People have been sharing this feature by Nick Cohen since it first appeared online yesterday (and I had a hard job getting to it on the Guardian’s website, eventually having to scroll through all the contributors with C surnames before finding his among the Cohens which weren’t in alphabetical order). Someone pointed out that Cohen has been publishing Islamophobic, warmongering posts for years, and people forget this as soon as he writes something “right-on”. But actually, there’s nothing much right-on about this piece. It follows a very typical pattern for him.
His technique, which I exposed in a previous entry, is to write a long article full of fairly uncontroversial, “right-on” lefty opinions, before getting a dig at one of his pet hates in towards the end. In this case, he fills the first two thirds of the article with righteous indignation at the racism directed at the migrants in Calais, the ugly language used by David Cameron (“swarms” etc) and the abandonment of the pretense that we accept genuine refugees but not economic migrants. However, towards the end he tells us why we’re shutting out real refugees:
Meanwhile – and I accept that this may be hard for readers to take – liberals ought to realise that the inability of the state to deport Islamist preachers and foreign criminals has made life immeasurably harder for refugees who threaten no one. In the past, there was no question that they could go. The 1951 UN Convention on Refugees states that a country could deport a refugee if “there are reasonable grounds for regarding [him] as a danger to security” or if a court found him guilty of “a particularly serious crime”.
Over the succeeding decades, judges and further treaties have watered down that unambiguous statement. They have often acted from the best of motives, to save people from torture most obviously.
But the road to hell is paved with human rights lawyers’ briefs, and the liberal attempt to stop the deportations of Islamists and common criminals has had the profoundly illiberal effect of destroying what public support there was for welcoming refugees.
First, he is referencing tabloid myths about criminals being allowed to stay because of their “family life” rights, when in fact these are often tabloid distortions. Second, he is suggesting (a common theme on the xenophobic “muscular” liberal right) that human rights only be applied to cuddly and friendly figures, not people whose opinions might cause offence or who don’t agree that you can always defeat tyranny by standing in front of a tank.
I have nothing against getting rid of foreign criminals if they are people who came here for the purpose of committing a crime, or committed a serious crime without having built particularly strong family connections in the UK. The reason the deportation of foreign criminals has attracted significant human rights challenge is that some of the people affected had spouses and children in the UK and were not career criminals but had done one or two things wrong. In some cases (particularly after the tabloids made an issue of this in 2006), the convictions were years in the past and time had already been served. Besides, this country always objects when other countries (usually white Commonwealth countries) deports people who emigrated there as children and turned to crime (particularly sexual crime) as adults, then justifies such deportations on such grounds as that if a rapist had been deported to Poland, say, after his last crime, he would not have committed the latest one — a plainly false justification.
As for “Islamists”, the fact is that this country has deported several, in some cases despite lengthy human rights challenges. After Abdullah Faisal completed his sentence for inciting murder, he was deported, and was further deported from at least one other country (Nigeria). We also locked up and later deported Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and others, and have refused entry to other preachers deemed to be ‘hate preachers’ including Louis Farrakhan, and there have been occasions where Cohen’s fans (and friends) at Harry’s Place have made a fuss because a Muslim preacher or imam they disapprove of because his opinions conflict with modish liberal values has been granted a visa, or a platform to speak somewhere, and it has been withdrawn. But also, ‘liberals’ tried to stop people being deported because the ‘evidence’ against them was obtained through torture, or because the supposed offences they had committed were carried out in this country, which has perfectly good laws under which they could have been prosecuted, but did not carry the wildly disproportionate sentences the same offences attracted in the USA.
I am not convinced that the supposed difficulty in getting rid of a few rabble-rousers is the reason it is difficult to accept more refugees, anyway. The public’s view of these issues, much as on so much else, is framed by how the commercial Tory press reports them, which in turn feeds into the “public opinion” found on radio phone-ins and below-line comments. The idea that policy on accepting genuine refugees should be formed on the basis of a handful of troublesome public figures is simply ludicrous; the blame should not be on those who did their jobs and fought for the human rights of those they were intended for, but those who make money or political capital out of stoking hostility towards the weakest in society, be they refugees, poor people, disabled people or whoever.
Image source: Calais Migrant Solidarity.
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