The Power of Words

Hope not Hate and UKIP

courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

A recent email from Hope not Hate about the rise of UKIP caused me to dig out an old post regarding such emotive issues. With UKIP seemingly wanting a return to some sort of idyllic British supremacy from bygone days, the email asked “How should @hopenothate respond to the growth of @UKIP?“. My response on the page was

I have indicated Yes but really wanted to put “yes but no” as I think the key is to campaign not against UKIP but against those policy statements/member speeches etc which are blatantly at odds with the aims of Hope not Hate. The test would be to gauge their reaction of a Muslim wanting to join the party on their anti-European stance. I fear that in these economic times, there will be the usual backlash against the non-WASC (I now replace Protestant with Christian) elements of UK society, irrespective of their country of birth. Having lived in France and referred to myself and UK nationals as “immigrants” rather than “expats” and experienced the venom against being labelled as such, I know only to well the emotional power of words.

My original rant from 2006-ish is reproduced below as reference:

I would agree that in general people should not be forced to learn about other cultures and in most cases don’t really care. This probably comes from being in the majority. It would take being treated differently as a minority for most people to start considering other points of view – but even this doesn’t always work as I found out living in France.

Until my return a couple of years ago, being counted amongst the many British people living in France, I decided to carry out an experiment regarding “the power of words”. Most British became very sensitive when I started referring to us as “immigrants” rather than “ex-pats”.

In the ensuing discussions it became obvious that many of them still saw themselves through colonial rose-tinted spectacles, simply because they saw themselves as contributing to the “economy” even though many of them maintained most of their wealth outside the French system.

To a lesser extent, some of the French did not see British, Australian and North Americans as “immigrés”. However, many other French treated us as invaders and a minority (pushing house prices up, creating “Brit-only” communities, our children affecting their children’s education due to language problems). But I doubt many saw this as an opportunity for “learning about others” – most maintained their stiff upper lip as long as they had their croissant and coffee on a cafe terrace, had their money in some offshore accounts and the French (excellent) health care cared for them when they needed it.

I tell this simply to support of the idea that people who are open to others will benefit: from voluntary workshops etc, but those who remain closed will not. At the end of the day, although the idea is commendable, I think it requires a “life swap” experience and a certain curiosity and openness of mind to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

P.S. Just for the record, I had to come back from France for personal reasons and would love to still be there – France is far from perfect but does seem to be more oriented towards quality of life (e.g. minimal Sunday opening!!!)

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