There were two remarkable things about Emma Raducanu’s wonderful win at the US open last week. The first was the win itself. The second was the reaction to it. For the fact that Raducanu happens to be of Romanian-Chinese descent and was born in Canada meant that her triumph was immediately spun through the same political cycle as everything else.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan proclaimed that the star’s story is ‘London’s story’ and showed the virtue of ‘diversity’. Other politicians and hacks joined him. A columnist from the Times declared that Raducanu’s victory showed that ‘immigration enriches us, and always has done’, while an ITV presenter said the win was a victory against ‘the haters’, as though there were well-known anti-tennis-prodigy forces out there. This diversity, right here, is ‘the Britain we love’, he said. ‘Quite right,’ chimed in the Conservative MP Steve Baker.
By that logic these people ought to have been thrilled at the news from Dover last week, where almost 1,000 future winners of the US Open crossed the Channel in a single day. Perhaps we ought to warn the folks who organise the American sporting event that given this trend they should tell other countries not to bother to send their stars in the future, and prepare for an entirely Union Flag-based podium.
It is rather remarkable that after almost seven decades, a country like Britain is still incapable of having a discussion about immigration that does not fall into this dishonest binary. There may be some people who think that all immigrants to the UK are suicide-bombers, but they have no voice in the national debate. By contrast, those who like to pretend that all migration is an unmitigated good still have a clear run of it and make their claims largely uncontested.
A similarly wilful ignorance seems to exist around almost all other sensitive areas. Last week’s anniversary of 9/11 saw a glut of documentaries to commemorate the day. Watching a number of them I came away feeling that had I no memory of the event I would either be unclear why the Twin Towers came down or believe that the Americans created a group called al Qaeda which then rather ungratefully destroyed them.
The BBC’s big documentary to mark the occasion waited most of the programme before it bothered to mention what ideology inspired the hijackers. Netflix went one better. In its commemorative effort, the US was attacked by a group of people created by the CIA who had no special ideological motivation of their own. The programme then veered into a condemnation of the American public for not encouraging an Islamic community centre and mosque to be built near Ground Zero ten years later.
Simultaneously, an assistant professor at Syracuse University claimed that: ‘We have to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what it wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity. It was an attack on the system many white Americans fight to protect.’ If I were Osama bin Laden or one of his followers, I would be quite annoyed by this. You don’t spend years preparing to attack the great infidel satanic West only for some American professor to claim that you did it to oppose the heteropatriarchy. Not least because Osama was a big fan of the heteropatriarchy, though he might not have framed it in precisely those terms.
Still it does go to show that more than two decades on from 9/11 we don’t seem to be very much further forward in understanding why it happened. We still lack even the vocabulary to describe the problem. So two decades after the most famous Islamist attack of recent decades, we don’t appear to be much closer to even naming the ideology that sparked it. If anything, rather less so.
More recent and comparatively light-hearted problems seem to similarly confound us. Last week saw an ex-US special forces MMA fighter who has ‘transitioned’ into a woman winning a major women’s competition in Florida. Former Private Ryan McLaughlin, now called ‘Alana’, managed to beat Celine Provost of France by getting her into what is apparently called a ‘rear naked choke’. On the final podium Celine Provost looked a tad dejected, as you well might if you’d just been throttled by a former US special forces agent. McLaughlin by contrast looked not just distinctly ripped, but also noticeably thrilled while wearing a T-shirt that said ‘End trans genocide’. Of course there is no trans genocide. There is only a slow cull of women in sport who wish to be able to compete fairly with other natural-born women. But everybody knows that.
As with almost every difficult area of our time, the thing is derailed by a decision to pretend that the public cannot be trusted with the complexities of the world. It is perfectly plain to most people that a male-born person throttling a woman for sport does not constitute great societal progress. It is possible to hold this view without deciding to carry out a ‘genocide’ of trans people. Yet there remains a pretence that the génocidaires are everywhere, and so in order not to look like that sort of person, society gets browbeaten into nodding along to things it does not want to nod along to.
So it is with every difficult issue. Our leading documentary makers think that if they mention Islamism we’ll all go out and murder our Muslim neighbours. The diversity lobby wants to pretend that Britain is laced with people who would have liked Emma Raducanu to lose in the US Open because she is an immigrant.
Again, I doubt that many, if any, such people exist. But once the bogeyman is set up, reasonable people want to do anything they can not to be identified with this chimerical being. It is a great spur to the stupidity of our times, this. The presumption that the public cannot be trusted with facts or even discussion, and would prefer lies over truths about a world that most of us recognise is complex.
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