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Why I love Handsworth 11: No mean city | by Sibad
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Why I love Handsworth 11: No mean city

Birmingham is my city. Handsworth is where we've lived for more than 40 years and this is Soho Road which runs along the area's southern edge.

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July 2009 ~ Nick Griffin MEP and Leader of the BNP has cultivated quite clever ways of speaking to the mainstream. He will duck and weave, assuring his hard core that he can still be trusted to fly the BNP flag, while sounding amiably reasonable in talking to fellow Oxbridge graduates on assignment for the BBC. He cuffs the elephant with the occasional slips of an experienced performer, enticing and vexing his audience. The classic legerdemain is 'denied-refutation' - admitting some of what was said, even seconds ago, while trimming meaning to the popular conscience - an unpredictable quantity politicians with risky ideas are always testing.


In this case Griffin, having suggested he approved a European force with powers to sink ships carrying sub-Saharan Africans to Italy, emphasised he meant giving people time to abandon ship and be thrown a life raft so they can "go back to Libya" - an afterthought that avoids disappointing those who'd approved his drift.


The liberals think "phew! He's not nice but he didn't mean actually drowning those people" while his followers are relieved that he's not going back on the case for 'sinking ships' and ... complete the sentence.


Refining this method Griffin teaches his party to develop a public language that evades liberal proscription while reassuring core followers and those who say "I'm-not-racist=but..." that a vote for the BNP is a sound committment to solving problems made insoluble by the feebleness of mainstream politicians. If Griffin becomes too respectable he risks losing the party workers all successful politicians need - canvassers, poster-stickers, leafletters, doorsteppers. letter-writers, phone-in followers and room-bookers. At microphones outside government buildings he exudes reasoned arguments on matters of public anxiety. He's a holocaust-denier, yet I could swear I've heard him agreeing that many Jews had died during WW2. He's spoken admiringly of Louis Farrackan, and - a boxing blue himself - he's expressed admiration for Amir Khan. At regular intervals Griffin tosses a meaty sound-bite to his attack-dogs, then skitters away from another well oxygenated mêlée. It's not quite 'plausible deniability' but it comes close.


The stakes are high. Global population grows, sea levels rise, and in our connected cosmos the chasm between rich and poor cries from the rooftops (literally - given the placing of satellite dishes), and in this distinction, rich means what in the rich world feels like poor - living, for instance, for under €10,000 a year.


Griffin talking to the reporter about sinking immigrant ships referred to a 'Camp of the Saints' scenario.


I read the book just after it came out in English in the mid-1970s. I was disappointed expecting a thriller or a murder mystery, rather than a tract, but it was intriguing. Jean Raspail the 1970s author of this master text for the BNP, better written than Mein Kampf, commented on his novel about the swamping of 'the white race' at the hands of its own white liberal elites in cahoots with swarms of refugees whose ships they lack the fibre to turn away from their shores, let alone sink:


Raspail quote 'So, what to do? I am a novelist. I have no theory, no system nor ideology to propose or defend. It just seems to me that we are facing a unique alternative either learn the resigned courage of being poor or find again the inflexible courage to be rich. In both cases, so-called Christian charity will prove itself powerless. The times will be cruel.'


Anyone who opposes Griffin, his allies and followers and those who are sure 'he's got a point' needs a rejoinder to this bold observation. One of the best is a piece For Polite Reactionaries by Charles Sugnet in Transition, No. 69 (1996), pp. 14-34: Indiana University Press. I get to read it via my university but I can't make it accessible which is a shame but a reminder to refine my own reasoning.


This is hardly about preserving the 'white race', even if you believe - as I, and 99.999% of physical anthropologists, do not - that humans are made up of separate species. Refutation starts by eroding that firm subjectivity that for many makes the idea of 'race' a matter of common sense, a deconstruction hindered by the classifying bureaucracies that so regularly require citizens to name their ethnicity - something many mistake for 'race', which then gets conflated with identity, especially when linked to self-esteem.


The rich (richer) world comprises a multiplicity of ethnicities. We are already - rich and poor inside the boundaries of the first world - hybrid, mongrel, polyglot, diverse in colour, hair, religion, language, culture, and just about any other category named and yet to be named.


The gap between objectivity and subjectivity in the matter of our heterogeneity and homeogenity presents a deep well of confusion and unease, verging into fear - and for fear read stupefying hatred.


The ship that turns away the ship - or sinks it - if Griffin's way were pursued, is likely to be freighted with the same diversity as its target. The difference is wealth not race but Griffin has a dream of a pure English race, finding it irksome that David Harewood, a rather obvious Brit from Washwood Heath in Birmingham who happens to be black, plays Friar Tuck in Robin Hood.


Raspail is right about the consequences of the differences between them and us when it comes to wealth, but we are a world away from Raspail when it comes to distributing those pronouns on racial criteria. - but then I live in Handsworth, Birmingham and he lives in Neuilly-sur-Seine.


It's not as if the Hellenic population isn't as susceptible to these arguments about purity which is why I like the views expressed to me over a year ago by Lliana, a cyberfriend in Corfu, when she said she though that even if no Greeks were left in the village of Ano Korakiana, where we have a home, it would remain Greek because it's new inhabitants would adopt Greek ways, thus Isocrates:


...καὶ τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα πεποίηκε μηκέτι τοῦ γένους ἀλλὰ τῆς διανοίας δοκεῖν εἶναι,

καὶ μᾶλλον Ἕλληνας καλεῖσθαι τοὺς τῆς παιδεύσεως τῆς ἡμετέρας

ἢ τοὺς τῆς κοινῆς φύσεως μετέχοντας

(Ἰσοκράτης. Πανηγυρικός. 50.)


...and it seems that the name of the Greeks is no longer denoting a race, but a mentality,

and one should call 'greeks' rather the ones who participate in our education,

than those who share our common nature.

(Isocrates. Panegyricus. 50.)

trans: Katerina Sarri


In this respect it's interesting to pick out, as an instance, a blog called Hellenic Antidote, who's author propounds a Griffinesque interpretation of Hellenism, which requires a denial of the meaning Katerina Sarri attaches to Isocrates' words. One of the comments following Hellenic Antidote's circuitous arguments mentions the blogger's 'Germanic' version of Hellenism, a side swipe at the Austrian Jakob Fallmerayer's slavophobic theory as developed in his 1827 History of the Empire of Trebizond which, ironically, argued that modern inhabitants of Greece have no genetic connection with the population of Classical Greece. As my brother George once said at a family get-together "Ugh! We're not proper Greeks we're all a bunch of dirty Slavs. Yuk!" a cue to roars of laughter from our mongrel family and friends.


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Taken on July 21, 2009