Andrew McNeil’s short speech on the BBC’s ‘This Week’ show, which included such eloquent phrases as “Poundland terrorist”, “jumped up jihadi” and “jihadi Johnnies”, is a trident to the heart of reason, and only aides in further conflating patriotism with hypocritical ignorance.
Before going any further, the obligatory disclaimer must be recognised. I believe acts of terrorism to be truly barbaric, inhuman and ultimately futile. Those who carry out such attacks, whether they be mentally unhinged, radicalised and/or just extremely violent and hateful, should be considered an absolute danger to all societies. Furthermore, I believe that acts of terrorism can and are carried out by many nations around the world, including our own. Lastly, I do not believe that an act of terrorism on one nation justifies an equally violent retaliation but that I am aware and accepting of causality within a vastly complex geopolitical landscape, i.e. things are never “one sided”.
So how is patriotism being conflated with hypocritical ignorance in Andrew McNeil’s speech?
Patriotism is the support of one’s country but that support cannot just rear its head because the people are in need of a warm fuzzy feeling after a tragic event. That support should be constantly practised and in much more constructive ways. I do not see Andrew McNeil so fervently opposing the privatisation of the NHS or for that matter the Express (who have been promoting McNeil’s “Churchillian” esque speech) in a TV broadcast to the masses. Ironically, the NHS was not at the top of Churchill’s post war to-do list either. If the British people are to be patriotic about anything our ancestor’s achieved, surely the NHS should be at the heart of our patriotic rhetoric, for it is probably one of the greatest institutions in the modern world and it was forged in the fires of democracy. The tax avoidance by multi-billion pound companies, freezing pay rises, increased unemployment, increased child poverty, food banks, billionaires making money from British infrastructure and syphoning their money out of our system and into off-shore accounts are all immensely unpatriotic acts and yet they receive no such emotive attention. If patriotism is to count for anything it has to be about what is best for our Nation and its people, all of the time.
One of the most damn right condescending and insincere lines within McNeil’s speech was:
“The most important people in this country are not the rich, the powerful, the famous, but those that run to confront the enemies of our civilisation.”
I am sure there were many people sat at home listening who thought, “Me! He’s talking about me! I am one of the most important people.” I like to think that there were still some with the analytical ability to think, “You patronising ****”.
So let us get this right. We are not the most important people when it comes to the acquisition of wealth, power or influence but when then is mortal danger to be had we are the ones to call yeah? Not only do we get the shitty end of the financial/social stick but we can be put in harm’s way to protect the ones at the gold plated end. But it’s ok because secretly we know that we are the most important ones.
He goes on:
“…for every braindead, brainwashed Islamist you send to do us harm, we have thousands upon thousands of Keith Palmers.”
The tone of this language is one of defiance which is all well and good if it were not for the actual content. It is tantamount to saying, “keep it coming because we have loads more cannon fodder for you, brave cannon fodder, but cannon fodder nonetheless”. This is yet again false patriotism in all its unashamed, sacrificial glory. Not to mention that Keith Palmer was a police officer and if he and by extension the police service, are to be used as an example, does that mean that cuts to policing by our government should be stopped. Or is it ok to financially decimate the institutions that are used as examples of patriotic protection?
ISIS and its brand of terrorism did not just spring into existence. It has evolved through a very complex chain of events that involves, not exclusively, Western powers, including our own. Anti-Western animosity has been exacerbated through countless operations carried out in the Middle East, a number of which did not have the support of a great many British Nationals and yet still went ahead. And now danger has found its way to our doorstep we are being offered up like domestic soldiers who are even more ill equipped than the professional ones who were sent into Afghanistan by our “patriotic” government without suitable equipment or concise battle plans/goals which resulted in many unnecessary deaths.
British patriotism has become a parody. It is made up of out-dated and misplaced pride from the days of the Empire and chauvinistic ignorance that is more concerned with foreign threat than the much more dangerous, morally unjust and societally eroding rot which has taken hold at our very core. This is not to say that terrorism is not a problem, whether it be a bombing campaign in Syria, a beheading on the streets of London, a plane hi-jacking in America, civilian deaths in war or pretty much everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. But Andrew McNeil’s speech with its tabloid rhetoric and antagonistic jibes was both disingenuous and wildly ignorant in equal measure.
Through the pursuit of wealth and power, Western governments and businesses, for their part, have helped to create a monster that cannot be destroyed through conventional warfare. Moreover, they have unpatriotically employed these same pursuits on their own people but in a much more stealthy fashion (austerity), as dropping bombs and installing dictators in your own country would not pay off economically.
My bone of contention is not with the message that he is trying to convey, which is that we will not be bullied into submission and that we will go on living our lives. I wholeheartedly agree with defiance in the face of terrorism, and that the unity and strength of the people is our greatest asset. But the ideology is falsely sacrosanct when we allow our own government to destroy our welfare state from within, when we as a Nation part-take in the bombing of other countries where children’s limbs are blown off, or when retaliation, all be it verbally, becomes antagonistic.
Maybe we should start to muster more patriotic defiance towards the Andrew McNeils of the world who encourage us to look down the barrel of a gun…literally!