It was an unpleasant surprise first thing this morning to open up Facebook and view a Britain First video posted by someone who was a close friend when we both lived in Paris.
The video was of Muslims, including women clad in Niqab, marching in Luton, which had been the home town of the Britain First presenter. They were marching against the arrest of a Muslim woman by British police but the premise of the video was that Luton had been taken over by extremists from an alien culture who denigrated the authorities and threatened the place which they called their home.
I had to wait a while to listen to the soundtrack of conversations of the video. The filmmaker was challenged by some unpalatably (in our eyes) conservative attitudes to the fact that she was not completely covered and (in their eyes) naked in the streets and therefore trying to seduce someone.
Nothing to disagree with there, really. It seemed quite reasonable at first glance. Here were sex-segregated people covered (or, in the case of some of the men, not covered) saying unpalatable things about our rule of law; criticising the perfectly ordinary way a woman was dressed; saying that those who did not agree with them would go to hell.
Now, many people I know automatically block Facebook and Twitter “friends” who post Britain First videos but I am instinctively against such knee-jerk reactions. I need to know WHY I don’t like something. After all, I loathe and abhor extremism of all kinds, and I think there is probably a grain of truth in most things, one that’s often there just waiting to be exploited.
But this, apparently, is how Britain First works: it gets people to repost its ostensibly reasonable messages, whether they be about extremism or animal cruelty or whatever. People who are shocked and appalled and disgusted by their videos then come to see an extremist, racist, bigoted, discriminatory party like Britain First as the voice of reason. Look what happened with UKIP, after all.
There is, of course, no attempt to represent the vast majority of Muslims who just want to get on and live their lives without threatening anyone. I don’t see Britain First campaigning against other radical extremist groups or against themselves. There is no acknowledgement that the party exists to foment tribalism and resentment against people “not like us.” Look past the veil of civilised behaviour to some of the party’s adherents, though, and you’ll see what sort of people trade in this sort of politics. (I’m not posting any links to the party or its people or videos here. You can find them quite easily.)
Now, I have come across this sort of thing before on Facebook, usually from people I don’t know very well and it’s easy to ignore. When it’s from someone with whom I was so close, however, it makes me wonder what she thinks of me. It makes me wonder WHY she saw fit to post this video. Was she naively taking the anti-extremist message at face value or was there a more sinister reason for posting it?
Let’s dig deeper: this woman has been an ex-pat all over the world for most of her life. She and her brood have enjoyed a fantastically privileged lifestyle, largely paid for by the oil companies for whom her husband has worked. Her view has been formed by the overseas edition of the Daily Mail and that febrile, Champagne-marinaded, superficial milieu of the old sort of ex-pat who had everything paid for and would never have been able to finance that sort of standard of living if they had had to pay for it themselves. (As an aside I must mention that In Paris we were not by any means on that kind of ex-pat contract.) Further, I find it interesting that she doesn’t take a look at the misogyny and contempt for human rights of her own religious tradition.
How to respond to the post then? I don’t want to block her – we are supposedly still friends – and, on the off chance that she might not understand the animus of Britain First, I replied by posting their Wikipedia entry. I really resent though that a) this corrosive influence might have ruined a solid if now distant, friendship; b) that I found myself giving Britain First the benefit of the doubt; and c) that I find myself defending the sort of cultural and religious-based extremism that I cannot abide.
I suppose you might call this liberal confusion.