Bibi and Deedee are two characters that I hope my fellow travellers on the path of enlightenment, and by that I mean students of the English language and Creative Writing, can help develop into storytelling. Without getting into debates about what constitutes a story, philosophically speaking, or resorting back to a literary tradition that can produce Greek Tragedy, I would love for my Birmingham peers to be involved in showcasing to the world the humanity that lives in the UK
As human beings we need stories. Good stories can lead to good morals and the development of convictions and an ethical system that predisposes a person to good behaviour. Bad stories can lead to the opposite. In the same way a good story transcends the mind of the initial storyteller, to impact enormous populations, bad stories have the same effects. When autocratic and authoritarian potentates co-opt a bad story, forcing their subaltern subjects to submit to its worldview, they conveniently bring God or some higher source into the equation. The divine right of Kings to rule is merely one example of this old entente, between rulers and religious personalities. The end result of this partnership can lead to the destruction of the social fabric of a society. Lots of societies have been destroyed, having imploded, not because of external threats, but because the societies buckled under the pressure of bad stories.
I believe that Animism, Zoroastrianism, Atheism, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sufism, Sikhism, Classical Liberalism, Secular Humanism, Liberalism, Feminism, even Marxism, are good stories. Good stories should not be equated with true stories; if that’s what comes to the mind of my readers, they don’t understand where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to say. I apologise for not trying to explain, and I end the conversation here. I’m not being cryptic either. From experience I’ve learnt that we need to stop explaining ourselves, all the time.
Stories help bring people together, giving them a shared sense of oneness with some higher truth, be that on earth, or in the heavens to borrow an original Zoroastrian idea, an Indo-European idea that ended up in the Semitic Bible, the repository of a great and honoured people with their own stories, or versions of other people’s stories. That’s just the nature of storytelling; the stories we claim as our own are usually weaved together from the tapestry of other stories. The idea of originality is perhaps one of the biggest myths modern people tell themselves, it’s a bit like having original thoughts, and then getting upset when one’s opinions are debunked. How often do we hear emotional people rage against others when they’re challenged about the absurdity of their beliefs, “it’s still my opinion Mr Philosopher.” Sarcasm is the last refuge of the fake intellectual. A genuine intellectual pursues the conversation. A fake intellectual engages in mockery. So, nope, it probably isn’t your opinion, it’s most likely someone else’s opinion, and you’ve merely adopted it, having made it your own opinion because you think it’s fashionable or popular. That’s just how the modern world operates now thanks to globalisation. We morph into the thoughts and persons of others, usually those who we think are superior to us because they have mass following.
I have no question in my mind that nationalism, whether it’s ethno-nationalism, or some other diluted or hybridised form, is a bad story. The story of race or ethnicity, to my mind, at least, are worse stories. The story of ethnicity has become toxic. In the hands of authoritarian regimes, it’s become positively evil. These stories are the stories of ever-expanding walls and fortifications, where embittered people fight to redeem a primordial group from other primordial groups, on the basis of a past that most probably never existed. Nationalists lecture sanctimoniously their sworn enemies about their respective past through the device of ethnicity and race. When they speak about their own history, country, nation, territory, nation-state, motherland, fatherland – whatever the term to capture the story of false borders, it is still a history that’s greatly imagined. With the exception of territory (a geo-political term), these are highly emotive terms that fire up emotional people, who have no sense of how disconnected their story is from the spaces they occupy. It can give vent to some horrible grievances that can result in a weird type of nihilism.
I consider Hindutva Nationalism, White Supremacy and Islamo-fascism, or Muslim Supremacism to use the correct label, examples of some of the worst stories that are currently being told to unsuspecting audiences. The internet has not helped because of its ubiquitous reach and ungovernable structures. There are also hidden forces behind the stories, and they don’t necessarily care for the people being indoctrinated in this way. Curiously, they operate from outside the societies they seduce to sedition.
Which brings me to the provocative title of this piece, an offensive, opinionated and judgemental take on the type of storytelling that is going on in the UK, and the people undermining the social fabric of the society because of their connections with the outside world. I’ve grown accustomed to being told that I’m angry and I just don’t get it, so I’ve decided to resort to storytelling in the traditional sense of that term.
Bibi is a nice person. She cares about where she lives and the people around her. She’s probably had a hard life, not on account of poverty, but alienation and mental health. Britain is not a poor country, after all, it used to have an Empire, but this doesn’t mean Bibi is privileged, or has doors open for her wherever she goes. An inheritance doesn’t automatically solve a beneficiary’s problems, it can sometimes compound those problems. Some wealthy aristocrats commit suicide – so much for the envy of “commoners”, right? Sibling rivalries can sometimes end up with murderous intent, and much worse besides. To speak of Bibi in white privilege terms is a fraud. It misses the point. It’s a big fat lie like the Woke story, (not to be conflated with the Black Civil Rights Movement, a good story), that doesn’t recognise modern Britain for what it really is and the swathes of white working class Britain that are similarly dispossessed. For those of you who have never left the posh parts of Birmingham (admittedly, a minority), please travel around the area. Go to the Black Country, or neighbouring Solihull and visit the good folk of Chelmsley Wood subsumed within the label Solihull to appreciate what I’m saying.
Deedee on the other hand is an immigrant friend to Bibi. Immigrant is a bad word, because Deedee or “Deedz” is most probably born in the UK, but he still feels like an immigrant, and this can be seen in how he interacts with his native peers and how they react to him. He cares about where he lives too and has a profound sense of connection with Bibi, except for the fact that he is constantly being told that he belongs elsewhere. How he ended up in Britain is a story in its own right, one that is definitely worth telling, except this particular narrative has gatekeepers, who want to direct the story to their political advantage. Deedee is constantly fired up by the wrongs being committed against his people, who oddly want to join him in Britain possibly to exclude him from Bibi.
Bibi and Deedee need each other, not because this is a special relationship of geo-political bearings, but because they’ve grown up in the same environs, breathing the same air and knowing the truth of each other’s story. They can instinctively recognise one another despite the smog of lies and deceit.
Deedee loves waving flags of foreign countries, dressing in the exotic attire of his primordial nation, unaware of how these identity fictions emerged in the century he was born. He becomes alienated from Bibi, who is similarly becoming alienated from the social fabric of her own society. Deedee keeps telling Bibi she must hate everything about herself, because everything she has – notions of entitlement – came through hook and crook, and the theft of other people’s resources and genocide. Deedee fails to tell Bibi that every other Empire did exactly what Britain did. He fails to do this because he doesn’t understand history in the way he imagines.
There’s one notable difference that’s always lost in the irrelevant talking-points of good guys and bad people. Bibi’s forebears successfully prosecuted an internal war against their own (supposedly) native Rulers bringing centuries of tyrannical rule to a traffic jam, one that ordinary Britons are still embroiled in. Britain criminalised slavery at a time, for instance, when Establishment Muslim scholars (Ulema al-Suhoo) were writing commentaries on the various chapters of Islamic Law that regulated slavery. There is a reason why ISIS (the Islamic State, the Muslim State) re-introduced slavery in the 21st century, is this a mere figment of this writer’s imagination? Muslim polities, at the time of British Expansionism, were still enslaving people. Deedee doesn’t understand the complexities of this story, because he wants to listen to confirmation bias from foreign peers across thousands of miles away – a people he has never met in person, and who, probably, would have no time for him, if he lived amongst them.
And why shouldn’t he behave like this, when he is being constantly told not to trust the “experts”, the “academics” – the “privileged” “elites”. He takes his understanding of the world from Facebook and YouTube, the newest storytellers on platforms that create more divisions in a society than challenge the divisive narratives. And, by no stretch of the imagination, can today’s influencers be compared to the Prophets of the Old World. Eventually, Deedee starts to lose himself. He begins to hate everything about himself and Bibi, who had already been progressing on her own journey of self-hate .
They morph into each other. A befitting end to an otherwise sad story.
And the lemon sharks encircling them, grin and laugh, how noble their heroic deeds!
Reiss Haidar, 17th November 2021