Video of Malian Mamoudou Gassama’s spectacular rescue of a child dangling from an apartment balcony has rightly gone viral – and Mr Gassama has been offered citizenship and a job by French president Macron:
Gassama’s act was heroic, selfless and incredibly impressive and he fully deserves the praise and reward he has received.
But the Establishment narrative, as typified by the BBC this morning, has a disturbing edge to it:
All the talk is of an individual who has demonstrated that he deserves a place as a citizen, but nobody yet seems to be raising what Mamoudou Gassama’s heroism demonstrates about the intrinsic worth and importance of migrants – people – generally.
Gassama’s presence in France – or that of his fellow migrants in this country – would have been resented by many up to the moment before he performed his heroic climb and would have been used by right-wingers to present immigrants as a drain, a burden, even a plague on society. Remember David Cameron’s ‘swarm’ comment?
Yet if he had not been there, unwelcomed by many, he would not have been in a position to do what he did and that child might have died.
Heroism is not only the spectacular. It may not become the subject of viral videos, but without the hundreds of thousands of staff from other countries who keep our NHS running, it would collapse – yet the Tory government has blocked the arrival of medics and thousands of nurses and imposed unrealistic earnings requirements on others to prevent them bringing even a spouse to this country.
Nor is the existing contribution of immigrants to this country limited to the NHS. During the Windrush scandal, the Tories were rightly condemned for the anguish they have inflicted on a generation of citizens who ‘helped build this country’ – but that situation was not a one-off. People from other parts of the world have helped this country keep running for decades and they continue to do so.
Media coverage of Mr Gassama’s heroism has also failed, so far, to address the obvious humanitarian aspects of migration. People are in desperate straits, often as a direct result of the actions of Western governments – yet the idea that people have to earn a place is discussed without serious challenge.
French politicians – and now the UK media – are falling over themselves to praise Mamoudou Gassama. But those same media – along with many politicians in the UK and other countries – have been more than happy to repeat and amplify dehumanising or devaluing right-wing narratives about migrants as if those narratives are intrinsically obvious and correct.
If there is to be any lasting wider benefit from Mamoudou Gassama’s hugely heroic act, beyond its impact on his own life and that of the child he saved and its family, the discussion needs to be widened and the disturbing assumptions that sit behind the coverage so far need determined challenge.
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