Despair and desperation

Today 700 people are believed to have drowned as a fishing boat capsized in the southern Mediterranean.

Last week 400 more met the same fate.

This year alone 1500 people – fleeing for their lives from conflicts in, among others, Syria, Yemen and Libya and desperate to reach the stability of Europe – have perished on the perilous journey undertaken in dangerously overcrowded boats.

1500 people. Men, women and children. Ordinary people just like you and me. Their dream of reaching our promised land gone in seconds in the cold, unforgiving sea.

Katie Hopkins – who will literally say and do anything for money* – called them cockroaches, built to survive a nuclear war, and she demanded that, rather than rescue missions, we should turn the gunboats on them.

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Turn the gunboats on those cockroaches.

Those men, women and children whose only crime was to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

160 years ago my forebears on both sides of my family came to Scotland from Ireland in the aftermath of An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine. Like millions of others, they faced a stark choice – stay and probably starve or go and try to live.

In 2015, if I was unlucky enough to live in sub-Saharan Africa, to be a woman of any religion in territories now controlled by ISIS, to be a Palestinian locked into the Gaza Strip, to be a lesbian anywhere in an intolerant society that threatens me daily – would I climb aboard a laden-down fishing boat to risk everything to reach Europe where I might actually have a chance to live a life worth living?

The answer is a resounding yes.

The refusal by many people to show even the most basic empathy with the plight of fellow human beings leaves me in despair.

What was an undercurrent of intolerance emanating from a minority in the UK has now become terrifyingly vocal and mainstream.

And it gives me the fear.

The atmosphere around this general election is one of such relentless negativity, scaremongering and, from some, outright racism that I genuinely fear for what we have become and what we surely will become if the bigots continue to be indulged and given free reign.

I don’t have any answers. I wish I did. Right now I can only feel a sense of hopelessness and, yes, fear.

And an overwhelming sadness for those whose miserable lives ended in seconds earlier today.

May they rest in peace.

*This is how tabloids work. They need a useful idiot. And then he or she is  encouraged to say the unsayable, once upon a time to get readers, now to get online clicks.

The men (and invariably it will be men) who commission the likes of Hopkins will consider this all nothing but a great laugh, mocking those who are properly outraged by her words and sneering at the lefty liberals daft enough to climb aboard the offended bus.

None of it is real to them. Just words on a page. Not bodies floating lifeless in the same Med where they’ll splash with their kids this summer.

 

Edit: Just seen this from Zoe Williams in the Guardian. As ever, she expresses it a whole lot better than me.

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