A very happy Halloween to you all. It occurred to me that I almost always have a celebration for which I can wish you joy as a way of opening these newsletters. I rather like that. The festivals that I know about come from a fairly limited subset of traditions, but every tradition has its feasts. I think that is wonderful. It shows that humans, whatever their circumstances, find ways to be with each other and express joy. Winter is coming, which is big news, if true. Given the circumstances we going to need more than our average quotient of joy to make it through the dark days ahead.
Citizens of the World
I do have two pieces of joyous news. For marketing reasons, I will save the best till last. This month sees the launch of our online, “citizens of the world in conversation” series. We are extremely fortunate to be able to have a conversation with Syrian-Canadian refugee author and LGBT rights campaigner, Danny Ramadan. The conversation will take place on Friday, November 20 at 19:00.
Danny Ramadan is the author of the bestselling work “the Clothesline Swing”. I’ve only just ordered my copy so I cannot tell you much about book, but one of our newest volunteers, author, Hanna Randall, who is going to be in conversation with Danny, is a massive fan. I’m looking forward to reading the book and finding out more. The idea of the series is to provide a platform for interesting views and perspectives to be shared and also for us to get new subscribers. The events are free to attend, though you are welcome to make a donation, and we will be asking attendees to consider signing up to their cup of kindness. Come along, but most importantly tell your friends who are yet to join our merry band. You can book your space here:
The amazing news that still has me in tears is that our very own Luqman Onikosi won his right to remain. The Home Office finally gave up trying to remove him to his death in Nigeria. They accepted the ruling of the Upper Tribunal that Luqman has a right to stay in the UK. He received his Biometric Residence Permit in the post today. Annoyingly, the Home Office have chosen to grant him 2 ½ years discretionary leave, when they really should have given him five years Humanitarian Protection. I believe that Luqman will be challenging that decision and no doubt the Home Office will lose again. I think that they should learn an important lesson for any bureaucracy: Never get in a fight with Luqman Onikosi.
I wrote something earlier this month for our blog when Luqman got the news that the Home Office were going to grant him leave. I was too emotional to write anything clever. I was hoping that by the time this newsletter came round I would be calm enough to write something suitably reflective. I’m still not in that place. Luqman is one of my best friends. That’s not much of a boast. To know Luqman is to love him. His kindness and open heartedness means that any event Luqman organises is diverse, not in the sense of having a few people of colour present, but in the real meaning of the word. There will be people from all ages, all backgrounds, all religions, all sexualities and all income groups. He does it by being a human being. That the UK state considers that the “public interest” is in removing Luqman from this country is an excellent reason to become an anarchist (or at least an Aristotelian about law). How very dare they tell me that my interest and my community’s interest lie in persecuting a person like Luqman?
I actually have a fantasy of putting on an open house called “in the public interest” in which all the hundreds of letters of support that Luqman submitted in evidence are displayed, ideally there would recordings of those letters in multiple voices played on a loop, and information about the way that the UK treats people in Luqman’s situation. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your view of my artistic prowess, Luqman is much too modest to agree to my scheme. As I am unable to write anything reflective, I’m going to have to content myself with giving you a sample by quoting from the letter I wrote in support. Among other things, I wrote:
Perhaps the best way to encapsulate Luqman’s migrant and community organising is by reflecting on how different things are now that Luqman is involved. I have been involved in various migrant solidarity groups in Brighton since about 2008. None of these projects were very successful. They mostly raised awareness of issues around migration and raised money for various other projects in the UK and in Europe. What they failed to do was to support individuals to build a life in Brighton. I think that that was in a large part because people did not think of themselves as migrants. Luqman’s involvement has totally transformed the work that we do. His insistence on doing things that meet the needs of those involved and on placing those in need at the heart of our organising has changed everything around. Our working practices, inspired by Luqman, now mean the migrants have a reason to be involved – it will help them meet their needs – and, by being at the heart of the project, come to understand their own situation much better.
On a personal note, I have learnt so much from Luqman. He challenges any complacency in my thinking. He makes me a better human being. He is an inspiration to me. I value my friendship with him very highly. I think that had Luqman not been involved in my life I would have remained in academia writing second-rate philosophy [you are rather overrating your abilities – Ed.]. Luqman has opened my eyes to the complexity of race, racism and the border in this country. He has taught me that we must take action to bring about change or be complicit in deeply problematic systems. My life is richer, more varied and more valuable because I know Luqman.
Halloween, Dummett A & M, and Luqman
I’m going to finish with a thought about Halloween. It comes from the late great Michael Dummett. He really was a remarkable man. Do look him up. As well as being a brilliant philosopher who dragged Oxford philosophy from the depths of verificationism and the dull ditch of ordinary language philosophy, he was a tireless campaigner for migrant rights. Along with his equally extraordinary wife, Ann Dummett, and others he founded the JCWI. Ann Dummett’s, “A Portrait of English Racism” remains a profound and disturbing text. In the days when admission to this country was still decided at the border, he was part of gang of activists who would run down to Heathrow at the drop of hat to “persuade” border guards that they had erred by refusing entry to people coming to settle here. He delayed publication of his riveting magnum opus, “Frege: Philosophy of Language” until, as he says in the preface, incidentally a preface worthy even of Laurence Sterne, the UK had become “irretrievably identified by the black people living here as a racist society” and “that the alienation of the racial minorities is now so great that a white ally in the struggle can, except in special circumstances, play only the most ancillary part”.
Anyway, in his book “On Immigration and Refugees”, Dummett discusses those who hide their antipathy to the presence of those racialised as other in this country behind the claim that their objection is no more than a worry about the replacement of “native” cultures and traditions by “foreign” ones. He makes the passing observation that it’s rare to hear objections to the growth of Halloween as a tradition. It is very clearly an American import. Even in my lifetime Halloween has gone from being a chance for children to make jack-o’-lanterns to a major cultural event in the calendar. No doubt there is some disgruntled, retired major in Tunbridge Wells who mutters darkly about the Americanisation (they surely without using such an Americanism) of British culture, but almost everybody else enjoys the new carnivalesque feast that occurs at the beginning of winter. Dummett concludes, in a way that only the Wykeham Professor of Logic can, that when it comes to new cultures, the host culture adopts and adapts what it find useful and quietly ignores things for which it has no use.
Dummett went on to defend the claims that he made in the first edition in the preface to the second. It concludes with the words, “let us hope that it does not come to that [violence], but that we and our leaders begin to look with clear eyes at the state of affairs we have so wantonly brought about by our inability to react without quite needless panic to the presence of a small number of black people among us”. He’d written in the first edition that it would take several generations to undo the damage done by politicians of all stripes to race relations in this country. Those generations have been working hard. By and large it has not come to violence. Luqman is very much part of that tradition and that struggle. Through their and others hard work, I do believe that the tide is turning. At the very least I think it is now possible for white people, people like myself, to have something to contribute to that struggle. I learnt from Luqman that what is needed from an ally is someone useful. That is someone who can provide the support that you need. I think that by mobilising the community to provide housing for people that the British establishment still sees fit to target, not only do we provide exactly the practical solidarity that is needed, but we also calm that irrational fear. We will, if we keep plodding along, arrive, sooner than many people think, in a country where the “us” who make up that country looks very much like an event organised by Luqman Onikosi.