Tuesday, 4 May 2010

“They need to be able to differentiate between tomato and tomayto, whether they are from Mumbai or ...er ...Muramgaonwhereisthatblastedwhatsitsname!”

Speak to immigrants and the general consensus – whether they are a student who has never seen the inside of a classroom or a British passport holder who came to this country 30 years ago – is that a Conservative government would signal tighter immigration rules; that the streets would begin swarming with Border Agency staff in knife-proof jackets and belts stuffed with Victorinox multi-tools asking people for ‘documents’.

And that’s in spite of the Tories shuffling to the center of politics, and admitting to strange urges like wanting to kiss a hoodie and hug an asylum seeker. The misconception is partly due to an annoying habit, particularly among South Asians, to arrive at startling conclusions with little valid information, and partly due to history. The BBC Asian Network’s DJ Nihal (himself the son of Sri Lankan immigrants and who often makes Jeremy Paxman look like Oprah Winfrey on a particularly blubbery day) chats with David Cameron about immigration, the BNP and arranged marriages.

Nihal: A lot of tough talk on immigration David, stealing the BNP’s thunder as it were?
David Cameron: I don’t accept that for a moment. I’ve always taken the view that immigration is a subject that you have to talk about with care and sensitivity and I’ve always done that but I also think we need to have proper and robust and sensible policies which we do have but I completely reject what you put in your question.

Nihal: Well that’s the way it comes across, certainly to certain members of the Asian community that talking tough on immigration makes the Asian community nervous. Does the Asian community have any reason to be nervous about Conservative immigration policy?
David Cameron:
It has absolutely no reason to be nervous at all and actually many members of the Asian community in Britain have come up to me in this campaign and raised the issue of immigration with me, actually calling for more robust control, so I think it’s a complete myth to think that British Asians and others don’t want to see proper immigration. They want a fair system and I think that’s very important to understand.

Nihal: You say you want to promote integration into British Society and also there will be an English Language test for anyone coming here from outside the EU to get married. British Asians, many freely enter into arranged marriages David, with partners from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and often their new spouses’ English will be poor. Would you stop them from coming over?
David Cameron:
Well I think there should be an English language test and also along with the government, we’ve argued for the raising of the age limit which has happened in recent years. And of course different communities will want to continue with the arrangements that they’ve had in the past but I do think that it’s important that in our country young women, young men feel they have a choice, whether they want to get married to someone in their own country, in our own community or whether they want to have an arranged marriage. I just think it’s important that people do have a choice and having met some of the people who have been victims of forced marriages, I do know that this an important issue that we need to get right.

Nihal: Nobody is trying to say that forced marriages are a great idea but arranged marriages cannot be demonised either and there are a lot of people that enter into arranged marriages with people who are from villages for instance may it be in Pakistan or India, whose English may not be up to the standard that you require, so you’ll be stopping them from marrying who they wish to marry?
David Cameron:
No, not at all, what I will be doing is making sure that if they are going to enter into that marriage that they have to have a basic level of English, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I am not in anyway, just to go back to your question, demonising what communities choose to do in terms of arranged marriages but as I said, I think it’s important to make sure that young people have a choice.

Nihal: One of the things that came out of an election programme I did with some young Asians was that they were thoroughly hacked off with the rise of groups such as the BNP and the EDL. What would you do to stop the spread of far right groups?
David Cameron:
The BNP as I’ve said, are a completely unacceptable dreadful bunch of thugs and I was very proud of a great British Asian, Sayeeda Warsi on, who I thought did so well on Question Time to uncover Nick Griffin. I think the truth is that you don’t beat the BNP by running towards them and shouting loudly about immigration and I haven’t done that. In four and a half years as leader of the Conservative Party, I have put in a sensible policy and I have always talked about it in a reasonable and sensible way. You beat the BNP by getting on the doorstop and talking to local people about the issues that concern them. The BNP fill a vacuum where the traditional politicians haven’t actually worked hard enough so we’ve got to get in there, talk to people about the problems of housing and tax and education and unemployment, yes addressing the issue of immigration but always doing it with care. Do that and we can stop the BNP.

Nihal: David, having done many phone-ins about radicalisation, there are those that believe the only way to stop radicalisation is to change UK foreign policy. Foreign policy, the perception of alienating young Muslims, British troops in Afghanistan, a perception that the UK Government favours Israel over Palestine. What do you think about that opinion?
David Cameron:
I don’t really accept it. British foreign policy should be right for Britain, should be right for all of Britain but I don’t really accept the view that for instance, what we are doing in Afghanistan, which is actually at the invitation of an elected Muslim Islamic government - that that is an excuse for radicalisation. It isn’t and I think we have to be very clear about this and we do have to fight those that are poisoning the minds of young Muslims in Britain because that’s just not the case. Also, you can agree or disagree with what we’re doing in Afghanistan but that should not lead to a process of radicalisation, where people take up extreme views and then go ahead and do extreme things. I think we’ll get into a moral mess if we start thinking that’s somehow acceptable, it isn’t.

Nihal: David, a lot of British Asians, as you well know, are self employed and they run their own businesses. What will the Conservative Party do to make their life easier considering they are going through a pretty tough time at the moment?
David Cameron:
Well they are and they’re the backbone of a lot of our economy. The first thing we will do is we’re going to cut out wasteful spending in government so we stop the national insurance rise which will hit so many family owned and small businesses across our country. If you put up national insurance contributions you’re putting up the cost of employing people and also the government plan to take more money out of people earning just 21,000, 22,000 pounds and we think that’s wrong so we’re going to stop that. For the future, we want a lower rate of corporation tax for small businesses, we’ve set out how to pay for that and we want people to set up new businesses and they won’t have to pay national insurance on the first ten employees. So we want to so a lot for the small business community that’s where the jobs are going to come from. With this opportunity on the Asian Network, what I’d say is there are many British Asians who have Conservative values about families, about enterprise but who have been held back from voting Conservative in the past because they’ve been concerned about ‘is the Conservative party really for me’. I think what we are demonstrating with the candidates we have and with great people like Sayeeda Warsi, candidates like Paul Uppal, many others and Nadhim Zahawi who is going to be a great candidate in Stratford on Avon, you can now vote for the Conservative Party, it is a multiracial party, it’s there for everyone and if you share our values about enterprise and family then come with us.

Nihal: David, you also say that a Conservative government will give every child the education that is currently available only to the well off, safe class rooms, talented and specialist teachers etc. How exactly are you going to make sure that a child from a poor working class background is going to get the same kind of education and privileges that you had. How much is it going to cost?
David Cameron:
I believe in opening up state education, making sure we have more of the great academy schools and other schools coming into the state sector to provide really good opportunities. I was at the London city academy yesterday, a great example of this sort of programme and I believe the fact that opportunity is so unequal in our country and it is a real problem. Now of course this costs money but also some things in education like good discipline, like teaching the basics, like having competitive sports in schools. It’s not all about money, it is as I said, partly about money but also discipline and values, things that I think British Asians know are necessary in our schools and I meet a lot of British Asians who are depressed that these things aren’t available in our schools when they should be.

Nihal: Another thing – following on from schools to universities. We have a lot of graduate who are very very fearful of their future now and one who wondered whether it was even worth going to university and then getting into £20,000 of debt. What would you say to a new generation of students who are going to university and who are very fearful at the end of it, all they’ll be saddled with is debt and no job?
David Cameron:
I would say, if you think university is right for you, it’s going to give you good qualifications go for it because we want to have well trained, well-educated graduates in our country to compete with the rest of the world. I’ll be frank though, we can’t afford to get rid of the tuition frees and the parties that say they can and the liberal democrat say they ‘re going to, but you look at the small print – they’re not going to get rid of them for 6 years. That’s beyond the next parliament. So I’m being straight with people and saying universities are good, we want people to go we can’t get rid of the tuition fees. Choose your course carefully, make sure you do the research that you’re getting a good course at a good university but it’s a really important thing we do as a country.

Four Lions – Britain’s most provocative comedian takes on home-grown suicide bombers. Oh dear.

Christopher Morris is, quite possibly, Britain’s most provocative comedian, finding humour in the most unpleasant of topics (conversely, provoking more open debate about such topics through comedy), much to the great exasperation of the mainstream. Issues such as drug abuse, paedophilia, keen Catholic priests, Aids. Morris is after all, the satirist who introduced Britain to the difference between ‘Good’ AIDS (for example, acquired through transfusions of contaminated blood) and ‘Bad’ Aids (acquired through unprotected sex or drug abuse). And he is a master at evoking the prejudice behind that extra bit of sympathy we feel for the ‘Good’ Aids victim over the ‘Bad’ Aids victim.

And now, a mere 5 years after the London bombings of 7/7, he’s turned his attention to a toxic issue that has been bombarded into our collective consciousness for the past decade – Islamic extremism, of the home-grown variety. Morris must be blessed with especially sturdy genitalia to take up such a tasteless subject for his film debut but that’s precisely what he’s done with Four Lions.

The film follows a terror cell based in a particularly dreary part of Yorkshire as they bungle their way through a plot to bomb the London Marathon and destroy the “Kaffa Bastards”. Ironically, the terror cell in Four Lions actually consists of five would-be Jihadis. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the intense and focused leader who spends his time flitting between frustration and bemusement, spitting abuse at his cohorts whose general incompetence constantly threatens to derail the plan for martyrdom. Waj (Kayvan Novak) is Omar’s dim-witted, easily-led sidekick, and muscleman of the group. Fessel (Adeel Akhtar) is the clueless ‘materiel expert’ who stockpiles vast quantities of bleach from the same shop disguised as a woman by covering up his lush beard with just his hands. Hassan (Arsher Ali) is a fusion rapper and the innocent new recruit. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is the most unlikely of the five, a ferocious Caucasian Muslim convert with a nasty streak and little sense; seemingly ready to take out the “Jaffa Cake eating Jew Lovers” armed only with the vicious bile that he spews. Barry initially proposes bombing a mosque to spur a Muslim uprising against the indigenous populace but that plan is soon shelved.

As a buddy comedy Four Lions is a near perfect blend of The Full Monty, Ocean’s Eleven and The Three Stooges; with a fantastically temperamental cast of characters and the resultant bickering, slapstick humour, tetchiness and camaraderie in generous proportions. The director touches on the politics of terrorism and, significantly, the difficulties faced by the characters in reconciling their adopted culture and its sensibilities with their own cultural values and religious righteousness.

However, the strength of the movie is in the fact that Morris doesn’t dwell too long on the politics of fundamentalism and identity crises; nor does he attempt to paint a vivid background or bother too much with substance. (He’s far more concerned with writing-in the most colourful Urdu abuses: “I’ll fuck your aunty standing up!” is one of the best ones. Or maybe the sub-title guys just cocked that up).

Instead Four Lions pokes fun firstly at society’s imperfections, paranoia, cynicism and prejudices; Omar’s brother is a far more orthodox Muslim who fits the ‘fundamentalist’ stereotype perpetuated by the mainstream media but has a far more conciliatory approach to life.

Morris then chips away at the collective idiocy of everyone involved and to great comic effect too; from the government and its’ war on terror, the intelligence community, the sensationalist segments of the media to Jihadis and everything being about “God’s Will”; from the naivety and clumsiness of the bombers to the staggering incompetence of the police. In amongst it all he manages to throw in some extremely touching moments as well without the narrative ever becoming syrupy.

Four Lions is a brilliantly funny and touching debut from a fearless director who has successfully accomplished the tough task of taking a sensitive subject and dressing it up in a really funny costume (or costumes in this case). The politics is relevant but never overshadows the humour. As the director himself puts it, laughing, especially at ourselves, is always a better alternative to killing.
- Vijitha Alles

Four Lions is released in the UK 7th May.
Image courtesy of Optimum Releasing.