Speak Polish and die

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Arkadiusz Jóźwik, an immigrant from Poland who had been living in England for four years, decided last Saturday evening (for the first time, according to his brother) to go down to a pizzeria in a strip mall in Harlow, Essex, and collect his pizza rather than have it delivered. He stood outside with a friend eating a slice, and a group of teenage boys who often hung out there heard him speaking to his friend in Polish (he didn't know much English). That linguistic evidence of foreignness was enough for one of the teenagers to attack him. Others joined in and savagely beat him. The friend was also attacked, sustaining fractured bones in his hands and bruising to his stomach. Both men were taken to a local hospital, but Arkadiusz had to be transferred to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge to be treated for a head injury, and by Monday he was dead.

Such is the poisonous atmosphere that has emerged in some areas of England since the June 23 vote in which a majority of the UK's electorate voted for leaving the European Union.

There cannot be much doubt about the responsibility borne by the victorious Leave campaign. Members of the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose ex-leader Nigel Farage appeared in Mississippi suporting Donald Trump the other day, produced particularly offensive materials aimed at convincing voters that Britain was being flooded with undesirable and potentially dangerous immigrants who should be kept out or sent home.

Many Conservatives joined in with UKIP, representing immigrants rhetorically as a threat to the nation, and the EU's freedom of movement as an open door for immigrants. Quite deliberately, they did not take much trouble to distinguish (1) the EU citizens from countries like Poland, who are free to move to Britain and work productively here (and who on average contribute more to the state in taxes than they draw in benefits) from (2) legal migrants from Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, or (3) non-EU illegal migrants from poverty-stricken countries like Albania, or (4) asylum-seekers from war-ravaged countries like Syria.

My wonderful Polish-speaking housekeeper — hard worker and lovely person — told me she was terrified by the tone of the campaign, and especially by the result of the vote. She was so nervous on the day of the result that her hands were shaking as she cleaned someone's house, and she broke a vase.

It was easy for the police to find the youths responsible for the murder of Arkadiusz Jóźwik: five 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old have already been arrested and charged with murder. They probably knew nothing about the difference between legal movement within the EU and illegal immigration from beyond it, or the statistical evidence that EU migrants were an economic benefit to their country, or the likelihood that kicking a man in the head would cause his death and doom them to years of imprisonment. Politics, economics, anatomy, jurisprudence… whatever.

Stupid and violent young males with nothing much to do on a Saturday night will often latch onto any kind of foreignness, racial or linguistic, as an excuse for mindless violence against defenceless strangers who are arguably alien. That is why campaigns targeting immigrants as a threat — a standard modus operandi for politicians like Farage and Trump — are so appallingly irresponsible.



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