Modern Times: Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The Roma community in and around Marseille is the latest group at the receiving end of the steamroller tactics of the French gendarmerie, who on Friday began to expel thousands said to be living illegally in France. But our own government’s approach to immigration is hardly more progressive. Corin Faife examines the British tradition of how to do your dirty work with a smiling face.

Columns, Modern Times - Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 12:40 - 2 Comments

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By Corin Faife

“The cruellest slave owners”, pronounced Slavoj Zizek in a lecture to the RSA, “were those who were kind to their slaves, because they prevented the core of the system being realised by those who suffered from it”. At least, judging by this standard, the French government is kind enough to be open about the scorn which it reserves for those deemed not to have a place in the République.

The Roma community in and around Marseille is the latest group at the receiving end of the steamroller tactics of the French gendarmerie, who on Friday began to expel thousands said to be living illegally in France. So callous were President Nicholas Sarkozy’s comments about Roma and other travelling communities that even a member of the ruling UMP party compared it to the roundup of Jews under the Vichy regime. But, repulsive as it may be, the French head of state is certainly prepared to nail his colours to the mast.

As a result his announcements have come under public scrutiny, and drawn fire from critics as highly placed as the President of the Council of Europe. But our own government’s approach to immigration is hardly more progressive: take for example the recently mooted policy of capturing and deporting entire families of asylum seekers in surprise dawn raids, another tactic which invites uncomfortable parallels with Nazism. On this side of the Channel though, whilst politicians talk openly about limiting immigration, they usually prefer to keep their hands clean when it comes to discussing what this means on a practical level. Sarkozy at least has the decency to appear as pugnaciously hard-line as he is: as a result the French electorate has been polarised into groups of strong supporters and those who despise him, with far fewer who are only lukewarm.

Our Prime Minister on the other hand is a new-school Conservative, striving to be inoffensive with all his might. It’s hard to imagine DC’s pudgy face inviting hatred in the same way as did the pinch-cheeked Margaret Thatcher or the inanely grinning George Bush; Nick Clegg for his part possesses a similar boyish charm, presumably having signed a pact with the devil for eternal youth sometime before making his Faustian coalition deal. It was the same kind of non-threatening, chummy science teacher-esque persona which allowed Blair to hang on for so long – in hindsight, Gordon Brown’s short stint at the helm never stood a chance given that it was so very easy to dislike him.

Perhaps the stream of watery characters is a ruse to lull us into a false sense of security whilst xenophobia seeps in and civil liberties trickle away. It’s the political equivalent of the door-to-door salesman burglary scam: Cameron’s at the front door with his baby-blue eyes and calm-but-firm tones offering cut price double glazing, whilst the rest of his gang is breaking in through the back and leaving with your laptop.

Frankly, maybe we need to be ruled by a hideous warlord for a while just to galvanise us into bringing about some real change. In France at least it’s impossible to ignore the problem: the villagers are much more likely to panic when they see the wolf’s fangs than when a sheep sneaks up on them in the night.

Corin Faife is a writer and activist. His ‘Modern Times’ column appears every Tuesday.

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Mik
Aug 24, 2010 16:36

“take for example the recently mooted policy of capturing and deporting entire families of asylum seekers in surprise dawn raids, another tactic which invites uncomfortable parallels with Nazism.”

That’s not just been mooted. It’s been going on for years.

Matt Perry
Aug 24, 2010 17:48

Although those families are deported, we’re hardly shipping them off to the chambers. At least, not our chambers.

Also, surprise at dawn is a fairly prudent, if a little dramatic, method. Pre-arranged afternoon tea and crumpets will only clash with their schedule; they’ll be too busy contributing to society at 15.30.

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