Speech to Wandsworth council by Aydin Dikerdem, February 1 2017
Councillors, the recent actions of President Trump to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries is an obscene racist act, that has taken place on the global stage. It has no real purpose other than to divide people up through fear, and to exploit and normalise Islamophobia.
To those who defend this with statements about security – frankly, who are you kidding? The so called ‘purpose’ of the Bill, to protect the United States from foreign extremists, is a farce. As many have now picked up on, the verbatim text of the act argues that ‘in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001’.
I believe we now call these lies ‘alternative facts’ – none of the 9/11 attackers were from any of the countries on the list – and furthermore, since 9/11, no one has been killed in the U.S from terrorist attacks by anyone who emigrated from those seven countries. But to be honest even these basic facts are irrelevant – because to discriminate against entire nations on the basis of a few extremists… that is the definition of bigotry.
Why am I raising this here tonight at a local authority meeting? Because acts of discrimination like this have a global impact, including on our borough. We have over 4,000 residents who directly originate from the seven countries Trump has targeted. In Queenstown, we have a large Somali community that has made Battersea its home – we must recognise how it must feel, to have ones identity labelled and demonised in this way – the humiliation, the sense of injustice, the insecurity.
We should think what it must be like to be a Somali, Iranian or Yemeni child at school, and the message it sends when the bully who is targeting you is the President of the United States of America.
We have an obligation to stand up and say ‘not in our name’ – and let our residents know that we do not stand for this kind of discrimination in Wandsworth.
We also have a much more direct place in this – Queenstown is about to become the home of the new American embassy, which residents are highly aware of. Some of these are residents that will have found sanctuary from terror and war in our borough.
From the outset, we need to make clear that our borough rejects racist and islamophobic politics outright. Wandsworth, like London in general, is made stronger by its diversity; we are multi-ethnic and multi-faith and we will not let the politics of hate divide us.
As you can probably tell, Councillors, this is an issue very close to my heart. When I hear the attacks and demonization of those fleeing violence, it hits home hard.
In 1980 there was a brutal Military coup in Turkey, where my Father is from. Hundreds of thousands were arrested, imprisoned and tortured, among them was my Grandfather. My Dad, who was in Britain at the time on a student visa, was an outspoken critique of the dictatorship – he knew what fate awaited him if he went home.
The British Government under Thatcher supported and praised the government that tortured my grandfather, as she did in Pinochet’s Chile, and Apartheid South Africa. I say to the other side of this chamber – hold your Conservative government to account when it comes to these matters of principle – history and the world will not forget it. When people come together and oppose hatred and bigotry, we can change things.
The Battersea Labour Party that I am a proud member of comes from a tradition of working class politics that was always internationalist in its outlook – the stance it took at the turn of the century on issues of empire and racism would over half a century later become the norms we value today. Let our successors not think we stayed silent on such fundamental issues of tolerance.
We call on both the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Opposition to jointly write a letter of protest to the US Ambassador setting out the Council’s opposition to this ban and the impact it could have on significant numbers of people living in Wandsworth. We in Wandsworth can and should, lend our voice to the chorus taking off across the country and further.