Somebody posted a link in the comments this week (hat-tip Dandelo) to a Tweet and article written by a woman called Mary Engleheart, Mary's blog called ''Migration Diaries'' is an account of her pro-refugee activism and tales of derring-do from the front-lines in the Calais migrant jungle. Mary recently wrote an article entitled ''A shout out to the men of fighting age'' it's Mary attempting to refute and debunk the ''men of fighting age'' headline which has become something of a meme.
The problem is, when I read Mary's article I had the distinct feeling she might be slightly embellishing the facts, and that there might just be a hint of bias in her piece, indeed, I frequently burst out laughing and decided to re-post the whole piece here with some thoughts of my own.....
‘They’re men of fighting age!’ scream the headlines, conjuring up images of threatening brutes. Aggressive rhetoric and hyperbole have coloured the migration debate in the UK throughout 2016, targeting young, male refugees in particular. British MP David Davies claims refugees are not ‘averse to lying about their ages’, and should undergo dental checks, sparking a vicious campaign against ‘hulking’ teenagers being reunited with their families. Young men living in the Calais Jungle have been painted as ticking time bombs by the tabloid press, creating an aura of fear and ignoring the majority who crave peace and a fresh start. I spent two weeks in Calais volunteering at the Ashram Kitchen, serving food alongside the Jungle’s men of fighting age:
‘Keep it’, says Marwan, ‘keep it!’ I stand shivering as my taxi approaches. ‘Honestly Marwan, I don’t need it, really, please take it back.’
‘Keep it!’ he insists. There is no persuading him. We hug goodbye, me wrapped up in his winter jacket, him in a jumper in the cold. I stop feeling guilty. It seems appropriate that Marwan, who refuses to stand in food lines, prefers to keep me warm than keep his jacket.
So Mary has thrown 50+ years of feminism and the fight for female equality straight under the bus, why didn't she tell this misogynistic bigot that, these days, women fight as front-line combat troops and offering her a jacket in the cold was grossly insulting? Ah, you see, it's fine for non-white men to be chivalrous and gentlemanly because it runs against the hate spread by the British far right press such as The Daily Mail.
Of course, Marwan isn't simply giving his jacket away, there's more to it than that. Marwen is ''trying to get his leg over'' and obviously fancies his chances with Mary. You'd think a modern, empowered left wing woman would be wise to such a blatant ploy, Marwen has all but slapped her on the arse and called her ''Sweet-cheeks'' but Mary can't call him 'a bit full on' because it would be culturally insensitive and perhaps even racist, so the empowered leftist woman blushes and admires his chivalrous nature, which she would, of course, scoff at in a white man.
‘Would you like to see my church?’ asks Michael. He doesn’t mind that I’ve stopped believing. Through the mud, tents and burnt-out structures we walk towards a cross that marks his oasis. I take off my boots and step inside. A woman and her child stand before the Virgin Mary. I watch the Ethiopian men kneel down, their bellies and arms flat on the ground in devotion.Surprise! you islamophobic racists, you probably thought all those darkies down at Calais were Muslims didn't you? well now Mary has skillfully revealed both your ignorance and hate. Where are your civic nationalist, UKIP ideals now? these Ethiopians are Christians, why do you oppose allowing them in? you can only be a racist!.
‘This photo was taken in Afghanistan,’ says Zabi, ‘When I was a mummy’s boy’. I step back from the makeshift sink and compare the boy in a traditional long shirt to the tracksuited young man in front of me. The endearing expression is exactly the same. ‘You’re still a mummy’s boy Zabi’, I reply. ‘You’re just living in a different country!’ He beams and we resume washing up together.Mary's maternal instincts seem to have gone berserk here, it's just tragic that she's directing them into cavorting around a slum with third worlders instead of sitting at home with actual children of her own.
‘I refused to fight so Assad’s men put me in prison. When I was there they hurt me every day’, recalls Hassan. ‘My uncle was able to bribe the officials. When they let me out I fled Syria straight away. Now I worry all the time for my family.’
‘Ladies first!’ says the man from Sudan, laughing and pouring my tea. ‘We are in Europe after all. In Africa the man comes first!’ We sit for a while together, sipping tea and eating biscuits. Unlike the younger men I meet, he has decided to ask for asylum in France and has started to learn the language.Hang on a minute, Mary! if the Africans are actually explaining to you that women are second class citizens in Africa, and you are trying to facilitate their entry into Britain in untold numbers, then what might the effect be on British women and girls?. For example, if my 15 year old daughter goes to a school where there are hundreds of boys from these African cultures, will they then expect to ''come first''?.
Oh, wait, you 'met' a man in a refugee camp who made a joke about the situation so now everything is fine, ok then.
‘You have to try this,’ says Wassim, handing me a chilli-flavoured crisp dipped in Philadelphia. ‘In Syria we would fill a huge bowl with crisps, invite all our friends round and watch movies. Those days were the best!’
‘Every Syrian has a plan’, he tells me. ‘Marwan’s is to reach his brother in London.’ Their group includes two pharmacists, an engineer and an English teacher. ‘Not bad, for a bunch of migrants!’ says Wassim with a wry smile.
I remember blushing at Wassim’s use of Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, said at the beginning of this year. Yet ‘bunch of migrants’ is quite benign in comparison to the rhetoric we hear as 2016 draws to a close. Rhetoric that questions the very legitimacy of the right to asylum.'Wassim' has fled his native led, presumably to save his own life, he now sleeps on soggy cardboard and has a bin-bag for a roof, in northern France, yet he's keeping up with and understanding the latest terms the left are slurring as Hate Speak. He lives with a bunch of migrants but makes wry quips about ''bunch of migrants'' being a verboten phrase. In other words, this Syrian refugee is thinking and acting like a white lefty from northern Europe?!.
I just find it a little hard to believe, Mary, in fact.... I think your whole article is completely fabricated, I think it's a work of fiction.
The Calais camp I visited is no more, but what is the future of the people who lived there? People whose strength is characterised as a threat to society not a potential for success. Yet a man of fighting age is also a man of studying age. A man of working age. A man at an age in which he can still learn a language and adapt to the rhythm of a new society. These stories – those of the real men of fighting age – are stories we must tell.I think not, Mary, I think we've heard quite enough, I think you girls obviously need protecting from yourselves...........