Rachel Cooban, BTV intern
The outcome of the EU referendum revealed more than just a political chasm between those who voted leave and those who voted remain; A doorway to a discussion about society’s sharp social division was created as a result. David Goodhart’s book titled, “The Road to Somewhere” (2017) is a fascinating depiction of this contemporary societal divide that seemingly went under the radar until given the opportunity to rear itself visible once the results of the Brexit vote were announced. Similarly, in the United States, Donald Trump’s election in 2016 equally demonstrated the power behind a wave of silent, disaffected voters – surprising people and pundits alike.
In Goodhart’s book, he refers to two main poles within society. He paints “Anywheres” as highly educated, well-travelled and cosmopolitan Europhiles who are naïve to the plights of the average blue collar worker or rural labourer. Their identities are ‘portable’ in relation to wherever their next international stint might take them. ‘Somewheres’, on the other hand, are typically Leave voters: they are Britain’s traditional working class who, as the author describes, feel threatened by rapid social change and possess a fixed identity to a particular geographical location in the UK. Goodhart’s book strongly resonates with me and pertains not only in this country, but on a global scale too.
Whilst Goodhart’s work centres on Brexit specifically, interning with Become The Voice has brought my attention to similar patterns of polarisation amongst today’s youths. The majority of my work has involved the simple yet surprisingly unusual task of posing questions and listening to responses on difficult issues. I have encountered all sorts of thoughts and opinions on extremism, tolerance, immigration and religion – conversation topics that often crop up in various situations of casual chat but are rarely instigated through a direct question that compels a direct response. These topics can be uncomfortable and often controversial, such as whether or not it is morally acceptable to deny Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship, or whether or not Islam can ever be fully compatible with a Western way-of-life. Whilst I received a wide variety responses on such questions, there was definitely some truth behind Goodhart’s candid statement that “most of us prefer our own kind.”
For instance, when asking students about their thoughts on recent terror attacks and how we can best create stronger communities, one University of Exeter student claimed that “Islamic values often conflict with British values on issues like homosexuality and general morality” leading to “tension in mixed communities”. What this shows, however, is that instances of peaceful conciliation between western liberal values and Islam can often fall under the radar. For example, there exists a German Mosque named Rushd-Goethe whereby LGBTQ Muslims are welcomed and provided the safe-space needed for them to worship without condemnation. Whilst not necessarily ‘the norm’, Rushd-Goethe allows us to picture endless possibilities for the integration of stereotypically incompatible communities and highlights the danger in drawing classifications of other groups. For Tugay Sarac, a young Turkish Muslim who had once struggled to find peace between his religion and sexual identity, Rushd-Goethe was “a light in the darkness”.
These underlying preferences for sameness manifest into dangerous rhetoric or ‘tribal divisions’, as phrased by the author. What this leaves is the absence of a moderate, central ground promoting dialogue and constructive discussion on contentious issues. Therefore, what my work with Become The Voice has taught me the most, is the importance of taking active avoidance from settling into the comfort of one’s own eco-chambers. I believe this is critical during this current era of intense political and social instability and the optimistic comments I received from some Exeter students on this subject similarly seemed to support this notion. Two students believed that “talking to children from a young age about compassion for others from different backgrounds” and “the promotion of inter-cultural activities amongst children” are the best ways to help create stronger communities.
On the third anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder, and in light of the country-wide community events held in her honour, compassion and solidarity has reared itself far more powerful than the single act of hatred that lead to Jo’s death. In Jo’s own words “we have far more in common than that which divides us”, teaching us the all-important need to focus on ideals rather than identity. I believe her words provide great optimism that a more tolerant, centrist and progressive future will one day be on the horizon.
John McCain’s farewell message before his death in 2018 –
“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.” – Senator John McCain, 2018.