Thursday, April 05, 2007

Britain's Pathetic Middle Class

So congratulations to Tony Blair for securing the release of the 15 naval personnel with seemingly no concessions made. Respect restored for Britain and a major mistake by Iran.

Watching these excrutiating events unfold from the other side of the globe, what i have found most depressing is not the capture itself (after all Iran is a rogue nation that does not play by the rules), nor is it the expected appeasing reaction from a section of Britain's media that immediately sought to lay the blame for this aggressive action at our own door, but the indifferent manner of my fellow countrymen to the news that 15 of their defence personnel had been kidnapped by a hostile nation.

What exactly has to happen for Middle England to awake from its complacent slumber?

The press has been quick to blame the mess in Iraq for our indifferent shrug of the shoulders. But the malaise back home runs deeper than this and preceded Iraq. In short most law-abiding decent Brits just crave a quiet life and since 9/11 have become more inward looking, believing that if they just close their eyes and turn off the news then they will not have to face the awkward and unpleasant realities of the world.

This cowardly behaviour is reflected in every day life in Britain.

Before i came to Australia, I lived in a nice leafy neighbourhood just north of London. Two incidents have troubled me ever since. Every Saturday morning we used to take the kids to our local swimming pool - a pleasant, if overly-chlorinated, trouble free environment. On one occasion, i noticed two aggressive looking teens harassing a Down's Syndrome kid who was trying to swim a lap of the 25 pool. The pool was packed but no-one lifted a finger to help this kid out. Everyone noticed what was going on (for i saw them watching out of the corner of their eyes) but noone dared or wanted to help this boy.

In my loudest voice i yelled at the two boys to stop teasing and bullying the kid. There was stunned silence all around. The lifeguards (who had also been ignoring the behaviour up then) finally came rushing over to help. The teens immediately stopped their behaviour and even had the decency to look sheepish. On my way back i glared at my fellow swimmers. Noone would hold my stare as they knew how cowardly their inaction was.

A few weeks later, i was on a packed commuter train heading home. Suddenly a very loud stereo started playing rap music with deeply offensive lyrics. The stereo was in the lap of two young lads (one black, one white, both about 16). Noone complained, in fact noone even looked up from their newspapers, despite the deafening row of the stereo. I went up to the boys and respectfully asked them to turn the music down. They looked at me in stunned disbelief as though noone had ever asked this of them before, not least a commuter in a suit. To my immense relief they complied immediately and even apologised. Again not one commuter would look at me on my walk back to my seat, nor did any thank me after the boys had left the train.

I get mad whenever i think of these these two incidents, not because of the actions of the youths (teenage boys are annoying almost by definition), but as a result of the cowardly, pathetic response of my fellow Middle Englanders.

You cannot go to a dinner party in London without someone bringing up the subject of rising crime (everyone in London knows at least five people who have been mugged, burgled or attacked). But i can't help feeling we deserve it with our pathetic head-in-the-sand attitudes. If we are no longer willing to prevent mild nuisance behaviour we cannot claim shock when this escalates into violence.

Just because you turn off the news, it doesn't mean the news has gone away. Just because Iran has behaved badly this once, it doesn't mean it will stop behaving badly in the future. Sometimes you need to nip bad behaviour in the bud to prevent it spreading and escalating.

Middle England is increasingly getting the shit it deserves.