Being an immigrant from Pakistan myself, the Brexit vote caught me with rather an unpleasant aftertaste. On referendum day, I was walking down Aberdeen’s busy Union Street when a white supremacist, passing by, suddenly hurled words at me: 'Go back to your country'. He soon disappeared in the crowd and I was left stunned to experience the sad reality and the climate of fear the Brexit vote has created in the immigrant community in the UK.
The kaleidoscopic political landscape with its new spike in hate and intolerance and the abuse aimed at the migrant community in Britain concerns me a lot. The Guardian reports a 57% increase in hate crimes. Among others, the attacks have been aimed at the Poles, the second largest overseas population in Britain (after Indian migrants). They are estimated at around 789,000. Now they have become victims of these hate crimes.
The graffiti sprayed at a Polish community centre in London was yet another sad incident. Cards put through letterboxes read: 'No more Polish vermin'. However, what also caught my attention was the message of support and solidarity from people who recognised the contribution of the immigrant community in the UK. One read: 'Dear Poles, I am so sorry to hear about what happened yesterday. We, the Brits, are grateful to you for fighting alongside us in the war and now for the enormous contribution you make to our society. We love you'.
Similarly Muslims are facing hate attacks. The Muslim Council of Britain reports that around 100 attacks have been registered since the vote.
The EU referendum must not be used as an 'instrument’ of divide among people. Political and civil society must work together to stop hate crimes against the law-abiding citizen. There is no denying the huge contribution made by the immigrant community in the UK. Members of ethnic communities in Britain are playing their part in the progress of the country in almost all areas of life, including education, politics and health care.
It is indeed sad but equally true that EU nationals and those from minority backgrounds live in a climate of fear since the referendum. Arguing against immigration had been at the centre of the Leave campaign. However, it seems that this campaign has gone too far and created an environment which encourages open racism and xenophobia. Politicians must not bank on the 'divide and rule’ principle but promote understanding among people of different background to promote social cohesion.
The role of politicians is to build bridges and create social cohesion. The slain MP, Jo Cox, who herself became a victim of a hate crime, had been a life-long advocate of unity, toleration and social cohesion among members of all segments of the society. Her legacy of love for humanity should be the shining example to those at the helm of affairs.
Regardless of any political affiliations, the dignity of a human life should not be trampled upon. The politics of hate should be stamped out and people should be inspired to treat fellow beings with respect and dignity rather than to feast upon prejudicial views which culminate in hate attacks. The Brexit vote must not be used as an instrument of extreme ideas against fellow human beings. Our political elite must promote the ageless values of love, peace and harmony among people, when they need it most.
Shahid Khan is vice-chairperson at Global Minorities Alliance and a student at the University of Aberdeen. He is a former delegate of the International Young Scotland Programme organised by the SR team