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Housing refugees in Rowling’s magical mansion

ByEmily Hall

Mar 16, 2017

Content warning: Islamophobia

In a surprising turn, the immigration debate has taken to the white, Hogwarts-esque mansion of JK Rowling; not on the basis of her own staunch and passionate advocacy on behalf of refugees but, rather, in the form of a demand that her spare bedrooms be used to house exactly 18 Muslim refugees.

It all started on Twitter, where it was proposed by one user and quickly echoed by many others. Tweets range from encouraging and enthusiastic, such as the original written by @cernovich: “Hi @jk_rowling, I will personally buy plane tickets for up to 100 refugees to live in your mansions for a year. How do we make this happen?” to the hostile and accusatory, such as this one from @johndaveis: “@jk_rowling @piersmorgan How many refugees did you take? You’re one of the richest people on earth net worth $1 Billion”.

The following online petition, however, decidedly adopted the tone of the latter. “Since she is a sheltered member of the rich elite, we think that it is time for her to show some true solidarity. JK Rowling has 18 spare bedrooms in her mansions in Britain and could easily give 18 refugees a long-time housing, not to mention the space available on her giant property to erect refugee shelters.” (sic)

While the radical proposal has the potential to humanise refugees and make us all consider our own culpability and capacity for helping those around us, it could also be interpreted as an overly personal attack.

Rather than focusing on the exigent needs of the refugees, the language of the petition is littered with “demands” and claims of hypocrisy.

“Let’s bring one of the loudest virtue-signaling apologists of globalism back to reality and give her some new roommates,” the petition proposed, specifying that, “she rejects safe immigration, which is why we also demand that there will be no additional vetting process for these refugees.”

Islamaphobia comments strengthened the impression of a darker meaning behind this call for accountability, such as NealWV’s hope that Rowling doesn’t “think [her] money and wealth will protect [her] from a Muslim majority.”

Other specifications include “that the group consists of 14 men and four women, since over 75% of the millions of refugees are male.” The grand total of 18 stems from the size of Rowling’s mansion.

These pointed demands, aligned with Rowling’s precise political views and living circumstances, may seem shocking at first. Are they personal and cutting, mistaking the role of public figures and their political beliefs as public commitments, or are they important checks on authenticity in advocacy?

Of course, there is something facetious about soliciting action from a private citizen in a non-govermental capacity with a petition of “demands”; however, it could be just this peculiarity that is so powerful, emphasising the personal power and culpability we all have towards the global Other.

For others, this doesn’t seem to be about accountability so much as it is about compassion. On the Milo Yianopolous website, coverage led quickly to the conclusion that “with houses like this one and a heart as big as [Rowling’s], however, it’s hard to imagine she’ll say no.”

This sort of reaction makes sense. When you consider Rowling’s rhetoric, it isn’t impossible to imagine her welcoming refugees with open arms. She reccently tweeted, “if you can’t imagine yourself in one of those boats, you have something missing. They are dying for a life worth living. #refugeeswelcome”.

JK Rowling has yet to respond to these demands, perhaps because she has dismissed them out of hand or perhaps because she is still busy changing the guest room sheets in preparation for her new guests. At press time, the petition had 57,888 signatures, with a final goal of 75,000 growing ever closer.

Image: Executive Office of the President

By Emily Hall

As a writer, Emily contributes to news, features, comment, science & technology, lifestyle, tv & radio, culture and sport. This native Seattlite is a cake pop enthusiast who can regularly be found trying to make eye-contact with stranger’s dogs on the streets of Edinburgh.

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