While many "leavers" may claim immigration has nothing to do with their decision to vote against a British future within the EU on June 23, foreignness is at the heart of this choice. Vote Leave's recent gains have been bought on the back of nonsensical immigration figures, claims John Major labelled "utterly false" last weekend, and have been supported by the ever-lovely Nigel Farage's view that upholding the European status quo will leave British women at greater risk from sexual assault. There is now no mistaking the right's target. If you're a foreigner, you're a baddie.
Any logic in relation to this vote is being drowned-out by good old fashioned prejudice toward "the other". Should Brexit occur, the Treasury has warned, Britons can expect mass job losses, a devaluation of the pound and wages cratering as quickly as inflation rockets. Yet all Vote Leave has to apparently do is blame all Britain's ills on non-nationals and its fortunes rise. This is not about money. As could probably be expected from a campaign fronted by Boris Johnson, a man who published an article during his tenure at the Spectator claiming black people have relatively small brains and low IQs, Vote Leave is about racism. The parallels between Hitler's rise to power on the back of Germany's ruined economy and the far-right's current successes in the wake of the 2008 stock market crash, replete with its incessant victimisation of minorities, cannot be ignored.
That such sentiments are proving popular with Britons should come as no surprise. Overt, public racism in Britain, and across the EU as a whole, has in recent years reached levels of acceptability not seen for many decades, with rightist politicians and press broadcasting blatantly racist statements othering people of colour, driving Islamophobia and, in one case, recommending military action against civilians fleeing war in the Middle East.
The popularisation of such sentiments in Western societies is the reddest of flags. Othering - the process of establishing groups as different and in opposition - is a root cause of war and genocide and a key tenet of nationalism (which is essentially little more than othering on the basis of nationality: "we" are great, and "they" are not). It is the ugliest of rightwing ideals, the intended suppression of which led directly to a more integrated Europe in the '40s and '50s and the establishment of what eventually became the EU. The ascendant nationalism we are currently witnessing in Britain and elsewhere is not just a bit of bulldog-loving fun. As I hope you're well aware, nationalism and racism can be lethal, and the process by which those in power, backed by a compliant media, can herd their subjects into groups based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality or whatever else, can have devastating consequences for those outside of "us". Nothing good ever arose from people waving flags.
Don't take my word for it. History teaches us all the lessons we could ever need to learn in regard to nationalism. Since the demise of Nazi Germany, the concept of togetherness, the promotion of border dissolution and a long-term attempt to deconstruct othering in the EU has been a great protective force. Between 70-100 million people died in the twentieth century's two World Wars. Conflict on mainland Europe has been almost totally eradicated by the formation of the modern Union, the most notable exceptions being the Bosnian War in the 1990s, a filthy episode marked by nationalistic genocide; the recent annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation (nationalism again); and the two Chechen Wars (third time lucky, or not, depending on which side of Grozny's city limits you happened to be sitting at the time).
Other small armed conflicts have taken place on the Continent since the end of World War II, but none of them has ever threatened the general calm, and the truth, the inarguable truth, is that most of us living in Britain, Germany, France, Scandinavia and the EU's other western societies have enjoyed more than 70 years of peace. The idea that British voters would seek a reversion to a situation more akin to pre-EU politics is incredible, and can only be understood in a frame of prejudice, lies and scapegoating.
Overcoming this triumvirate of ignorance is achievable, provided one is willing to learn. To that end, I want you to do two things before you vote in this referendum on June 23. I want you to read the essay Anti-semitism and National Socialism by Moishe Postone, as it offers powerful insight into the situation that led to the Holocaust and the Nazist ideology behind the largely successful attempt to annihilate the European Jewry in World War II. This was the end-point of decades of war and extreme nationalism in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, a legacy of complete horror and the infinite example of distilled right-wing thinking towards the people it blames.
For the second part of your homework, I'd like you to watch Night and Fog, a short French documentary on Auschwitz. You won't be able to find the full version online, but you can buy it on DVD from Amazon for £10. It only lasts 33 minutes, so don't worry about it taking up too much of your time.
Afterwards, hopefully, you'll reflect on the role of those who sought to create the other in these events, specifically in relation to today's European political situation, current levels of Islamophobia and anti-semitism, and hostility towards foreigners in general, both here and in the US. If Brexit does occur, the implications for the Union could be profound, potentially marking the beginning of its demise and opening a clear path for the rise of nationalist governments in major Western states. We must not allow these ideologies back into mainstream European politics. History demands it. We really are better together.
Dividing Europe in the fashion proposed by Brexiters could result in genuine tragedy. Leaders in contemporary nationalist thought, such as Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Gábor Vona, Marine Le Pen and Frauke Petry (yes, that's what they are), must be faced-down in this vote by European citizens committed to unity, tolerance and peace. This is an historic opportunity to send a clear message to the racist right that hatred in our homelands will not be tolerated, that we are welcoming, loving people, and that we are committed to securing a prosperous and peaceful future, both for Europeans and all humankind. The EU isn't perfect, but we can work to better it from within. Dismantling it in favour of continental nationalism is pure folly. History has taught us with sickening repetition that the logic of separation should be entirely rejected.
As a permanent French resident and a British passport-holder, I've already voted by post in this referendum for the UK to remain within the EU. I sincerely hope you do the same when your chance comes on June 23.
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