Middle East Comment from a Traveling Journo

Ethno Rahs and the London Protests

An Ethno Rah is a term I learnt at uni. In one sense, it’s the typical Sloaney ‘Rah.’ For him: a combination of boat shoes, enormous hair, Hackett blazers, and a highly expressive radio presenting voice – as loud and with as much spit as Johnny Vaughan but with an accent closer to that of Alexander Armstrong. For her: its a massive pastel pashmina wrapped round her face, ridiculous amounts of jewellery, and again, enormous hair – backcombed this time. Both man and woman enjoy country pubs, large dogs, horses (actually all sorts of wildlife – although they do enjoy shooting some of it), signet rings, watching sport in dangerously cold conditions, wax Barbour jackets and hopelessly obscure folk music in North London parks.

I have, for the record, got nothing against the Rahs and have known a fair few. But the problem starts when they shed their Jack Wills body warmers, leave the blustery English countryside and embark on trips across the world. The trips in themselves are worthy, but they often turn these people into intolerable hypocrites. They return Messiah like, emblazoned with henna tattoos, wrists heaving with meditation bangles and ‘peace ribbons,’ full of advice and moralistic anecdotes. ‘I just don’t believe in organised religion anymore man.’ Oh right. Is that why you have a set of Muslim prayer beads attached to your hair?

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) – my old university – is the Ethno Rah’s Mecca. ‘Where are you from?’ I asked one such ‘disciple of life’ during my first week. ‘Oh, Shropshire’, he replied, ‘but Zambia is actually my spiritual home.’ ‘Really?’ I asked, not sure of his meaning. ‘Yuh, I totally played football there with some orphans for like 2 weeks.’ Ridiculous. Gone are the huge Kings Road pashminas and Penhaligons pendants; instead the Ethno Rah adorns herself with African tribal jewellery and multicoloured shawls, knitted by blind Tibetan nuns in the foothills of the Himalayas.

I loved SOAS, I really did – I absolutely embrace its unique nature, colour and life. I really enjoyed the course I took and met a lot of wonderful people. If UCL, as I was told, is the TopShop of London Colleges, SOAS is the Charity Shop. Much more relaxed, less fluorescent lighting, and lots of character.

The trouble is that, like a charity shop, you have to sift through endless rubbish before you find something decent. At SOAS, the endless rubbish was the constant militant diatribe against ‘the system.’ But much of it wasn’t genuine. ‘You must conform to our non-conformity!’ was the general rhetoric I was subjected to. I could call it socialist – but that would be unfair to socialists. In many cases, it was uninformed ranting for the sake of it.

Much like the violent episodes in the London Protests last week.

I had the misfortune to be passing through central London as the scenes turned ugly on Saturday night. And there they were again – the home counties hippies, chanting rubbish and attacking stores because they are ‘posh’ (not my choice of words – it was written on a placard). One sign had all the names of shops the movement believed should be targeted. Oh yes, Boots is the mother-ship of consumer Britain but the MacStore is just fine. How else could they listen to Brendan Benson on their Chillout playlists, whilst showing people pictures of orphans in India? Fortnum and Masons was occupied for no reason other than because it’s on Piccadilly, and provides the Queen with some of her groceries. But it probably provides many of the parents of those delinquents with all sorts of goodies too. Laurie Penny has called the main protest at Hyde Park a soft march for ‘hummus munchers.’ That is total rubbish – especially when many of those occupying Fortnum’s probably have parents who have the time to make it from scratch at home in Chelsea.

Scrawling equality on the side of a building doesn’t make it happen. Making sure a news camera catches you doing it will probably make sure it doesn’t. Mehdi Hassan has made just this point. I’m not sure how many SOAS students were involved – I imagine ex SOAS union president Clare Solomon was somewhere in the vicinity, making all sorts of wildly conflated arguments and inciting mindless violence. But on Saturday I could see just these kinds of Ethno-Rahs there, marching up Bond Street, placard in one hand, iPod in the other, chanting through their dreadlocks against everything from spending cuts to the Libyan intervention, without any real understanding of anything at all.

These people take serious issues and make them a joke. And the TUC should act – before it falls to the heavy-handed police – because it’s in their interest to make sure their cause is not hijacked by drum banging lunatics with too much cash and too little sense.


Filed under: British Politics

Middle East Comment from a Travelling Journo