It was a busy weekend. There were visits from Grandparents, coffees with friends, lots of cooking and seeing off the end of snotty colds that have had us feeling miserable. There was shopping and washing, widdles on the floor, fights, and a bit more washing. If was a perfectly unremarkable weekend – save the fact that it was set against the backdrop of the US travel bans that coincidentally affect the lives of many predominantly Muslim people.
I am not a Muslim, don’t wear a hijab or any other symbol of religious custom – as I am, in fact, an atheist. I am white and Irish – a citizen of the European Union. I speak fluent English, have an Irish Passport, and live in a relatively stable economy with no real threat of a military coup, civil war or imminent humanitarian crisis (unless you consider the implications of the 8th amendment as a crisis – which I do but which I recognise is unlikely to see me state-less any time soon).
On the face of it, I will never be personally affected by these changes in US policy. Unless I do something really, really out of character, I am unlikely to be deported from any country I reside in. I’ll probably not get taken off a plane having been refused a visa to travel because of where I was born; and let’s be honest I’m unlikely to ever need to seek sanctuary as a refugee. If ever I need a visa to work or travel to the US, I would presumably be in the ‘right sort’ of queue – presumably the one reserved for the pink, Christian(ish), european visitors.
So yes, I can choose to fight the first world struggles – pasta or rice? bus or drive? yoga or couch? and not really give the whole mess another thought.
And if I was so inclined, after that busy and unremarkable weekend, I could curl into bed beside the 5- and 7-year old, and finish reading them their book – The Astounding Broccoli Boy*. We could run through the last 14 or 15 pages, tying up all the lose ends and then we could read last paragraph as told by the 11-year old (ish) narrator Rory:
“..And I thought, The best thing about people is how different they are. When we went green, people wanted us to stop being green, to be the same as everyone else again. But it was only because we were different that we could be astounding. The thing that makes you different is the thing that makes you astounding. The thing that makes you different from everyone else – that’s your superpower.”
And there it is. This smart, funny and intelligent children’s book is sending my kids a message that all of us – and particularly a bunch of badly made over white guys in Washington DC need to remember: The best thing about people is how different they are.
It’s simple, its idealistic. it’s true.
And it’s also true that where we – my family and I, look so different from the emigrants affected by this policy, we are not so different after all. Because even though my family and I are not emigrants – we are here – LITERALLY, because of emigration. Both my husband’s parents and my parents met and fell in love in London. It was the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. They had each started out from Ireland with little money, mixed levels of education, and just a few friendly faces to contact. They worked tough jobs; socialised in their own Irish circles, went to almost exclusively Irish dances, pubs and get-togethers ; lived in Irish neighbourhoods and sent money home as often as possible – with at least one paying the way for a younger sibling to join them. All four of them were Catholic and three of them had Northern Irish accents. They met, fell in love and married at a time when the IRA – men and women from Republican catholic backgrounds were responsible for the deaths and injuring of hundreds of innocent people in mainland Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic. It was a hard time to be Irish in England but our parents were never banned; never deported and never refused the right to work. They were at the receiving end of cruel taunts and comments – but ultimately they were allowed the freedom to stay, work and make their way in life – the very freedoms that are being denied innocent Muslims in the US today.
I have no political or religious agenda. I don’t care for Christ or Allah and the nuances of organised religion – in fact I endlessly despair at all group’s inability to accept the ideologies of another’s. I am not naive to the reality of terrorism – and certainly don’t want people to be exposed to threats that could be avoided with extra security precautions. But I also don’t want to pretend I am not watching something truly terrible unfold right before my eyes.
I can’t change Trump or the fact that he was elected into office. I can’t tell the 62.98 million American’s who voted for him that a desire for change was understandable – but that they should frankly have invested their trust in a much better man. I can’t tell the 73.64 million ** Americans who voted for someone else, that their electoral system is shit.
I can however refuse to pretend this isn’t happening.
I can remind my kids that if the UK authorities had banned Irish Catholics during the IRA terror campaigns of the 1960’s and 1970’s then, neither myself, their father or they would be on this planet. That we were the Muslims of another time – and were never subjected to this sort of treatment.
I can sign this petition to tell Enda Kenny and anyone who represents me that I do not want the Irish Government extending the hand of friendship to a fascist, thuggish and racist regime.
I can remind myself that history is littered with examples of the terrible things that happen when help is refused to those who need it most.
I can do something. I must do something.
Because people, doing nothing is not an option here.
* The Astounding Broccoli Boy, a well recommended read by Frank Cottrell Boyce which the 5- and 7-year old really enjoyed. And by the way I have sought no permission from Frank to use this extract – but in the unlikely event he reads this post (Hi Frank, love that book btw) then I’m sure that he’ll gracefully accept my nod to his lovely book as a fair trade for borrowing his wise words.
** Trump as recorded as winning 46.1% of the popular vote with 62.98 million votes; Hillary Clinton won 48.2% or 65.84 million; as per Independent.co.uk of 21 December 2016. The remainder were cast for other candidates – such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. The total vote was then 136.62 million people.