. After all, we are tolerant, right? We can handle this. But when Farage talks about ‘our’ borders: is he ever challenged about just who, precisely, is this ‘we’ he is referring to? Why would he be, if Boris Johnson isn’t, and David Cameron isn’t, and Tony Blair wasn’t either?