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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 09:13 GMT
Should immigrants try to be 'more British'?
UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has urged immigrants to adopt "British norms of acceptability" and develop a greater sense of belonging in the UK.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Mr Blunkett believes too much social self-segregation and not enough participation in society was partly behind the riots in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford this summer.
He says practices not tolerated in mainstream British society, such as enforced marriage, should be seen as unacceptable.
But his comments have been criticised as overlooking the real problems faced by minority communities - such as racism, poverty and deprivation.
Rhiaz Ahmad, the deputy mayor of Oldham, says we should be offering immigrants hope and aspiration, not English tests. And he said it was offensive to view second and third-generation ethnic minority Britons as immigrants.
Is Mr Blunkett right to demand more self-help from immigrant communities? In what other ways can Britain ensure more social cohesion?
David Blunkett is both right and wrong. He is wrong because his comments seem to assume that there is a defined British identity to which immigrants must assimilate. That sits rather oddly with the idea, which I support and I thought this government supported, of a diverse multicultural society. What immigrant communities should be doing, without damaging the integrity of their own cultures, is bringing those cultures and their experiences into our society as a whole. That is, if anything, more onerous than merely "fitting in" with a template of Britishness. I agree entirely though about the importance of learning the English language. That's absolutely vital.
Kevin Webster, England
Not one but several Pakistanis known to me, and who were closer to the atheism in their belief than a religion, migrated to the UK from Pakistan in 1960s and 1970s. I met them again in 1990s and was surprised to find how fanatical they had become about religion. When I inquired, I was told that the British love to argue and belittle foreigners by showing their own religious or historical superiority. As a result my friends had to study their own history and faith to come up with equally strong arguments which, of course resulted in self segregation, made them more religious and socially introverted. I have often heard from Muslims living in the UK that they have become better Muslims than Pakistanis and Indians. My brother, who died this year in the UK as a British citizen, was one of them.
I believe integration would help and that segregation by definition causes division. Very few of the problems are cultural however, this is a smokescreen. Why do you think the Caribbean Community aren't segregated like the Asian community. The answer is because they are from the same religious background. Religion is much more powerful than culture. How can a Muslim and a Christian share religious education? One says Jesus is a prophet and the other the Messiah. How about Hindus, who believe in many gods? The integration of religious communities is impossible. It can't happen in Pakistan and it can't happen in England. Tolerance is the best you can hope for. Aim for the possible and you are more likely to get success.
B Green, UK
I agree with Mr. Blunkett's views - having lived in Britain for the last 33 years - I see my self wholly as British - but being a Sikh - I still maintain my identity by having a full beard and turban.
However, as much as I feel I am British, do white people see me as British? The answer is no - they see me as a 'paki'.
The same is true for Black men and women - they are considered British if they can represent the UK in sports and win - otherwise they are classed as second class citizens.
The issue here is not one of considering ethnic minorities as being British but one of educating the white people of this nation that we are multi-cultural and we must learn to integrate and learn from each other.
I have long thought we could learn something from the United States in the way it attempts to weld all its immigrants into a sense of citizenship and pride in their country of residence. In most cases it seems to work admirably. This is done without subordination or destruction of their basic religious and cultural beliefs, but people are taught that their first loyalty is to the United States and its laws. A sense of national pride is imbued. The British somehow have missed out on that. We have assimilated a number of different cultures without any machinery for bonding them into citizenship. David Blunkett is right. People will not become 'British' over time unless there is a focal point to make them so. We don't give immigrants a very good lead, I'm afraid, as we seem to shun any sense of overt patriotism as passť. Consequently a perverse sense of patriotism is left to the likes of the BNP and other right wing parties, which is a tragedy.
Blunkett, though his point might not have been well-stated, is within bounds. There is a difference between expecting immigrants to like cricket and expecting them to respect that the UK is a secular society. The former is laughable; the latter, urgent.
Graeme Claridge, England
I have always believed in the maxim "when in Rome, do as the Romans do". As an immigrant who settled in Britain a while ago myself, I believe strongly that it is important to integrate and adapt to the way of life of any new country one settles in.
And what happened to the requirement to have a good command of the English language? It was a requirement then. If this is no longer the case, then I see it as the most sensible thing - for those who are settled in Britain, but who don't have a good command of English - to learn the language. I cannot, therefore, understand those who are making an issue out of this.
Is it natural to people to adopt the country they live in? Is that why there are huge ex-pat British and American communities all round the world. American schools in Holland, British schools in Nigeria... Do expat UK and US citizens learn the language of the country they live in - I don't think so. We don't really think that immigrants should try and fit in with the countries they live in - we think that everyone should fit in with us, no matter where they live.
Corin Arnold, Germany
I recently married into an Indian family who have been living in Britain since 1973, and find it extremely sad that in their efforts to fit in with British society and "norms of behaviour", their cultural heritage has been all but lost - neither my husband (who came here at the age of 2) nor his sister speak Sindhi or Punjabi, or know anything of Hinduism or Islam. They were never encouraged to take much interest in their parents' home country or cultures, never ate Indian food at home or celebrated traditional festivals. My mother and father-in-law were determined for their children to grow up to feel British, and to be loyal British citizens, without any of the stigma of being "immigrants". They certainly achieved these commendable goals, but at what price? There must be a balance - this country would not be the country it is without the enormous contributions of its immigrant populations, from the Huguenots and Jews right through to the mass immigration of the 1950s and 60s. Being a good British citizen and maintaining and taking pride in your heritage and culture are not mutually exclusive.
During the last few months there has
been debate in Wales regarding immigrants learning the language of the
area where they choose to live. I'm
glad to see that Mr Blunkett agrees
that all immigrants should learn Welsh,
if they move into a Welsh speaking area.
As many have pointed out, Blunkett's comments are simply common sense and reason - it has become so easy these days to cry 'racist!' or 'sexist!' and know that you will get the support of weak-minded do-gooders. Blunkett has said what everyone thinks but is afraid to say and deserves as much support as possible for standing out from the herd.
Rob B, UK
I agree with Rob B. Although immigrant groups should integrate with mainstream society, it is arrogant in the extreme to suppose we can learn nothing from them. The number of successful businesses run by immigrants is all the proof we need that we haven't always got it right ourselves.
I am a British born Sikh and I wholly agree with Mr Blunkett's comments. All ethnic groups should think of themselves as British first and Indian or Pakistani second. What's more, the notion of being British should override religious beliefs.
The negatives of race relations in Britain keep on threatening to outweigh the positives. Let us ALL commit ourselves to generating more positives and fewer negatives. We will enjoy each other much more.
Peter B, UK
I am a British Asian born and bred. My parents came here over 30 years ago and could speak English before they came here. I think it's obvious that if you are living and working in a country you should know the language and traditions of that country. So I take it from all the posts by readers in the US that they are going to learn about their Native American past and culture and hopefully speak the languages as well.
Those immigrants who wish to settle in the UK and apply for a British passport must accept that the host country has some right to insist on a loyalty which supersedes any other consideration. If immigrants have a problem with this then the simple answer is don't come here.
Given my diverse background, should I give more weight to one country over another? Should I let my British side mistreat and distrust the Germans as most of the UK tabloid press would want me to? Should I allow my Polish side to remember the last war as well? I could never tear my family apart along the lines of geography or culture. I have found that the answer is to become part of the society in which I live, learn about it, enjoy it. I also feel enriched for adopting and adapting the lessons taught by different cultures. This does not require that I renounce any part of my family's national history or reality, and under no circumstances will I ever let anyone to colour my life with their pathetic attempts to sell newspapers
It is clear that the last two decades have changed the way the world thinks. Mr Blunkett is faced with a dilemma not of his making, and a new type of immigrant into the UK who is very different from the immigrants arriving in Britain up to even the late 1980s. Until that time, immigrants such as myself thought of ourselves as nothing else but Brits, with English as our native language with all the customs inherited by our Brit-centric parents. Not that we were accepted as such by the indigenous people. There was more importantly a knowledge of history by the politicians.
I stopped feeling British the day Britain started bombing the poorest country on earth, Afghanistan. I think many other British Muslims feel the same.
You cannot force anyone to give up their beliefs and make them proud to be British. Respect for British ways of life have to be earned, pride in being British will develop over time.
This debate will only stop when who you are is more important than the colour of your skin. I am a European who was born in Bristol and I speak English - end of story.
I am a Canadian immigrant who was born in England. I am a Canadian citizen, and thus have become a Canadian. This is what immigrants are supposed to do, otherwise they should return to their country of origin. If your immigrants can't become British for whatever reason, then they should live elsewhere.
Arthur Jenkins, Italy
You can tell how British all the ethnic minorities are by what team they cheer for in cricket.
Craig from Germany: I do support England in everything and every time I have gone to see them compete in Football and Cricket I have encountered racism. Little wonder then that some people would revert back to supporting the country of their origin. If we are to be "more British" it has to be a two way thing, some white people despise the fact that coloureds wish to be British and unfortunately most of these people are associated with English sports teams. And why does no one make light of the fact that white Australians and South Africans do not support England either.
David Blunkett is completely out of touch with the rest of the country. I hope these views are his own rather than the official view held by the government. By expressing his view it is equivalent to pouring petrol on a fire rather than putting the flames out with water. I would expect him to deal with these issues with more care. Currently he is acting like a complete novice rather than a skilful politician.
Mr Blunkett is absolutely correct in asking immigrants to be more British. The people of Britain have the right to require anyone invited to settle here to adopt their customs and beliefs. It is like a marriage, one is taken into the family and is expected to adopt to the rules and customs. Immigrants to any country who simply sit there with one foot in the door should be politely asked to leave. There should be a settling-in period after which all immigrants must take on the nationality of their new home and give up their previous one. The Americans did it right and see how nationalistic and patriotic they are and how they all stand together as Americans.
I think that second and third generation people of immigrant families should feel British. That is something they should do and something Britain as a whole should make them feel. Ghettos should not be allowed to be formed. There is a lot of discrimination experienced by white British people as racism cuts both ways in my experience. People should not be judged on the colour of their skin. And immigrants should not seek to force their cultures and practices on the country they are entering. Surely the act of entering that country is an indication of their acceptance of that country and all it stands for. Yet people should not be forced to change who or what they are. It is a balance that needs to be struck, between protecting freedoms of the individual and the community as a whole. Inter-racial marriage, mixed schooling and mixed residential areas are the key for me.
Mr Blunkett's comments are spot on. You can't expect to be part of the wider community if you can't speak the language and don't adhere to local laws. There are far too many people accepting that in the name of diversity, cultural differences such as forced marriages and fighting for religious causes is acceptable. Mr Blunkett should point out that this isn't aimed at Asians, but all people. As long as he makes this point clear, then he is absolutely right.
Ross McOwat, UK
The catalyst for Blunkett's initiative has been the recent northern riots, and September 11. If the youths involved had been white males, leaving pubs or leaving football matches, would that have been classified as British norms of behaviour? It is commendable to bring this issue of identity and inclusiveness into the spotlight. However, it should be realised that integrating into a society is not just a list of criteria, such as speaking English, which needs to be ticked off to pass. It is a two-way process, and trust and communication need to be built on both sides over a long period of time. Living in a secular society, people also need to appreciate that their identity need not necessarily be associated with the Crown initially, but in fact to their faith. However, this does not make us less British or law-abiding than other British citizens.
The youths who rioted in Oldham have no problem speaking English, or relating to British culture. They have lived their entire lives in the UK and resent their exclusion from great British traditions like being able to get a job.
To Derick Burton: You live in the USA now and nobody there would let you get away with saying "I can't get a job". My West Indian parents came over in the 50s and 60s. I've reaped the benefits including a whole lot less racism than they had to endure. One of my parents is a health visitor and the number of immigrants who can't be bothered to learn the language is so large that they have their own services with interpreters, which we're all paying for. Keep your customs by all means, but when I travelled in Europe I learned French and German. It's that simple.
Graham Hughes, Liverpool, UK
My parents emigrated here from Portugal before I was born, and I have to say both I and they totally agree with Mr Blunkett's comments. If you move to a foreign country you have to be willing to adapt, you shouldn't expect the country to adapt to you.
There's too many comments from the US about how they approach citizenship correctly. From what I've seen America is much more segregated along ethnics lines than the UK, even if they all do speak English.
Blunkett has made a series of classic errors in his statement. The riots were not caused by immigrants that would fail his English language test. The vast majority of Indian and Chinese immigrants have been successful in their efforts to integrate well within the UK. It is not surprising that many of them are upset by the tone of this statement and have automatically antagonised themselves against the Blunkett position. Also, most importantly, it is not a question of "they are wrong in their culture and we are right in ours". Instead, it is a question of what is right or wrong. Blunkett, by taking the first position, has automatically antagonised public opinion by inviting a clash of cultures where what was needed was to bring together likeminded people from all cultures. What a disaster.
Immigrants of the first generation tried their level best to be more British. I remember old photos of my father with his countrymen in a suit and tie. Now he would not dream of wearing a suit and tie because the indigenous community would not accept him as British. He felt more comfortable living the life of an Asian among fellow Asians and bringing back the traditions and culture from his own country. Integration did not work for him or for many others. Sadly the newer generations are rebelling against this rejection by the white community through violence and intimidation.
If I invite a guest into my house I expect them to behave in a courteous manner. I don't see why then UK can't ask visitors to do the same. I am 100 percent behind Blunkett. Perhaps if this country didn't pander to minorities and extremists so much we would be in a better state of affairs.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
At last, well done Mr Blunkett. He's cut through the red tape that is political correctness and come out with some common sense. All other MPs should follow his example. We want people in power to say and do what they really think, not pander to all the minorities because it's PC to do so. If these people want to emigrate to Britain then they should be willing to become part of it. They should be willing to learn the language and participate in the culture and enrich it. Not change our culture to fit theirs - why move here permanently then? Get a work permit instead.
Yes of course, English people moving to Welsh-speaking areas of Wales should make an effort to learn the language and fit in with the local culture. That's no different.
Momin Soliman, UK
I totally agree with Mr Blunkett's comments. There are some immigrants in this country who have come here with no intention to integrate themselves into our culture. No wonder the people of Oldham have had enough.
Mr Blunkett's comments were made as if he was giving a green light to parties such as the BNP. You cannot stereotype society as he did with terms such as forced marriages. Also the riots that took place in Oldham were due to the police's inability to arrest white extremist groups even though there was a Home Office ban on marches in Oldham. I think the Asians are more British than the British themselves. The British have a view of families and extended families but how many extended families do you have in England? Occurrences of divorce and single parents, is all low amongst the Asians who live in England. If there was a high degree of forced marriages then with that would be a high degree of divorces but this is not the case. I found Mr Blunkett's remarks insulting to the Asians who live in England. The British should not forget whom they called on to rebuild their country after World War II.
I think it is appropriate that people wishing to emigrate should be prepared to adopt the language and way of life of that country. Not to do so relegates them to the position of guest workers with the associated resentments.
A lot of problems have to do with acceptance by the host community. A good friend of mine came from the West Indies in the early 1960s. She and her husband had obviously West Indian first names, distinctive and flamboyant. They quickly changed them to short commonplace British names because of jibes and somewhat snide remarks. They are friendly, outgoing and very hard-working people that have really contributed to our society. I am the only white friend that they have ever made. They have white acquaintances, but in 40 years of living here, have been largely kept at arms length by the white community. They have done everything expected of them by the host community and they are still not totally accepted here. Who causes the ghettoising?
I moved to the Netherlands a couple of years ago and I am trying to learn the language, although I find Dutch very difficult. I have learnt about the traditions history and way of life of the Dutch. Yes, I keep my Englishness, but I also do my best to fit in. If you have moved to a new country, to Britain or away from it, then why shouldn't you?
It's certainly a reasonable expectation that immigrants learn the system and the language of their new homes. However, it sounds from those who are involved that this is not the issue at hand. Mr Blunkett's accusations and criticisms are not the way forward however. Constructive solutions from everyone involved is more likely to be.
Do not confuse nationality with culture. To be English is something one is born with. No piece of paper can change one's origin. England is a product of the English culture. Multi-racial does not mean multi-cultural. Only the English can sustain the English culture. Failure to recognize this will allow nationality, a legal abstraction, to determine the future of England. There can only be one culture in England. To compromise this premise will eventually mean the demise of England.
It hasn't been good for us, and it is unlikely to be good for the UK. It is disingenuous to blame white Britons and claim that they need to be more understanding of the newcomers. The current citizens are willing to share what they have, but that doesn't obligate them to change what they have to please the newcomers. To all those newcomers in the UK - don't forget who you were, but take pride in what you can become. Share your heritage with the people in your new home, but remember that you moved to the UK to share in what it had to offer, because the existing culture is what makes the UK a better place to be.
Immigrants make the choice to move to the UK due and adapt to the way of life, norms and values. Thus, they should take the initiative to become integrated into the society. If they are ghettoised, it is by choice?
I find it hard to understand why people who migrate to the UK, become so anti-British. Blunkett's comments voice the concern of the majority of the British public, in that, with the influx of overseas nationals, society is being broken up as some of these growing ethnic minorities have no desire to integrate within British society, but rather form their own. After excluding themselves, they then complain that the British public are in general racist. Migration laws need to change to those similar to Australia. A set level of reading and writing English should be set for migrants. If they are that keen to migrate to the UK, they will learn English.
Dave Marriage, USA
This is a question that has been bouncing around in the US for some time now as well. Long before September 11 many of the arguments are the same and unfortunately the problems are still present. When I travelled abroad in Europe, Mexico, and the Pacific Rim, I at least made an effort to learn some of the language even if I was only going to be there for a couple weeks. I also attempted to learn some of the local culture so as not to accidentally cause offence. Generally people recognize the effort and are appreciative.
The free countries of the world all struggle with the issue of assimilation of immigrants and it is completely appropriate to expect someone who wants to enjoy the advantages of living there to become a participating member of the society. While there should certainly be structures in place to assist immigrants to transition as smoothly as possible, at a certain point it is up to the individual. An open society does work both ways, if you truly do not approve of the culture or society you are living in you are always free to leave. That still sounds harsh, but we have to remember that many countries do not grant that right.
I believe the best way two societies or cultures could integrate is by understanding and co-operation. Without it what results is mistrust and misunderstanding. Testing language skills may be part of the solution, but if the majority community in a nation fails to appreciate and value the unique economic, cultural, and religious identity of each ethnic community in its land reconciliation on each and every issue will be extremely difficult.
I think any immigrant should swear allegiance to the Crown and strive to become a worthy British citizen.
Steve Davies, Bahamas
I think it will be sad if people misinterpret Blunkett's plea. I think it was a very race inclusive and good thing to say. By no means should British Asians give up their own cultures and religion, but a merging of Asian and white British culture would help them to fit in with white people a lot more. Both races would feel less intimidated of each other and young Asians would feel more included.
Certainly immigrants should make attempts "to be British". But I can't help feeling that for many Anglo-Saxons "British" is equated with white skin. Australians or South African whites have a far easier time fully integrating in London, for example, than do those arriving from the Indian sub-continent.
As a second generation immigrant myself, my motto is "When in Rome ..."
When In Rome do as the Romans do. I have had to take the oath of allegiance to my Queen to become Canadian. My point is to adapt to the country you emigrate to.
Maybe the English/British should in turn make an effort to learn the language and integrate into society of the countries they emigrate to/colonise.
Once again everyone seems to be missing the point. The people causing the trouble can speak English! They were born and bred here. If they can't speak the language it is a failing of their schooling, not because their families were immigrants.
If being British means an adherence to the codes of democracy, tolerance and progress, then certainly all British residents, whether they were born in here or not, should be reminded of these tenets regularly.
It is when these tenets are forgotten by either the immigrant or indigenous population, that Oldham-type incidents occur.
If you choose to immigrate to another country you owe allegiance to your adopted homeland. It is not a one-way street. If you reap the benefits you also have obligations.
Without assimilation to the host country to some extent, it inevitably promotes segregation, alienation of the minorities themselves, and friction in society. People who choose to live in a country should accept the host country's norms, values and standards.
What is needed is real action which helps individuals and families to integrate, not just committees, working groups and other intellectual exercises.
We need a single united people who happen to live in the British Isles all pulling in the same direction. For that to happen we need to forge a shared identity that makes us different from those from other countries - not a hotch potch of arguing factions.
Do Mr Blunkett's comments just apply to immigrants from developing countries, or are they aimed at Europeans and white immigrants too? I have no problem with learning English but I am also Vietnamese and proud to be it.
Instead of blaming immigrants for their 'lack of Britishness' maybe we should be looking at ourselves and how our society perceives these people. We would do better to criticise ourselves instead of others.
The requirements for 'feeling British' are minimal and not onerous, to say the least, nor do they preclude the formation and retention of other worthwhile identities.
What is 'British'? Britain is a political construct within which live many nationalities. I am English.
Immigrants should be free to keep their own ways and culture so long as they accept that they are ultimately accountable to the institutions of a secular democracy. Although I do think it would be to their advantage to learn English.
The immigrants who chose to adopt British citizenship, as I have done, do take an oath of allegiance to the Crown - unlike the millions of indigenous British who do not do this except in special circumstances.
If only the majority would accept them as one of their own but with some differences, which enrich the whole concept of being British!
The people who caused the riots were third and fourth generation children who have more in common with the British culture than their Asian heritage.
More energies should be devoted to helping these people stay on in education or assisting them to find work, which is where the real problems than trying to make them more British.
I am proud to be who I am - British and Pakistani. I agree completely on providing lessons not just in English, but also on the British system (not the way of life). This will help them to mix in more rapidly into the British society.
But before we start demanding from them, we should really ask ourselves what does it mean to be British. A neutral observer might say getting drunk every weekend after a good curry!
Yobbish behaviour is a British tradition, as we have seen at various football matches in the past. So what exactly is foreign about these yobbish British men in Bradford? Their skin colour perhaps, or their religion?
Mr Blunkett should focus on the real issue, which is the failure of white British people to accept ethnic minorities as British. I still get asked especially at airports in the UK where I am from, even though my passport says born in London.
The rioters of Oldham and Bradford were not the law-abiding immigrants who speak little English. They were youths whose first language is English and know all about the norms of acceptance - from the British National Party. This is why they rioted in the first place.
It's the majority that has to take the initiative. I like to be called British, not Asian. I do not have an Asian passport, and I swore my allegiance to the Queen before I was granted citizenship. What else do I have to do to prove I am British?
As a British citizen living in Seattle who just took the US Naturalization test, I was required to be able to speak and write English and pass a test on US government and history.
It was totally appropriate that I was required to make an effort to better understand my new home.
I find Blunkett's comments highly offensive. Yes the ethnic minorities are ghettoised, but is this through choice? Do we really want to live in deprived inner city areas? As for contributing to the community, I am a GP, and I can assure you that if all the Asian doctors walked out today the NHS would collapse!
09 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett plea 'could fuel racism'
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