Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the Racist Imaginary

One of our contemporary grotesques consequences is how social media incentivises people to broadcast what would once only have been muttered in living rooms, slumped in front of the evening news. Take Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a case in point. Having spent six years in and out of Iranian jail, having had release dangled in front of her eyes and withdrawn again, and the prosecutors possessing an endless capacity for finding new crimes to charge her with, at her press conference on Monday she refused to thank Liz Truss had a few choice words for the government. "I have seen five foreign secretaries change over the course of six years. How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? ... We all know ... how I came home. It should have happened exactly six years ago." If I can fault her in anything, these criticisms were too measured.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a victim of British politics. Of the long-standing weapons deal debt to Iran, which has captured most of the case's coverage, and of a certain Boris Johnson and his own disastrous tenure as foreign secretary - a role conspicuously overlooked in the reporting. Readers might recall the occasion when Johnson appeared in front of the foreign affairs select committee and suggested Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Tehran to teach journalism - an entirely false statement that was used as a pretext for banging her up for longer. An utterly appalling gaffe that should have finished Johnson's career there and then. One hopes Zaghari-Ratcliffe makes more of this when she's recuperated some.

Therefore, the Tories are entirely on the hook for this. For their pig-headed refusal to settle the debt and because they put into office the man whose notorious laziness meant his briefing notes went unread and an innocent woman was robbed her of six years of life. Yet the underbelly of Twitter did not see things that way. Under hashtags like SendHerBack and UngratefulCow, racist and sexist bile poured like a torrent from the keyboards and screens of the most reactionary sections of internet-enabled Britain. Among the swill was a Tory London AM, GB News, and the "provocative" Jeremy Vine. This prompted Jeremy Hunt, ever-keen to rebrand himself as the (mythological) good Tory, to jump in to say "we" (as in the government) owes her an explanation. True, but he'd never cut the mustard as far as these people are concerned.

What are the dynamics cohering the Nazanin haters? Just a case of racists being racist because they're racist? Yes, but that doesn't explain anything. Why has this triggered the racists? The opportunism of the media spotlight? Yes, but no. In the racist imaginary, there are good minorities and bad minorities. The good are those who are uncomplaining and keep their mouths shut when on the ends of racist behaviour. They're the ones who moan about immigration and might, sometimes, concede that the BNP had a point. If they are seen, they definitely should not be heard. And the bad? The people who aren't going to stay silent, and who will stand up against racism and not apologise for who they are. Zaghari-Ratcliffe falls into a subset of the latter, the "bad immigrant" category. She's not doffing her cap, she's not throwing laurels of praise around the Tories, nor is she meekly performing gratitude for her British citizenship and her freedom - she's bloody angry at the wasted years, but for our racists it's them who are the wronged party. As so much racism depends on discourses of imagined injury, she's an unworthy recipient of taxpayer largesse. Doesn't she realise they're the wounded ones? Shouldn't she show contrition and appreciation for their sacrifices?

Also making Zaghari-Ratcliffe an object of hate is the imminent anti-Toryism of her campaign. They're responsible for the debacle of negotiations that took place, as well as Johnson's comments that increased her misery. But as far as the racist imaginary is concerned, it's another woke plot/attempt to undo Brexit/doing Britain down, or rather it's overcoded and overdetermined by their perceived kulturkampf. The threat growing social liberalism assumes in their imagination varies on a continuum from re-education camps where inmates are force fed woke ideology with the daily bread ration to accepting more people of colour on their TV screens, but again it is one of wounding, albeit this time directed at a hazy but deeply felt sense of national spirit or soul. What is one woman's pain from the evil side of the liberal/conservative divide compared to the trauma of a nation under threat?

Bigots and fash-adjacent culture warriors are caught in a closed universe in which the outside only makes a distorted sense impression. On the whole, there's no point trying to persuade such people - they're too far gone. And that makes the refusal to pander to their pretended grievances all the more important. Undoubtedly Zaghari-Ratcliffe will speak out against the ruin the Tories have visited on her life, and when she does it's our job to help stick up for her.

Image Credit


SimonB said...

I’d always be happy to hold our disgusting government to account but in this case I wonder whether the US has been the main instigator and our lot have been the usual poodles.

Blissex said...

hold our disgusting government to account

Here we go again with the usual declamations of the delusionist "leftoids": millions of voters are holding this government to account and are delighted that such account includes a booming property market, cheaper wages, booming immigration from the third world, protection from EU and Russian aggressions, and elimination of COVID restrictions, etc. etc. etc.