Thursday, 2 March 2017

Exclusion? Inclusion? Being polite and civilised?

How hard is it to be reasonable and polite to people? I keep coming across stories about the rude treatment of people not being allowed into the USA for one reason or another. There was the teacher from Wales, a young man with a Muslim name, removed from his plane and never really finding out why he was not allowed to continue.

Maybe his name was simply wrong, like the son of Muhammid Ali, the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay. He was detained along with his mother and questioned about his faith. All this despite having been born in the USA and having an American passport.

Some people found out that their visa was wrong. Well, maybe not actually wrong as such, but perceived to be wrong. There was a French historian, a holocaust expert, invited to speak at a university conference. If he had not been able to contact the organisers of the conference and get legal help, he might not have got in at all. 

Then there was an Australian woman, the writer of books for children. She was told she needed a work visa in order to go and make a speech at a conference on literacy. Eventually they let her in. One of the officials, having discovered that one of her books for children had been selected as Australia's gift to our little Prince George, even wanted to shake her hand and declare how pleased he was to meet her. Something of a snobbish turnaround if you ask me.

Both the last two were held and questioned for quite some time before being allowed into the country. What struck me above all, however, was the writer Rem Fox's description of the attitude of the officials. Any explanations given were shouted in an aggressive manner. All of the people waiting in the holding room with her were bing treated as if they were criminals guilty of some heinous crime. Communication seemed to be unnecessarily harsh; officials got up close and personal and shouted at the "suspects". Older people were not treated with respect. Forget that qualification: nobody was treated with respect.

Whatever happened to common decency? Even if someone has committed a crime, and certainly if it has not been proven that they did, in fact, commit that crime, it should be possible to speak to them calmly and politely. Oh, I know that there are some who might say that the violent and aggressive only understand violence and aggression but I beg to differ. If we deal aggressively with the violent and aggressive, then we put ourselves at their level. And surely it is the job of officials, whether at immigration control or in police stations, to ascertain true facts, not to pre-judge and mete out punishment.

That's my take on it anyway. And I am not claiming that we are any better in the UK. Look at all the discussion and confusion and posturing about the situation of EU nationals resident in the UK. The PM says no guarantees can be offered about their status after Brexit. The House of Lords disagrees. Meanwhile a mass of people are in limbo, uncertain about their future. Last night in the television a politician declared that EU residents should have nothing to worry about. Of course they will be allowed to stay in the UK! Nobody is going to throw them out!

If that is the case, why is so much fuss being made about it? Why are people I know being told that they suddenly need a special kind of health insurance policy? One that no-one told them about before? Why are there families afraid that they might be forced to split up, the EU national going "home" to Europe and the British partner staying here and the children lost in the turmoil?

The argument goes that we can't offer guarantees from our end until we have assurances that UK nationals living in Europe will not have problems staying where they are. And so we have a stand-off: Europe on the one hand and the UK on the other, hands on hips, legs apart, staring each other out, each waiting for the other to cave in first.

I make no claims to be an expert diplomat but it does seem to me that some polite, restrained talking is called for.

 A little politeness goes a long way!

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