“The universe would turn to a mighty stranger.” This quote from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, albeit in a different context, has always been in my mind every time I went fell walking in the Lake District. This area is an intriguing part of Britain, in which silence is the dominant theme, occasionally interrupted by shy noise from a lone sheep or footsteps from another walker.
Leaving the touristic towns and villages and heading up to the hills, one can find a different Britain, authentic, intriguing, and completely detached from multi-cultural trendy London. Those who are baffled by the desire of some British to leave the EU should head north to listen to communities quietly struggling to maintain their way of life and authenticity.
Fell walking has always been challenging. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. Coming from an urban suburb in Cairo had never prepared me to deal with rocks, tricky paths, and steep hills. The outcome, however, after hours of physical struggle has always been rewarding. The effect on a person is simply a blessing that I could not have imagined.
My favorite trail is to the Great Gable, or the Pyramid, as I like to call it. The mountain lying at the very heart of the English Lake District does indeed appear as a pyramid from the valley of Wasdale. The best day to visit Great Gable is on Remembrance Sunday in November, when the Fell and Rock Climbing Club holds a service to its members and others who have perished in conflicts around the world.
I never felt as spiritual as at that moment on top of Great Gable. A sense of being close to heaven, purified from the materialism of our world. There was no Costa Café, McDonald’s or Itsu, just a group of walkers gathering to watch a defiant sun appearing defiantly behind the cloud with golden rays that turned the entire valley into a magical place.
Living in the north Of England has helped me to better understanding the Brexit camp. It is easy to describe those who are anti-Europe as racist or ignorant. That is how things may appear to many Londoners enjoying their fine Italian cheese or French delicacies. For them, divorcing Europe might sound like a crazy idea or at least baffling.
Meanwhile, for others who have tried to dig deeper and look for rational reasons, there have been some sound arguments. Owen Jones rightly explained the grievances of working class Britain and how the referendum has opened up a chasm that reflects the inequality in the UK and the monsters of a deeply divided and unfair society. The class aspect of the dispute about the EU referendum, however, does not explain the whole matter.
Amidst a heated debate about staying or leaving Europe, an important aspect is completely ignored. The leave campaign is for many, not a debate about immigration or EU laws, but a fight for authenticity___ a word that has slipped away from the vocabulary of many in Britain. Post-colonial Britain has actually developed a subconscious mind dismissive of its local culture, but deep in the hills of Britain, locals beg to differ. They are proud of their traditions, way of life, and feel utterly uneasy about the creeping changes affecting their societies. Staying out of Europe is their desperate way to maintain their way of life, which has been hijacked by the London elite.
The drift between London and the hells of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cumbria has become wide and dangerous. The social fabric of British society is torn apart. For many, London has become an alien city, an unfriendly expensive place. Its red buses and old buildings are only the remaining reminders of its Britishness. Many of its elite has seemingly divorced the rest of Britain, and then looked surprised that Britain is growing rebellious at them.
It is true that anti-immigration, hatred and ugly nationalism has dominated the Brexit camp. The vile, brutal murder of Jo Cox is one glaring example. “The well of hatred,” as Labour party leader’s Jeremy Corbyn has described it won’t be defeated. However, by denigrating the Brexit camp and collectively labeling its supporters as racist fascists doesn’t reflect the whole story on the ground.
Without listening to the legitimate grievances of the Brexit camp, Britain will not recover from the aftermath of the EU referendum, even if the outcome turns out to be in favor of staying in Europe. I support staying in Europe, however I understand how Britain has become a mighty stranger to many of its subjects. The Brexit camp deserves our empathy, not our disdain.