UK Visit – Brexit, Terrorism and China

An unprecedented research trip to the UK occurred from the 19th to the 25th of March – three days each in London and Manchester. My previous visits to the UK had been purely for visit purposes – this time it was purely research and conference oriented. I spent the first three days in London digging archives at the Chatham House (the Royal Institute for International Affairs) library on Sino-Iranian relations, for the paper to be presented at the University of Manchester.

Chatham House surely proved to be a resourceful place for research on the Middle East, I wished I had had additional days for research. Whereas in Washington the material you find on the Middle East are largely pertaining to the Gulf War, the Iraq War, Afghanistan and the War on Terror, the UK had an abundance of material in a broad spectrum, due to the long history of involvement dating back to the British Empire. It was plentiful.

Observing the legal procedures toward Brexit in the UK media and the political debate that was still ongoing on whether it is worth leaving the EU or not for the UK was also a learning experience. My final day in London turned out to be the most eventful – the Westminster terrorist attack. Sitting twenty minutes away from the UK Parliament, surrounded by siren and noise, I felt almost powerless – there was nothing I could do to help. The fact that terrorism was born and bred in the UK tells us that radicalization is not solely owing to different cultures, but also the process of othering of immigrants – hate, discrimination, non-acceptance, and differentiation – in a society that is full of immigrants.

The media frenzy on the attack continued during my stay in Manchester. My first visit to Manchester city only lasted three days, and within less than a day it was clear to me why the city had a strong vote to remain. The city was one of the most diverse and vibrant cities I had been to post-Global Financial Crisis of 2008. It was the city of Alan Turing, with strong reflections on the suffragette, gay rights, and football. People of different ethnic origins were mingling all around, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and despite signs of economic disparities, there was joy, kindness, acceptance, and togetherness amongst the people in the city.

The main takeaway from the conference on China in Manchester was the critique on China in a very balanced manner. Often in the North American scholarly setting on China, there are two sides of pro- and anti-China, and there are big divides on the depth and quality of research amongst people who work on China. Although not fancy at all, the seminar-oriented conference style was more than enough for deep engagement and discussions (mainly critiques) on China.

Except for the hiccup on the British Airways flight (which I missed), the trip turned out to be my glimpse of a very important historical time frame in the UK – in the next two years, we will be able to see what it makes of itself. I am keeping my fingers crossed for the better.

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