Monday, 20 August 2007

Immigration and Multiculturalism

Immigration is always a hot potato so lets make one thing clear. The vast majority of us are immigrants. This island has a history of immigration from the Romans, the Angles, the saxons, the Vikings, the French to more recent history with immigrants from the West Indies and Africa. But we are a small island with a finite set of resources and supplies and a growing indigenous population and a changing demographic towards smaller family units (largely due to the break up of families and the increasing incidence of single parents, but that's a different rant). We should not be afaraid of controlling immigration. It should also be noted that immigrants fall into 3 categories. Illegal immigrants are people who enter or attempt to enter the country without proper authorisation, they have therefore commited a crime and should ideally be deported or failing that imprisoned (though this still means receiving state support). Though this may seem harsh to many if we rigidly applied the rule it would discourage illegal immigrants from trying to enter in the first place. The second group are asylum seekers, those who fear persectution within their own countries. Humanitariansim suggests that these people should be dealt with with kindness and compassion. However, I am baffled by the number of asylum seekers who manage to pass through many other 'equally' humane and democratic country before reaching the UK. Why should we be singled out as a destination for asylum seekers? If it is part of some international quota then this would seem reasonable as long as the quota has been worked out fairly. However, it does also beg the question at what point should the world take action against countries who are driving their own citizens out. The last group are those people who come to this country because we have employment opportunites that are not met by the indigenous population. Though this begs the question "why are there so many unemployed in the UK?" As part of the European Union we should embrace this economic immigration. However, it does seem strange wneh we are training so many health professionals, who then can't find work that we still require immigrants, from many countries around the world to fill healthcare positions. None of this is about racisim, but it is about nationalism. Which brings me to the second point.

Multiculturalism does not describe a nation. Every country has its own culture, which no doubt borrows and absorbs from other cultures, particularly as a result of immigration, but this simply alters the defining culture. The idea of multiculturalism encourages differences to be placed at the fore, the things that make us different become the defining lements and this leads to ghettoism and racism. America is one of the most multicultural countries in the world and is also one of the most racist. Culture is not based on skin colour or ethnic ancestry, it is based on collective beliefs and shared values. The things that make us 'British' should be shared. However, the idea of Britishness is also one I would argue against. The reason for this is if you ask a Scots person what it means to be Scottish I am sure they could define a set of shared values and beliefs. I would expect a similar ease of response from a Welsh person and allowing for any politcal ideology I would expect the same from an Irish person. So what is wrong with talking about being English? Why has the idea of Englishness apparently been so hijacked by the far right that people feel unable to talk about themselves as English without fear of being accused of racism. For me being English isn't about the colour of your skin, it is about a sense of self and yes it may involve some of the idealised imagery that John Major referred to. What's wong with having nostalgia as part of a collective culture - what's so great about society today anyway?

It is important for the country to have a rational, sensible discussion on immigration that does not focus on easy targets and fall back on the rhetoric of The Sun. It si important to have a debate about culture that recognises not diversity but sameness. That isn't to say that people can't be different, that is what makes them interesting, but it is not what makes a culture, and culture helps to establish a fabric for a society

No comments: