O Tannenbaum

‘your leaves are so unchanging…’

People crave certainty, and now we have at least a way forward, so there is a little hope that the green leaves of the political Christmas tree may not change kaleidoscopically for the next few years and at least we’re going to get Brexit done and forge a path into the future where we’re all more or less facing in the same direction. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief that the nightmare is reaching its end.

I’ve never been an ‘activist’, in the sense that I waved flags, shouted myself hoarse in Trafalgar Square, or screamed obscenities at MPs going about their lawful business in The Palace of Westminster. Why? Because not an iota of difference is made by barbarians except by force. And the force is not one of argument, dialectic, discussion. It derives from emotionally fueled and mostly irrational thinking which if repeated often enough they believe that it turns the axis of opinion so far that we the bystanders become nonplussed as to precisely where the truth really lies, yet have little real choice but to go with the flow.

In 2016, we were all subjected to a tsunami of warnings so barbaric that some were persuaded into believing that should this leviathan called Brexit – unthinkable, unendurable and without precedent – economic and cultural suicide was the eventual abyss into which we would all fall, with cries of ‘I told you so’. More presciently, a transcendent anger began to grow like a dirty, defiant snowball into an incredulity that people could be so pig-headed as to reject all that advice that looked in those far off days to be a racing certainty, leading to snarling vituperation, infighting and blind rage.

Brexit created its own sideshows. The Extinction Rebellion movement, fuelled by juvenile enthusiasm and a series of half-truths steered by skilful shadowy manipulators who as the howling and screeching and missed schooling so amply demonstrates is going to make a few people a lot of money. Momentum, what a masterstroke of deception. The cleverly constructed buttress surrounding a mediocre but susceptible political nobody metamorphosing into near god-like adulation of a man from the liberal, “woke” metropolitan heartlands with his own National Anthem. These events are not unconnected and they are mirrored across the continent. Friends in France are woefully stranded over Christmas because of a deliberately disruptive, almost callously direputable rail strike. Wildcat picketing was smirkingly advertised as an electoral promise in the UK. They were all battlegrounds for a paradigm shift-a shift in cultural identity not seen since the 1960s, when great social upheaval spearheaded by the young, set the bedrock for the Thatcher years, and lest it be forgotten, Enoch Powell had a spectacular tidal wave of populist following after the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in April 1968. Less than five percent would have clearly understood both the rage and adulation engendered by his quote from the Aeneid – he was, after all, one of the finest classicists of his generation. He was sacked, not because of the contents of the speech but because Edward Heath saw him as a potential rival. He may have represented the atavistic, perhaps unreasoning fear of a generation increasingly populated by unfamiliarly dark skin, but the new arrivals were doing exactly what we did to them, initially having a reluctance to assimilation into a culture not their own. We failed to teach and to welcome hence learned the colonial price which one day would have to be repaid. And yet, many have made their home here successfully and those who have not or will not find themselves at the fringes of a society which simply tried to offer them all this country could afford in terms of opportunity. Entitlement is not enough. Human rights are not enough unless partnered with responsibility and willingness to adapt to which most people who have lived abroad will readily attest.

But, this is not true for all. The majority notwithstanding, a wave of Muslim immigrants, some imprisoned for terrorist offences, many equipped with zeal and determination do not assimilate but the great difference is that a number have no desire to do so, a willingness to ‘play the deradicalisation game’, to seek their own hegemony based upon false and unrealistic perceptions of their faith, and who regard their own legal systems as superior to our own, which was not the case in 1968. Herein lies the dark, subversive difference.

This resonates with many of the problems identified in Ian Acheson’s 2016 review including Muslim gang culture, prisoners advocating support for Isis, Factional divides between supporters of different extremist groups, including Al-Qaeda, aggressive conversions, self-styled prison “emirs”, intimidation of prison imams whose desire is to propagate a moderate form of worship and the availability of extremist literature have proliferated like bindweed.

A British jail has been severely criticised for its deradicalisation policies – a so-called imam suggesting that the Queen is an enemy of Islam and must die.

This used to be called treason and the perpetrator found his head on a spike.

How could such polarity be allowed to happen? Brexit is a symptom, not a cause. Whether we like it or not, we are one nation, all of us immigrants, all of us were once strangers in lands we have learned to call our own. Those in power, often holding on by their fingernails, have signally failed to recognise that there had been a seismic shift, the leaves of our own Christmas tree had never changed hue so spectacularly as in the last few weeks, yet remained green. Europe had turned on her axis and more and more European governments, many with the spectre of colonisation hanging like outriders in their own pasts have been reaching back into the roots of their own national identities, flawed as they sometimes were. 

I am no more an Islamophobe, Christianophobe, Judaeophobe or any other kind of phobe. Let all men be subject to the dictates of their own conscience, fearless in the face of those who disagree, bold enough to confront sloppy logic, intimidation and barbarity, not by howling down those who disagree, nor by flags and anthems whose only real purpose is to cow and to frighten their enemies, and inspire loyalty in their allies, which came as rather a shock to the British Labour movement since it seemed that the voices of quiet reason ultimately prevailed.

I was reminded of ‘The Red Flag’ sung by Labour at the end of every party conference. The lyrics in full make interesting reading. To the tune of ‘O Tannenbaum’ whose leaves didn’t change colour, except became a little bit unpredictably bluer this Christmas.

The people’s flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts’ blood dyed its ev’ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

As it says, “a soft answer turns away wrath”, sadly absent in these lyrics. It seems we are an ideologically hawkish species for which such an attitude becomes virtually impossible. Inspired by such moral selfishness, I wish the House, with its absurd, medievally confrontational agendas, a very happy Christmas, in the hope that they would learn together and let us all go forward, as one nation, in a spirit of compromise, a willingness to listen to ‘the other’.

And the grace to admit when we are wrong.

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