by Victor Fraga
Your visa out of the window (07/12/10)
A grotesque, disturbing and yet engrossing image is stuck in my head: a government official frantically throwing visas out of the window of a departing train, while desperate applicants jump and scramble on the floor for the papers. This is neither a sequel to Stephen Frears’s Pretty Dirty Things nor a satirical take on Theresa May’s immigration achievements in her short reign of horror. Nor is it a concoction of my highly sadistic mind.
This dramatic event did in reality take place. On August 28th 1940, Japanese vice-consul to Lithuania Chiune Sugihara attempted to sign as many visas as possible in an attempt to save Jews from certain death. He worked over 20 hours a day with the help of his wife trying to help up to 10,000 families flee from the Nazis. According to witnesses, he was still writing visas while in transit from his hotel and after boarding the train which would take him back to Japan, quickly firing papers out of the window and into the wretched crowds. Once the train began to move, he threw blank sheets of paper with only the consulate seal and his signature in a final act of despair.
For me, Sugihara’s gesture came to symbolise the pinnacle of altruism, compassion and humanity. His rushed desperation to save as many lives as possible is nothing short of an act of heroism. Rare as a hen’s teeth these days.
They are coming to impale us
Unfortunately our society is largely bereft of Sugihara’s altruistic qualities. While a few individuals stand out, the majority of us remains blithely unmoved by the plight of immigrants.
Throughout most of history, people who move from one country to another have been portrayed as the wicked and the delinquent. Most societies have decided to blame their woes on those that were born outside their borders. The alien is fair game.
Most people have never asked themselves: what dramatic circumstances cause a person to leave behind everything they have – their homeland, culture, and often family and friends – and move to a strange country? It must be just a capricious whim – these lazy bastards!
The UK takes a schizophrenic approach to immigration. On one hand, government purports to celebrate “multiculturalism” and social equality, but on the other hand it attempts to close its borders, fuelled by the xenophobic tabloid and mainstream media. Foreigners are coming here to milk our welfare system, spread criminality and take our work. “British jobs for British workers”, as they say.
They forget that Britishness is just a medley of foreign cultures, ranging from Vikings and Celts to Indians and Jamaicans. There is no proto-British identity – unless you are a Pict or a bluefaced Leicester sheep. But let’s just sit back and conveniently deny this. Let’s blame our problems on those foreign con artists who can’t even speak proper English. How dare immigrants (including myself) come to our cosy little country and molest our children, piss in our altars and impale us on railings? By the way, I’m just paraphrasing Morrissey, the ultimate xenophobe and himself the son of immigrants. Man, this guy must hate himself – perhaps this is why he is constantly sullen, gloomy and apparently abhors sex.
But this phenomenon of bigotry isn’t confined to glib pseudo-artistic mingering. All Brits – without exception – have foreign predecessors and yet many paradoxically fear and despise foreigners. The foreign-hating talk is widespread across our pubs, dinner tables, beds and pissoirs.
Theresa May is our new home secretary, a sordid crossbreed of Cruella Deville and the creature from the black lagoon. She’s only been in the office for a few months and she has always wreaked havoc in the lives of immigrants. In a nutshell, she wants to close the doors of the UK to foreigners and chuck out as many as possible of those already in – except if you make more than £40,000.
The head of the Home Office symbolises the geometric opposite of Sugihara: ruthlessness, lacking in scruples, compassion and altruism.
But this is all justified. A home secretary has to make hard decisions and act on the spot – so there is no room for complacency and sentimentalities. B-O-L-L-O-X!!! The Home Office’s attitude to immigration is nothing but compliance to the media’s xenophobic tirade of abuse against immigrants. It’s a cheap way of stirring fear and looking tough, similar to what Bush did to the Americans during his eight years. Unfortunately everyone who takes up this post seems to adopt a similarly aggressive stance – even left-wingy, avuncular Alan Johnson. Either all home secretaries enter a Faustian pact before they take office or the Home Office itself suffers from the curse of Tutankhamen. Blimey!
May is also Minister for Women and Equality despite having voted against the repeal of section 28, against lowering the age of consent in homosexual relationships to 16 and against gay adoption rights. One must note that she apologised for her remarks… conveniently after her appointment.
Last but not least in Theresa’s list of milestone achievements: she is only the fourth woman in the UK to hold one of the Great Offices of State, and the second Conservative to do so. Maggie must be so proud!!
Victor is an immigrant born and educated in Brazil, corrupted in London. He is also a writer and a cinema-lover. He can normally be found sitting on my ergometric office chair, lying on the hammock in his lounge or cycling around town.