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Vive le croisement entre races? August 5, 2005

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Here are two takes from, shall we say, different spots on the bipolar continuum, but they draw similar conclusions.

Boris Johnson says we must all speak the same language – I’m not for outlawing foreign-language religious services, but I see what he means – whereas Johann Hari admits to being uneasy about acknowledging multiculturalism’s shortcomings, but acknowledge them he does nonetheless and is all for a bit of miscegenation.

In any case, what several blogs and commentators have pointed out is that there is no reason why the children of immigrants should have difficulty integrating. Like Johann, I too am the son of immigrants. OK, white, Christian Europeans and I never felt that I was a foreigner in my own land, but still. While I am all for bilingualism and am certainly not saying that children of immigrants have to ignore their parents’ (or grandparents’) pasts, I have always been slightly mystified by those types who attach greater importance to their ancestors’ culture than their own. Even now, when I am an immigrant myself, I feel my Englishness incredibly deeply and yet I also remember to do everything I should as a good Burger in Deutschland – pay my taxes, not flush the loo late, obey local laws etc.

Anyway, I think embracing the local culture is favourable for all sides. Middle Britain (or Germany, or America, or wherever) is happy, yes, but the children of immigrants are too. They will feel they belong. The grievances will be lessened. The queerness of being an outsider is diminished. I have to say that I have never been prevented from being perceived as being as English as Queen Victoria and I have never had much sympathy for other English people of Irish origin – that’s the group of ‘immigrants’ I know best, I suppose – who have claimed they’ve been discriminated against. They seemed mostly to have a grudge against Britain themselves, instilled by their parents and their own grievances for England’s past ills.

Religion can travel, yes. So there is nothing to prevent a Muslim, a Jew or a Catholic being as English as can be. I don’t think I’m endowing my countrymen with mythical levels of tolerance when I claim that that is so. But, in my view, nationality is rather about place. Catholicism may travel, but Irishness doesn’t. (I always want to puke with laughter when I hear about Irish Americans and the like.) I have British friends who spoke Polish and Lithuanian before they spoke English, yet they too are as English as can be and would not stand out falling over on Boris’s proverbial beach. And as has also been pointed out, most ‘immigrant communities’ have got on rather well, thank you. Jewish folk haven’t exactly done badly in England, in spite of the locals’ efforts to get rid of them. A Prime Minister – yes, yes, I know he converted to Christianity, but still, and he never hid his Jewishness and did a wonderful put down of Michael Collins once in the Commons – in the 19th century is proof of that. And ‘Indians’ today are another perfectly successful group.

So a lot of responsibility for successful integration has to be put at the community’s own door. Yes, speak another language, practise another religion (or none at all), but embrace your own country with open arms.

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