Nihal: off the record

In dark socio-political times, it’s not the future that terrifies Nihal Arthanayake, it’s the present – and the direction it’s going
Nihal: off the record
December 12, 2016   |    Nihal Arthanayake

You get into your white car, enter the postcode of where you want to go into your sat nav and the most logical route is generated by a machine floating in space. But what if you became convinced that your sat nav chose a much longer route, because it was ‘in bed’ with an oil company that reset the journey, so your vehicle consumed more petrol?

Imagine, then, if another sat nav altered the course of your white car by changing your destination address. It deemed the original address was not right for you – it was a ‘scary’ place you should avoid. The alternative address, on the other hand, would be a place where other white cars were, where your car would be safer. After all, non-white cars drive differently, more dangerously – they don’t share the same superior technologies that your car has. They are inferior.

Suddenly, you start to question everything. You worry about the safety of your car, and about who got to the sat nav and manipulated it for their own means. Over time, your confidence in your sat nav erodes.


Welcome to a post-fact world, where trying to find the actual truth through research has been replaced by having your own preconceived idea of truth reinforced. A universe where your version of events is rarely challenged – and if it is, you have a stock of responses designed to be plausible enough. You never have to justify yourself. Not really.

Now, this is not a comment on Leave or Remain; of Clinton or Trump. This is a warning to us all. Not since the early 1980s have I felt so insecure in the country of my birth. The seeds of insecurity, division, frustration and exclusion are beginning to break through from the clammy earth. The fruit of these seeds bring blame, segregation, anger and retribution into what was once a relatively civilised society. You may read this and think I’m being overly dramatic – perhaps I am. I hope so.

Racists have been empowered, calm discussion steamrollered by vitriol and generalising about whole groups of people made so normal that we have become desensitised to where that leads – the dehumanising of entire peoples, followed by subjugation.

The magazine you hold in your hands is devoted to balance – a difficult position to hold, as those on both sides accuse those who seek the middle ground of still being biased. It’s as if we should all buy an ‘I’m with stupid’ T-shirt – with an arrow pointing towards our own heads.

As a columnist, my job is not to make you angrier and show you how righteous I am, ignoring nuance, sensitivity and balance. I won’t ever write a critique on compassion or a scathing treatise on the ‘stupidity’ of employing common sense. I won’t tell you what to think, but hopefully I will encourage you to.

The other day, I wondered which white families on my street would hide my family if the ‘mobs’ came, like the Christians who shielded Jews, the Hindus who hid Sikhs in 1984 and the Hutus who refused to give up their Tutsi neighbours in Rwanda.


Maybe I am as much a victim of the creeping paranoia as a bearded survivalist hoarding cans of beans. If that is the case, then I have the power to be more optimistic (usually my default setting) and carry on trying to build bridges without feeling like I have to prove myself to anyone. Being with ‘stupid’ isn’t anything to aspire to.

Share your thoughts with me


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