Seeing footage of children being abused never sits well. While our eyes have been ravaged by scenes of relentless war and a refugee crisis that has reached biblical proportions, here in Britain we have remained largely detached from the upheaval, instead engaged in public panics about immigration. But when the world of mock-euphoric English football fans intersects with the desperate gritty reality of young refugee children away from the battleground of their home countries, something very sinister is revealed.
Last week, a Financial Times correspondent tweeted how a begging seven-year-old in Lille was made to drink a pint of alcohol by a group of English football fans in exchange for some coins – and it felt like a kick to the stomach. Then there was more. A video surfaced showing several children falling over themselves to catch coins being flung at them by a group of these fans. About 70 of them stood outside a pub in a large circle looking inwards, fists in the air, some appearing to gesture explicitly, cheering and singing the national anthem in a drunken drawl. Most of the fans keep their distance, except for one attacker in a white sports kit who steps forward to make monkey-like actions in front of the kids. Another man with red trainers steps forward and hurls a coin as hard as he can. In another short clip, the same scene is taken from the first person perspective of one of the culprits who shows off his gold coin, flicks it at the children and laughs hysterically as they scramble for it. Nobody intervenes.
These short scenes from the Euro 2016 stage spew out a sickeningly visual illustration of British behaviour and the wider British psyche in the face of a global crisis. The anxieties about our place in Europe, the invasion of “superior” developed nations by dark “rapefugees“, and whether we can still maintain violent control over our undefined British identity have reached a dangerous crux. In the footage above, we see a collosseum of intoxicated “sovereigns” entertained at the sight of the animalistic fight for survival. We see the dehumanisation of the foreign, those we consider dispensable, now arriving at our doorstep. And we see the very worst of our society – normalised, racist, mass extremism (let’s call it what it is) – emerging in place of common decency. There is no doubt that the children of these fanatic fans would simply not be treated in this way.
Violence has been quite a feature of Euro 2016 and football has been associated with brawls since the thirteenth century. What is particularly unnerving this time, however, is that it has appeared in a toxic climate of hate and fear – in fact, in the very same week that Jo Cox, British Labour MP and fervent EU Remain campaigner, was murdered by a Britain First terrorist in Birstall. In her final speech at the House of Commons in April, Jo Cox supported the motion to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugees into Britain: “We all know that the vast majority of the terrified, friendless and profoundly vulnerable child refugees scattered across Europe tonight came from Syria… The government’s generosity to date has not extended to those vulnerable children.”
MPs voted against the motion leaving 3 per cent of the 95,000 unaccompanied child refugees to continue to fight for survival on the streets of Europe. Just as our politicians have treated survivors with persistent contempt, we in Britain have become accustomed to cruelty towards refugees. This attitude, of course, extends to other parts of Europe. A few days before this incident, a man shot a five-year-old girl and a teenager at a German refugee shelter from his window.
As Giles Fraser puts it “we are so hypocritical about borders” celebrating globalisation only when we can enjoy our travels, hold on to our wealth, and keep the poor out of our national borders. We have ceaselessly sought to externalise our borders even further, watching many others from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq drown before they reach us. It’s what Maurice Stierl calls a “narrative of silence” – where commentators have repeatedly described death at sea in the language of natural phenomenons rather than political decisions.
Such borders are always borders of violence enforced through masculine nationalisms, which will be more violently defended as climate change devastates more nations. If we do not drastically wrench out the racism which has seeped into our consciousness, we will lose our shared humanity and push more vulnerable young children into abuse and abandonment.