OPINION: Libyan soldiers at Bassingbourn Barracks need humility not prejudice

Bassingbourn Barracks

Bassingbourn Barracks - Credit: Archant

Colin Blumenau’s take on the week’s news


... intolerance. Much as I have tried to bite my tongue after the Crow’s front page story about the purportedly escapee Libyan military I have found it impossible to refrain from comment. You see I have an inbuilt prejudice against … well prejudice. I find it almost impossible to be impartial and evenhanded. Perhaps it is my Jewish ancestry or the fact that I was bullied at school. Either way when I espy chauvinism of any type I come out in a rash of self-righteous indignation.

In order to ascertain whether what is being said is discriminatory I have a very simple test if I think this kind of nauseating bigotry is rearing its ugly head. It is a test I have used often and have encouraged others to use. I substitute the particular demographic group named [in this case Libyan] with a demographic group about whom our society is already über sensitive. Let us take the test shall we, dear Reader?

In this instance the very first sentence of the piece did it for me. “A villager has expressed security concerns after black/Islamic/gay [you pick one for yourself] soldiers training at Bassingbourn barracks left the base without permission.” Racism, religious bigotry and homophobia bounce off the page and hit you squarely between the eyes, don’t they? Inconceivable that such sentiments should be expressed.

Or maybe not. Perhaps my test is not persuasive enough for you. How about “They [the black/Islamic/gay soldiers] seemed harmless and maybe they were, but that’s not the point.” What exactly is the point I wonder? That because they’re Libyan they must, by definition, be dangerous? It’s almost as transparent as “I have nothing against black people but …” or “Some of my best friends are gay but … ”

Perhaps the resident quoted in the article might argue that there is no correlation between being black, Islamic or gay with being Libyan. After all Libyan troops are not necessarily any of those things and thus the comparison is unfair and the test invalid. So what, I wonder, is it about a Libyan soldier training to be a peacemaker in the Middle East that makes it more tolerable for them to identified as a potential threat and thus be discriminated against?

Most Read

Well, perhaps I’d better just stop there before I get any further into trouble. Whoops! No! Here I go again. Me and my big mouth. I can just hear the apologists just sharpening their clichés. “It is, after all, better to be safe than sorry” they’ll say, as they lock their front doors, pull up their drawbridges and aim their shotguns through their castles’ arrowslits. “You can’t be too careful” they’ll counsel as they take pot shots at anyone sporting a turban. “You see it’s just that they are more likely to …” What? Radicalise other Royston residents? Start a North Herts jihad?

It is true that these outcomes cannot be completely ruled out. But really! These few members of the supposedly miscreant military were, let me remind you, training to be peacekeepers. They were not crawling through the undergrowth on their bellies, stalking Oliver Heald in a suspicious fashion, sending coded satellite messages back to revolutionary forces in the desert. They were walking to Tesco. Presumably because the rural bus service is so lamentable. They also, it appears, had been sanctioned so to do because they had behaved well.

The logical extension of this kind of despicable hatred is that anyone who is not “one of us” is fair game. I fully accept that I am being both liberal and naïve. I am much, much happier to be accused of being such than ever to sign up to the lock ‘em up or send ‘em home brigade.

We are human beings, let’s behave with some humanity.