Ethan Shone 28th November 2018
Video has emerged of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee being pushed, choked and mock-waterboarded at a school in Huddersfield. The victim has his arm in a cast, apparently as a result of previous similar incidents. The bully, a slightly lanky 16-year-old, is significantly taller than his victim, and after wrapping his hands violently around the boy’s throat, he throws him to the ground and pours water on his face. “I’ll drown you,” says the bully.
Police have asked people not to share the video, as it could prejudice a potential trial, and the wider context surrounding the video is yet to be fully confirmed.
It’s alleged the attack is racially motivated, and though it’s almost impossible to tell for sure just from the video, something about the very real malice and hatred in the bully’s voice tells us that his anger is informed by something much deeper than typical schoolyard trivialities. He hates this boy, thinks of him as less than human, and therefore deserving of this treatment.
The video in itself is a difficult watch. The violence is bad enough. The visceral hate that informs it, and is plain to see, makes it worse.
That kind of numbness in response to harassment, bullying and violence only comes with experience
And worse again is the resignation that’s apparent on the part of the victim. He’s used to this, he’s had it before and he’ll have it again, no doubt. He barely looks fazed. That kind of numbness in response to harassment, bullying and violence only comes with experience; the shock gets beaten out of you eventually.
More heartbreaking still is this: towards the end of the video, as crowds of kids start to appear, no doubt anticipating a fight and the opportunity to jeer it on, nobody seems to be going to the victim. He walks off, slowly and alone. He doesn’t run away in tears to find friends or a teacher to tell. He slopes off silently, unsurprised at what’s happened and, outwardly at least, unaffected.
It’s a walk that no child should have to do, but least of all one who has come to this county fleeing war and all the horrors it brings. One who, if he is indeed Syrian, has already in his short life known depths of suffering and sadness and fear that few of us are likely to ever experience.
When the very worst consequences of your views are laid bare, do you really get to distance yourself, wish the victim all the best, and pin all the blame on the bully?
The video is currently reverberating around Twitter, collecting the appropriate responses of condemnation, shock and outrage from those all across the political spectrum. And rightly so; whatever your views on immigration or refugees, surely we can all agree that this kind of violence is beyond reproach, right?
What about if for 364 days of the year, your ideology drives you to dehumanise migrants and refugees, refuse them entry to our country and paint them as invaders, swarms and cockroaches. Do you then get to wring your hands over this video?
On day 365, when the very worst consequences of your views are laid bare, do you really get to distance yourself, wish the victim all the best, and pin all the blame on the bully?
What’s more, do you really get to act surprised?
Now, don’t get me wrong, the bully in the video is responsible for his actions. He has now been apparently identified on social media, the little cunt, and despite myself, my most visceral reaction is to hope a bigger boy does to him what he did to his victim. It feels a little weird and wrong to hope that something bad happens to a 16-year-old boy — so perhaps more than anything, what I really hope for this lad is that he grows up to understand why what he did is so awful, why no human being is deserving of that kind of treatment simply because of where they were born and that, ultimately, he was wrong. And I hope the same thing for the countless other young, angry men and boys in Britain today, some of whom if we are being totally honest with ourselves are no doubt watching this video with smiles on their faces. I hope he learns and, like many school bullies grown up, is left with life-long guilt and regret about his actions.
Wherever could they have gotten the idea that refugees are some kind of enemy?
But it seems unlikely that this will happen given that we’re still disingenuously failing to be surprised when young Brits have racist and anti-refugee feelings, and repeatedly absolving ourselves of responsibility.
Wherever could they have gotten the idea that refugees are some kind of enemy? That they can — and should — be treated with suspicion, if not outright hostility? Whose attitude could they be imitating? Where would these “rotten apples” get the idea that Britain — and by extension, the schoolyard — should be made a “hostile environment” for outsiders?
Our mainstream newspapers? The former foreign secretary? The prime minister, maybe?
As long as we treat this and similar incidents as awful one-offs we allow those who, through their rhetoric and actions, are actually responsible — the Farages, the Johnsons and the Mays; the Robinsons, the Hopkinses and the Hartley-Brewers — a free ride. When we endorse their views at the ballot box, nod along at them on panels shows, we cannot act surprised when they are mirrored on our streets and in our schools.
Punching down is a popular British pastime
After all, punching down is a popular British pastime. We’re bullies — we have been for centuries, and we’re still bullies now. In fact, we’re so used to throwing our weight around on an international scale, that on the occasions when we’re forced to cooperate or behave fairly, we see it as an injustice.
But, like most bullies, we don’t even realise we’re bullying.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said the video was “not the welcoming, friendly Britain we are supposed to be”. This is a politician from a government which has unapologetically belittled migrants, introduced multiple anti-immigration policies and opted out of a European scheme to take our fair share of refugees, compared with our Western European neighbours. I hate to break it to Ellwood but it’s ludicrous to describe us as “welcoming” or “friendly” people, no matter how much we want to think it’s true.
Next time, with any luck, nobody will be there to video it, and you won’t have to confront the hard realities of what your ideas and your views lead to
So sure, point the finger only at the child for his violence in a playground, and ignore that it mirrors our foreign policy, which inflicts violence on an industrial scale against entire countries, then condemns thousands to suffer as they look to escape that same violence. Pen your sympathetic tweets and articles today, then tomorrow go back to enforcing and upholding a status quo which sees foreign bodies as worth less than “native” ones. Blame only the 16-year-old for expressing the logical conclusion of sentiments that have been splashed across national newspapers, repeated by prominent politicians and enacted as government policy, and carry on as we are, until it happens again.
Next time, with any luck, nobody will be there to video it, and you won’t have to confront the hard realities of what your ideas and your views lead to.
When you hold up the bad apple, all you do is draw the eye away from the rotten barrel it came from.
Ethan Shone 28th November 2018