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Moral panics and the politics of exhaustion

by Paul Fitzpatrick

The current response to the so-called ‘invasion’ by ‘small boats’ has all the classic features of a moral panic - a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of society at large. Perpetuated by the news media, and fuelled by politicians, it typically results in the passage of new laws or policies which target the source of the panic. Hence the Illegal Migration Bill. The UK is surpassing Denmark, Hungary and Greece in our efforts to create the worst refugee policy in Europe.

I feel particularly incensed by the notion of a threat to values (though I understand what is hidden behind the rhetoric). I think of the commitment of the Sudanese community here in Doncaster not only to the well-being of their families in Sudan but also to that of their fellow citizens and residents.

This I know from my experience, not from an idealised perception, even as the continuing suffering in Sudan disappears from the news agenda. This fact is sufficient to give the lie to Robert Jenrick’s recent claim that ‘illegal migrants’ do not share ‘our’ values.

In many respects ‘they’ perform the values which ‘we’ claim, but fail, to respect. Consider too how an English class is interrupted for prayer; the discipline of fasting (and not only by Muslims); respect for teachers and elders; the tears which arise when eating by remembering those without food in Darfur; or the indignant laughter at the question on the College application form about being a criminal.

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