‘If you believe you are a citizen of everywhere, then you are a citizen of nowhere.’
Theresa May, Oct 2016
To anyone with a drop of empathy in them, nothing much needs to be said about how abhorrent this statement is. What a regressive and nationalist point of view, which ignores the universal nature of the human condition and our duty to respect and care for one another regardless of artificial boundaries drawn by history.
In particular, how painful it must be for Syrian refugees to hear something like this, in their time of desperate need. They are forced to rely on the kindness of those in other ‘countries’ and the leader of one of the most powerful European nations is claiming the moral authority to negate their very right to exist.
But there is something more deeply worrying about this statement. May didn’t say, for example, ‘Remember, you are a citizen of the UK; not a citizen of the world!’. Instead, she attacked those of us who hold certain beliefs. ‘If you believe you are a citizen of everywhere, then you are citizen of nowhere.’
May was excluding, through her rhetoric, the cosmopolitan, educated liberal elite from being considered British citizens. Making a beeline from the world of rich Tory post-imperialism to the disgruntled working classes, she cut out the liberal intelligentsia from citizenship as a concept.
Let me say that again. May announced that those with certain beliefs – beliefs about their own identity and nothing else, nothing hateful or harmful – do not have the right to consider themselves British citizens. And it wasn’t just any group of people, but the educated liberals; those of us who have the material and educational resources to stand up to the horrific directions her government is taking.
One of the first things Lenin did when the Bolsheviks attained power was deport 220 prominent intellectuals. The pursuit of aggressive ideological metanarratives does not allow for a plurality of educated views. We saw the UK start to go in this direction when Brexiteer Michael Gove announced that the country ‘had had enough of experts’ – almost all of whom were for remaining in the EU.
Now, those of us who have a cosmopolitan outlook are under attack. We are privileged to have the education and resources that we have; and it’s easy to make us scapegoats. Liberal policies are blamed for allowing the immigration that ‘took our jobs’ and ‘ruined our health service’ (and contributes millions to our economy and immeasurably to our cultural fabric).
I am not going to mount a defence of immigration here. Anyone seeking to protect white Britain from the responsibilities that follow centuries of imperialism and slave trade has probably stopped reading already. With May’s statement, what is in jeopardy here is freedom of thought.
‘Hostility to universal citizenship is, I submit, the main characteristic of fascism.’ Gáspár Miklós Tamás
May is not stripping away our passports just yet; but this is a key shift in rhetoric that presents us with a red flag. We cannot rest on our laurels any more. If the PM can say something like this and get away with it, it means that a good proportion of people in the UK think it makes sense.
Let’s not pretend we are a post-class society. Our education system has failed; the social mobility that creates a meritocratic pool of intellectuals has not been implemented. Disgruntled workers need scapegoats. Powerful post-imperialists need scapegoats. Those of us being pushed out must fight back.