Who’s getting scared now?

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage with multi-culturalism. We didn’t have any when I was at school. We had precisely two black kids in the whole village. I went to a little hundred-year-old Gothic Church of England faith school, as it would be called now. Our religious indoctrination was limited to a Canon coming to visit about every six months to inspect the Headmaster’s soul. He was in The War as people used to call it then, bought a Volkswagen Beetle he kept in a locked shed, thought I might do ok if I concentrated and wished my Maths would improve; that’s about all I know about his soul. That and prayers at the beginning of the day. I don’t think we had them at going home time. Maybe we did but our lack of multi-culturalism wasn’t really due to that. We just didn’t have foreign people around.

Except looking back, we did. The sisters, for example. They were about my age. They lived in a little cottage with their parents down a quiet lane and they didn’t have to do prayers at school if they didn’t want to. They had prayers on Friday at home and they had some candles in their window. We just had candles at Christmas mostly, but they got them every week. They were very pale and they had very dark hair and kept to themselves, Miriam and Rebecca. So did their parents, Mr and Mrs Haas. I don’t think I ever saw their parents out in our little Wiltshire village. That’s all anyone knew about them. And yes, those are their real names, deliberately, because I never heard anything bad about them in any way, shape or form. Someone said something bad had happened to the parents, something to do with the war, but that’s all anyone said about it, whatever it was.

We knew the motorcycle shop was called Difazio and the ice-cream man Antonio and a kid at school was called Gino in a very non-Northern Soul kind of way, but nobody ever told us about the Italian PoW camp there used to be, fifteen miles away. They didn’t tell us about the Polish refugee camp there’d been up on Keevil airfield either, where we raced our FSIEs and Suzuki mopeds once we’d get them through the perimeter hedge, which accounted for the Koslowskis and Kalinkas at school, too.

We did multiculturalism by not knowing how not to. Which is always easier when there’s no obvious difference such as the colour of someone’s skin. Because we certainly did have race-based prejudice at school. One summer, two kids in particular started their own race-hate campaign. Legitimised by the TV show Love Thy Neighbour, all of a sudden two little boys suddenly started talking about jungle bunnies, coons and wogs. One of them cited the ultimate reference of his father, who knew for the usual fact that people with darker skins were taking all the jobs, not least in Bowyers the pork pie factory. These two boys, one of whom went on the London School of Economics and had a very fanciable sister who had her own car (she was nice, too, and didn’t have much truck with the instant racism her brother spewed up every time he made a sentence in public) got their ready-made chip on their shoulder from their fathers and from the TV.

This week people have been shot in an office. We’re supposed to believe Islam, cartoons, Al Q’uaeda, ISIS, Saladin, always someone else does bad things. We don’t. It’s not bad when we invade other countries. It’s not bad when we drop bombs over a city at random and pretend no civilians got hurt, it’s not bad when we kill journalists, or attack a news organisation with missiles, the way Al Jazeera’s offices have been targetted twice by the USAF, or when we cut off water or electricity to entire cities, or blockade a country so hundreds of thousands of civilians die. That’s ok. They should have done what we said, because we are Right and they are Wrong. Always. We are rational and moderate and wise. Always. We have a reason for our regrettable actions. They are fanatics. Little more than savages. Always. You can tell, just by looking at them.

And in case you haven’t got the media message, watch the news. You can see what they’re like, these people who can magically chop off people’s heads without drawing blood, who can shoot someone in the head from ten feet away leaving their head looking exactly the same as it was before. We never lie. You can see that too, when we talk about city blocks falling down when they’re very obviously still standing, behind the person saying it.

We never lie. Ever. Only other people do.

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