I have known her for well over two decades. We met all those years ago when we collaborated over the Middle East, she with an NGO and I with an ecumenical organisation. Even then, we were trying to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace, justice and mutual security are not new words: they existed then too!
I met her a few days ago for a catch-up lunch. I suggested a pub-grub but she preferred a Lebanese eatery that offers luscious mezzes. And whilst I thought this fresh encounter would be another nostalgic chat, it did not take me too long to realise that my friend was livid.
Let me give readers a clue. She is German, and she has lived in this country for almost thirty years. And she is unhappy with the outcome of the Brexit referendum. But she is even more furious that EU nationals - she being one of them - are almost held hostage to the negotiations that will start once the Government invokes Article 50. It is beyond her that the UK is moving away from the EU and compromising its future with skewed odds.
What was interesting for me was not that this friend was against Brexit or that she was outraged by the ambiguities of the present moment. After all, I know many people across the UK who are seriously uneasy with the outcome. What surprised me is that an imperturbable woman who has lived much of her adult life in this country and who feels she belongs here is suddenly considering herself an alien in her 'home'
I feel for her. Yet, the problem as I see it is not the democratic decision taken by the people of the UK. The voice of this country has definitely said that we must leave the EU no matter the awkward way that the whole referendum was set up. What surprises me is that those who have accepted that we are leaving this imperfect Union are still criticised, excoriated and silenced if they were to dare and raise their voices. Why has it suddenly become anti-British to voice concerns? We have witnessed this belligerence with senior judges who have delivered their verdicts. We have also seen it happen with journalists, politicians, clerics or decent men and women - and there are so many of them - holding different opinions and speaking out against brash exits.
But what are those concerns, one might ask? I know my friend is furious with the outcome of the referendum and does not fathom how people could commit political kamikaze. She is also deeply - reasonably selfishly - worried about her own future as an EU national who is proud to be German but wishes to stay in the UK.
However, I see things differently. Much as I initially blamed our former prime minister for the shoddy way he devised and later conducted the campaign, I also respected the verdict of the people and ingested the fact that we will one day forgo the EU label. But my acceptance of the referendum turned into angst when I realised that leaving the EU might mean giving up all our rights and responsibilities in order to seek trade partners elsewhere. Now, it might well be that my reasoning is flawed and that we might indeed be better off in ten years. However, the vehemence with which we are discarding our EU credentials and feigning that the grass is lushly greener on the other side are scaring me. And what is frightening even more is that a country - our country, all of us no matter our origins - so renowned for its tolerance and multicultural affinities has set itself into a myopic nationalism that is a cross between populism and jingoism. Yes, the 17 million have spoken, but does this mean that the other 15 million who have also spoken albeit differently must remain mute or else be swatted away as 'non-democrats' who are challenging the will of the country?
The key point for me is that whilst we decided to leave the EU, we did not decide how we leave it. The choice was between leaving and staying, not on how we might leave the EU or on the process that entails legal, political or socio-economic consequences. Are we not allowed to voice our misgivings and seek clarity so we reach a consensus that heals our country? Since politicians are not leading, do we also collectively throw in the towel?
I do not share the fury that my friend demonstrated as we were enjoying our ethnic falafel wraps! However, as the author John Steinbeck wrote in The Winter of Our Discontent, "It is much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone." But I do not wish to go there - at least not for now!Suggest a correction