By Dr. Abdul Wahid
Last week UK Prime Minister David Cameron decided to make a speech about immigration. Both the timing of the speech – against the background of a historic economic crisis – and the way it was presented to the media suggested that it was primarily about bolstering Cameron’s credentials with his core conservative support base, some of whom are critical of the coalition with the Liberal-Democrats, as well as in order to appease growing public anger about the effect of cuts. Sadly, political manoeuvring demeans serious discussion about immigration, citizenship and identity.
Whilst Mr Cameron did nod his head to some legitimate matters in his speech, it is hard to take him seriously – especially when he talks about ‘zero-tolerance’ towards illegal immigrants(in stark contrast to the lax attitudes towards unlawful or unethical behaviour by MPs and businessmen) and public ‘vigilance’ in much the same way his role model Tony Blair used to talk about reporting any suspicions about ‘extremist’ behaviour.
Serious discussions about immigration usually debate economically favourable arguments against concerns about jobs and services. These ‘balance-sheet’ arguments are relatively easy to compute – even with the added factor of European regulation that gives near undisputed access to EU citizens.
What is harder to solve, however, is the long-standing dilemma of how to build some common ties between people of different backgrounds, social groups, races and religions – and to address concerns that culturally Britain is becoming increasingly less familiar to the indigenous population.
We rarely hear it acknowledged that Britain’s cultural revolution of the past 40 years is, in large part, economic in its cause – with American popular culture being arguably the single biggest contributing factor. Instead, the debate is more commonly centred around ‘eastern immigration’ and the non-English speaking world. And this government, like its predecessor, pays special attention to Muslims in formulating it’s solution.
The Cameron-Gove solution centres around teaching a particular narrative of British history, as one way to united people in Britain. You could be forgiven for laughing at the irony of this when looking at the detail. We are told that immigrants who wish to qualify for citizenship will, in future, be tested on aspects of British history. Apart from the fact that significant numbers of indigenous British people are under-informed about their own history (perhaps knowing more about Magneto than Magna Carta), addressing certain subjects may backfire. Imagine teaching refugees from countries that had been invaded or occupied by Britain or its allies, that Boadicea ruthlessly fought off an imperial invasion; or that Churchill said he would ‘never surrender’ to an invading army.
Teachers might even be accused of ‘radicalisation’ if they used Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples to teach refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine where, after describing Boadicea’s ‘slaughter and obliteration’ of Verulamium (now called St.Albans), he argues ‘it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invaders’ hearth’. These are not the ‘British values’ they want the immigrant from those lands to adopt.
Britain has found it hard to identify a set of common values that achieves the aim of nurturing a national identity. Secular, liberal, capitalist values are hardly unique to Britain. Moreover, they are under serious question, with economic decline, social unrest due to resentment at the capitalist and political class, and a failure to implement the rhetoric of pluralism to minority communities such as Muslim or Gypsies.
Moreover, whilst the metropolitan classes and younger people are comfortable with these values, the more conservative parts of Britain and growing ageing population are more comfortable with ‘Ye Olde English’ Christian-based values.
This failure to define a set of values that actually convinces people such that they unite around them in part explains why there is such an aggressive bullying approach to Muslim integration – but also explains why Britain remains divided over economic, social and moral questions – something that is replicated in the United States.
The Muslim world, under the Caliphate, was a state that was built around a set of clearly defined values. They were not imposed on people in such a way that they had to profess belief in them. People merely had to obey the law. Yet people did share these common values that emerged from Islam. So successful were these as a unifying force that for many centuries cohesion existed and society progressed in every sense – with even many non-Muslims becoming Muslim, or sharing many of these values even if they retained their own beliefs.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at [email protected]