The Refuge and the Fortress: Britain and the Flight From Tyranny by Jeremy Seabrook
|The Refuge and the Fortress: Britain and the Flight From Tyranny by Jeremy Seabrook|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Conor Murphy|
|Summary: A tribute to Britain, Britons and the work of CARA in rescuing and supporting refugee academics, combined with some vital questions about our present-day attitudes towards immigration and asylum. Accessible, revealing and, at times, heartbreaking.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: November 2008|
|Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan|
Mongrel nation and successful purveyor of multiculturalism or bunch of xenophobic Little Englanders addicted to past glories? In truth, of course, it's something of both. Prejudice against asylum seekers is nothing new to Britons. A genuine and human commitment to refugees is nothing new either. Alongside the heroic Kindertransport in the 1930s, we may compare the anti-Semitic rabble-rousing of some newspapers and Oswald Moseley's blackshirts.
The Refuge and the Fortress attempts to unravel these contradictions by a look at the work of CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, and by the testimonies of the people it helped. And these people, in particular, have given as much as they ever received from this sometimes generous, sometimes hostile Sceptr'd Isle. Of the ten thousand academics who have passed through CARA's books, eighteen have won Nobel Prizes, sixteen have been knighted and more than a hundred have become fellows of the Royal Society. Science and the arts would have been immeasurably hampered without them.
And yet the current national narrative is all about exclusion and nothing at all about potential. Many people don't even bother to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. Everyone's a bogus asylum seeker. Everyone's other. I hate it.
The early testimonies from some of the Jewish refugees of the 1930s who found meaningful work and inspiration in universities are, by and large, horribly different to those from today's African and Middle Eastern refugees who would love to give a sheltering country the benefit of their skills and experience but aren't allowed freedom of movement, let alone the dignity of work.
Jeremy Seabrook writes with elegant lucidity and articulates well the need every society has for outside commentators; for artists, philosophers and scientists. But it's the testimonies that really bring home the main thrust of this book - refugees are not other, they are human beings, and they have lives and loves and passions and griefs, and they can bring refreshment and renewal to their host countries.
It's the sort of book that should find itself on citizenship reading lists in schools and colleges up and down the land. And perhaps more importantly, also on the desks of newspaper editors and opinion-formers everywhere.
My thanks to the nice people at Palgrave for sending the book.
Another Sky is an anthology of prison writings from those persecuted people who were unable or refused to flee, while My Name Is Salma is Fadia Faqir's insightful fictionalisation of a Jordanian refugee in Devon.
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