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.

Update, 20 September 2017: Now, 13 months later, reports are just coming out of the conclusion of the trial of the young man (identity not revealed in court) who threw the punch at Arkadiusz Jóźwik. The facts as revealed in the trial are apparently not as numerous news sources were reporting at the end of last August.

It is now established to the court's satisfaction that Mr Jóźwik was plenty drunk on vodka; that he and his friend insulted the group of teenagers, possibly using slurs of some kind but certainly being aggressive; that Mr Jóźwik was the primary agent in provoking a fight; and that he was not directly killed by the boy who hit him, despite talk of a "superman punch": the boy came from behind and punched him in the head so hard that he fell and hit his head on the ground, and that was the cause of his death. The 16-year-old who threw the punch has accordingly been sentenced to three years in a detention facility for manslaughter.

The story has now picked up a new media twist: Brendan O'Neill published an article for Spiked, republished in The Times, in which he alleges that the pro-European-Union elite classes seized on the story as (in effect) propaganda for a prejudiced view of the working-class people who voted to leave the EU. Since there now appears to have been no evidence of violent youths hating Polish immigrants or killing anyone for speaking Polish, the story is now that people like Nigel Farage (on the anti-EU side) have been defamed and wrongly accused. The BBC broadcast a program in which a local resident claimed, in a recorded interview, that Farage had "blood on his hands" for stoking anti-immigrant sentiment during the campaign for a vote to leave the EU. Farage is now seeking an official apology from the BBC.

I am fully prepared to apologise for my second-hand references last August 31, and hereby do so. In repeating then-current allegations from the news media I was promulgating claims now established, to the satisfaction of the courts, as false.

I don't think Farage can say that he and his party never used anti-immigrant sentiment to help achieve his desired result of a vote to quit the EU: there was a repellent poster used by his party, UKIP, showing a huge threatening line of refugees, fading away into the distance, lining up to get into Britain, as if that was the sort of thing that EU membership encouraged. But Farage doesn't deserve to be accused of assisting or promoting the murder of Arkadiusz Jóźwik. The BBC probably does owe him an apology for that.

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