Appalled and disgusted.
These are just two of the adjectives that can be used to sum up how I feel about Simone Joseph being allowed to walk free and avoid prison after her vile verbal assault on Muslim passengers – one of whom was a pregnant lady – on a bus back in October. Joseph’s lengthy, hate-filled rant – which took place in front of her own child – in which she threatened to physically attack not one but two passengers was filmed and posted online which then went viral. So now the whole world knows what a despicable low-life Joseph is.
I was not on that bus; I did not witness this attack; it was not aimed at me, and I am not a Muslim. So I shouldn’t care, right? Wrong! This whole episode has left me fuming to the point where I can’t even speak – much less type!
First of all, racism; religious intolerance; bigotry; prejudice – call it what you like, I cannot stand any of it. As one half of a mixed-race couple; a product of a culturally diverse family, and someone who is proud to have friends from every corner of globe (well, near enough!) and taught students from all over the world, this kind of behaviour does not sit well with me – and that’s putting it mildly. I just cannot believe that in the year 2015, people can still be so ridiculously stupid.
But what really irks me is the fact that Joseph is a Willesden Green girl – a place that’s walking distance to where I grew up. In fact our neighbourhoods are so near each other, the area is often considered one and the same. It is an area where even though there are plenty of good people and a sense of community, it has a reputation for crime, violence and aggression. People I knew from other areas often refused to set foot there due to the fact that they’d heard “it’s quite dangerous.” Back in the early 2000s, the BBC even made a documentary series based on the high crime rate that was ever-increasing in the neighbourhood.
Well almost fifteen years later, Joseph has just proved that not much has changed. She’s just illustrated that our little piece of north-west London is an area that should still be avoided if you have any sense.
The 206 bus where the rant took place is a bus route I’ve used many times over the years. It’s a route that’s still used by many of my friends. It horrifies me to think that Joseph could have hurled abuse at any one of my family or friends. And as soon as I discovered that Joseph was an inhabitant of my former neighbourhood, I knew that it was very, very likely that we had people in common, as very few of the inhabitants are total strangers to each other. That six degrees of separation theory is more than just a theory for us – it’s pretty much a reality! And as everyone I associate with – both past and present – are decent, hard-working, law-abiding, honest people, it makes me wonder how we came to have such a low-life in our midst. I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who has the misfortune to be related to that.
What hit me hard was Hanane Yakoubi, one of Joseph’s victims, describing the distress she felt and still feels after the incident, and explained that she doesn’t know how to ask for help because she doesn’t speak English. I know there is a lack of sympathy towards anyone who goes to a country without knowing a word of the native language. But as it’s my job to teach English, I see the struggles my students face and the efforts they make to try to improve. They often make good progress but then they encounter a situation where they do not possess enough language skills to help them communicate effectively which upsets them deeply and knocks their confidence. What people like Hanane Yakoubi need is patience, understanding and tolerance not abuse and aggression.
The defence for Joseph – who gave herself up to the police after the video went viral – claimed that she was ‘ashamed’ and wished ‘to apologise to the complainant and the other people on the bus’ while the magistrate accepted that Joseph was ‘remorseful and of previous good character.’ What’s even more shocking is when the defence revealed that Joseph herself had Muslim relatives. This seriously smacks of ‘I’m-not-racist-I-have-Chinese friends-and-love-Mexican-food’. Yeah, whatever – tell it to the judge! Oh of course – that’s what she was doing.
I’m often told I’m too understanding and forgiving but this time I’m just not buying any of it. Would Joseph have been so ready to hand herself in if she had not been so clearly identifiable in the video? Would she have felt any shame and remorse had she not been in the dock? Has she any idea of the anxiety she’s caused a heavily pregnant woman? Do people of ‘previous good character’ behave in this manner? Do people with Muslim relatives viciously attack (albeit verbally) other Muslim people? Do mothers carry on like this in front of their children?
The answer to all the above is a big fat NO!
I’ve come across the Simone Josephs of this world. So have my family and many of my friends. I know first hand how distressing such an encounter can be. People like her start off as the stroppy kid at nursery who snatches toys out of other children’s hands, to the playground bully at secondary school to a thoroughly nasty and unpleasant adult who believes it’s their right to stomp all over whoever they wish – and most of the time the whoever they wish is someone who they believe they can pick on which shows how cowardly they are. Joseph was spoiling for a fight that day and she picked people who she knew were easy targets. You’ll notice she was in no hurry to take on the bus driver who tried to get her to shut it!
So Joseph left court with a suspended sentence and a slapped wrist. Am I surprised? Of course not. This is exactly the brand of justice we can rely on in this country and will hardly act as a deterrent for the next bully on the bus. If there’s anything good to come from this whole episode, it’s that Joseph will think twice before she starts a fight with anyone again. Not because of her good character but because she is now more aware that there are cameras everywhere and once you get caught, there’s really nowhere to hide. But I do hope that in time she will see just how wrong her actions were and make a real effort to turn over a new leaf, and more importantly teach her child that this is not the way to behave or treat others. I really do hope she can do this because it’s a small step towards making this world a more peaceful place.