Just Above Sunset
August 7, 2005 - Crashes and Bangs
coming Friday sees the UK release of the film Crash, the American sleeper hit in which the residents of Los Angeles
are suddenly confronted by their racial prejudices. A cynical PR man might say
the timing couldn't be any better. After the Olympic race and the race to catch
the suicide bombers, this week has seen Britain more concerned than usual with the thorny issue of race relations.
in Crash, this has been the result of a pile-up of events, some coincidental, but more often than not connected in
some way. Statistics released this week showed that race-hate crime reported
during the month of July in the UK had witnessed a steep increase, from 40 such reported attacks in 2004 to 269 in 2005. Tabloid reports of attacks on mosques in the wake of the July 7 and July 21 incidents
in London start to form something of a pattern, less isolated (and less dismissible) than one might like.
as if to counter the suggestion these attacks were isolated bursts of aggression aimed against Muslim communities, no more
than treatable supremacist tantrums, there's the big news story of the week: the murder of a black schoolboy, Anthony Walker,
apparently killed for no greater crime than walking around a park with his white girlfriend. (Two
white men have since been taken into custody in connection with the attack.)
Ken Livingstone, the socialist Mayor of London, in an extended piece in the Guardian newspaper, extending a hand of friendship
and respect to Muslim communities and, in particular, their visiting leaders. Tony
Blair, on the other hand, takes a leaf out of the Bush book, in extending further the existing anti-terror legislation to
now stop anyone seeking to enter the country on the grounds of preaching religious or political dissent.
leader-elect David Davis, sticking his head round the door in a bid for attention, has dismissed Labour's "outdated" policies
on multiculturalism, stressing the need to work towards a "unique" Britain. That's
singular language which chimes just a little too much for this columnist's liking with the policies on multi-culturalism proposed
by the far-right British National Party, who used images of the destroyed Tavistock Square bus on recruiting pamphlets.
you travel, and however you travel, in Britain these days, it's almost impossible not to get tied up in issues of race. I mentioned last week that travelling on the Underground has become a somewhat different
experience in recent weeks. Police are more evident, above and below ground. Signs encouraging increased vigilance now stand at the entrance and exit of each station.
so I've found myself bothered by my fellow travellers in ways that, in all probability, I wouldn't have before the 7th
of July. Why is that Chinese fellow playing with his phone? What are those foreigners doing, laughing in such an un-British fashion at the end of the carriage? And how uncomfortable must it be, for that young Muslim woman in full ceremonial dress,
sitting in a packed and now greatly more suspicious train in the middle of a London rush hour?
the course of my travels, I occasionally have need to carry a ridiculously large holdall around with me - a holdall which
has been, quite understandably, searched twice by officials in the past couple of weeks.
In both cases, the officials concerned found nothing more explosive (or exciting) than the books and towels that go
to make up my overnight stays in the capital.
here's the thing: this holdall just gets the most suspicious looks from my fellow travellers.
A colleague of mine, spying the bag unattended before a film screening last Friday afternoon, confessed to feeling
very jittery indeed. I told her the bag was mine.
She jokingly replied that she now felt even more jittery. (Fair
point: there were books, towels and changes of underwear in the bag at that very instant.)
that's as maybe. I should also point out that I am - seasonal tan notwithstanding
- about as white as it is possible to be. I quite like the music of Level 42. I get confused when offered more than one type of bread in restaurants. I don't (can't? won't?) dance. The very fact that people
regard me as a potential suicide bomber - perhaps from some radical milquetoast splinter cell, miffed by the score
in the cricket - suggests how heightened, possibly absurd, London sensibilities have become (have had to become?) over
the last weeks.
most interesting writing on recent events has displayed some sense of connection between small occurrences and wider happenings,
between muffled tremors and bangs; in other words, to connect the Underground to what's happening up above, and Britain to
the world at large. That's what makes the Livingstone Guardian piece so
fascinating as a snapshot of current British political thought.
in the weeks following the attacks on London, has maintained more or less the same "deeply saddened" front he displayed after
the death of Princess Diana or 9/11. Meanwhile, Livingstone - whose standing
amongst Londoners has perhaps never been higher, much as Giuliani's was amongst New Yorkers after September 11th
- appeared genuinely pissed off by developments.
must come naturally to a man who has repeatedly served as the thorn in New Labour's side.
Yet Livingstone, in his sober moments, shares with Michael Moore, and other prominent figures of the Left on either
side of the Atlantic, a certain gift for joined-up thinking. His article does,
at least, recognise the fact that if Britain gives another nation a bum deal, or tries to hold an issue at arm's length, chances
are that that policy is going to come back sooner or later and bite us in the, well, "ass".
an undoubtedly topical movie, Crash doesn't ultimately tell us anything new, but it does say something similar on the
subject of post-9/11 race relations, and demonstrates a commendable desire to tie up loose ends, however difficult or disparate
they may first seem. After the rips and tears our social fabric has suffered
in the last month, it won't do Britain any harm, one feels, to see a little more of exactly this kind of stitching together.
Copyright © 2005 – Mike McCahill
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's note: The Ken Livingston item can be found here.
This issue updated and published on...
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