Rumy Hasan's blog posts

Decoupling of Immigration and Race in Britain



In the hue and cry in Britain - and indeed to some extent, in other EU countries - over the impending arrival of migrants from the new accession states of Bulgaria and Romania, one factor that has historically been closely associated with immigration is thankfully missing - that of race. This has been one consequence of the arrival of large numbers of East Europeans since 2004 when eight former Eastern bloc countries (whose populations are almost entirely white) were given full EU membership. It follows that opposition to more migrants from Eastern Europe stems from other factors.

Contrast this with the situation in the first three decades of immigration post-World War II when most migrants were non-whites from colonies and former colonies in the Caribbean, South Asia, and East Africa. It is important to remember that migrants from the Caribbean colonies - who were often enticed to work in the booming post-war economy - were British subjects so had the right to enter Britain without restriction. Hostility to what was then described as "coloured immigration" was clearly a manifestation of racism and discussed as the "colour" or "race relations problem".

It was not until the 1980s - and the outbreak of riots throughout that decade by young urban West Indians - that there was finally agreement among mainstream political parties that it was no longer appropriate to deem settlers and their children from the former colonies as "coloured immigrants" but rather to regard them as "Black British" or "British Asian" and consider them as fellow citizens.

Though racism still exists, great progress has been made: In practically all walks of life, non-whites are now very much part of the landscape of British society. And this has also applied to more recent settlers: Mo Farah's achievements on the athletic track have been warmly embraced, so much that he became one of the foremost symbols of the London 2012 Olympics. Born in Somalia, he was celebrated as a great British sporting hero, no less than Bradley Wiggins or Ben Ainslie. Similarly, the fact that many other Team GB members were black or had a black parent was of little import.

But while it is fair to say that the present opposition to immigration is largely devoid of the poisonous racism of yesteryear, nevertheless the level of opposition is very high. In a 2007 Ipsos-MORI poll - the year before the financial crisis began - 64 percent said that immigration controls should be much tougher and a further 12 percent said it should be stopped altogether, while 68 percent agreed that there were already too many immigrants in Britain.

Indeed, it appears that opposition to immigration has increased further in the intervening years. The current British Social Attitudes Survey (highlighted by a BBC 2 programme "The truth about immigration" in January) suggests that 77 percent of Britons want to see a cut in immigration - and 56 percent want to see a major crackdown. Moreover, 47 percent thought immigration was bad for the economy, and among the 31 percent of respondents who said it was good for the economy, half wanted to see immigration reduced.

What is interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive is that there is also substantial opposition to immigration from ethnic and religious minorities. In data compiled by Birkbeck College academics Eric Kaufman and Gareth Harris from Citizenship Surveys for 2007-2011 for the Demos think-tank, 77 percent of UK-born Sikhs, 65 percent of UK-born Hindus and 55 percent of UK-born Muslims want to reduce immigration; though these are significant majorities, they are lower than the 83 percent of UK-born white British who want to reduce immigration. There was no significant difference along class lines.

The Demos project "Mapping Integration" (whose steering committee is chaired by former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips and on which I also sit) seeks to understand the core reasons for this quite extraordinary unease with immigration - an issue that was of minimal concern in the early 1990s. It is such poll findings that are having a profound political impact: from Labour to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), clamping down hard on immigration seems to be the settled political will. It is this issue that is driving the possibility of UKIP gaining the highest votes in this year's EU elections and, moreover, it might also result in a "No" vote in the promised referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

A key contributory factor for the widespread opposition to immigration is that the host population has serious concerns from the impact of large-scale, sudden inflows of new settlers not only on economic factors such as jobs and wages, together with pressure on public services, but also on the impact on communities. The latter has been an issue that has historically been neglected. But evidence is likely to show that where the character of a neighbourhood undergoes rapid change by newcomers, many of the indigenous population, apart from voicing opposition to this change, simply vote with their feet; this phenomenon is commonly referred to as "white flight". It appears to be particularly acute in London whose white British population fell from 58 percent in 2001 to 45 percent in 2011 - as 600,000 White Londoners left the capital city.

Nevertheless, given the firm desire to implement even stricter immigration controls on the part of both white and ethnic minority British citizens, the old refrain that hostility to immigration was code for racism no longer holds; to a significant extent, immigration and race have been decoupled.

Attention now needs to turn with much vigour on the part of national and local governments to the task of integrating well the large numbers of immigrants who have settled in the country. If this is done properly, there is every reason to hope that the issue of immigration will subside in importance to the levels obtained in the early 1990s, and Britain will be the better for it. The findings of the Demos project should aid in not only providing solid evidence but also in suggesting pointers to efficacious policies in this regard, not just in Britain but also in other developed countries with large immigrant communities.

Published on Al Jazeera English Opinion on 24th January 2014

Beware of Islamism with a liberal veneer



Beware of Islamism with a liberal veneer

The recent outcry among British politicians and the London press over gender segregation in universities has shone a light on a relatively new phenomenon: the recourse to the foundational principles of liberal democracy by Islamists in pursuit of their agenda. This approach appears to be working as is evidenced by Universities UK’s (UUK) policy guidance (now withdrawn) on gender segregation at events organised by Islamic Societies. In very reasonable language, UUK advised:

"Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system".

A thoroughly reactionary, sexist, practice was justified on the basis of rights – specifically the right of Islamist speakers and Muslim women to have segregated seating. This demand is thought reasonable because of the importance afforded to religious beliefs – non-religious beliefs are not granted this privilege. Indeed, in an interview on BBC Radio 5, a member of the Islamic Education and Research Academy thought his society was being reasonable and liberal-minded by their allocation of segregated and non-segregated areas within the lecture theatre at a debate they organised in March at UCL. One of the invited speakers, Prof Lawrence Krauss, responded with admirable principle by strongly objecting to the segregation and stormed off.

It is curious – and revealing – that similar ‘liberal-minded’, ‘reasonable’, ‘freedom of choice’ arguments are not invoked for segregation on the grounds of race or ethnicity along the lines of the judgment – that set out the doctrine of ‘separate and equal’ facilities for races – of the US Supreme Court in the notorious Plessy versus Ferguson case of 1896. But, pray, why are so many who would rightly denounce this doctrine on the grounds of race, apply it on the grounds of gender? To this question no satisfactory answer is provided; a simple appeal to respect for religious belief suffices.

Now imagine if Brahmin Hindus applied UUK’s guidance on the grounds of caste, a core aspect of their religion. Would this be acceptable to ‘liberal’ apologists for gender segregation? If not, then on what grounds would it be rejected? Brahmin’s would doubtless consider opposition to the practice as ‘Hinduphobic’.

The General Secretary of the LSE’s Student Union, Jay Stoll, provided a simple answer to the outrage felt by UUK’s policy guidance: on Channel 4 News he baldly asserted that this was a manifestation of ‘Islamophobia’. He naturally hoped that such ‘analysis’ would quell the critics and end the debate. Now Mr Stoll has some form on this: back in October at the Freshers Fair, his Students Union forced two members of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to remove their ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts on the grounds that this constituted ‘harassment’ of Muslim (not Christian) students (hence was Islamophobic but not Christophobic). Thankfully, after vigorous campaigning and threat of legal action, Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE – but not the Students Union – has apologised to the two students. One should, therefore, not be unduly surprised if the LSESU gives support to requests by Islamic societies for segregated audiences at meetings they organise on campus; and helps with its enforcement.

A more sophisticated argument was, however, provided by the Islamist scholar and activist Tariq Ramadan who opined:

"Depending on who is organising and when they are asking me, I don't have a problem talking in universities, in rooms and public venues where the people are together men and women ... If every time there is segregation I'm not going to talk then I'm not reaching the people that I want to reach and for them to listen."

Tariq Ramadan is a master of using liberal rhetoric for his fundamentalism, that is to say, the demand for liberal tolerance for intolerant beliefs and practices. But his true beliefs were provided in a recorded speech cited by Ian Buruma in an article for the New York Times in 2007: "I will abide by the laws, but only so insofar as the laws don’t force me to do anything against my religion". It is for good reason that he is also renowned for his ‘double speak’.

Another example comes from a recent conference I was invited to present a paper at (coincidentally at the LSE) with the title ‘Anti-Jewish and Anti-Muslim Racisms and the Question of Palestine/Israel’. I was somewhat reluctant to partake given that I do not believe that these two types of ‘racisms’ are of much concern.  Moreover, I have robustly attacked the notion of Islamophobia (in chapter 4 of my 2010 book Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths). The idea that Muslims are a race is patently absurd – a category error; moreover anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia is a distinction without difference.

My concerns were soon proved correct: it seemed that pretty much all the 50 or so attendees (in the main from a Jewish or Muslim background, by invitation only) bought into the notion that Islamophobia/anti-Muslim racism existed and was a serious problem. It is as if a conference of the Flat Earth Society starts under the assumption that the earth is flat and proceeds from there. No interrogation of the phenomenon is undertaken nor rigorous evidence provided as to its validity.

In the presentation made by Maleiha Maliki (a law professor at Kings, London), she brazenly asserted that matters in Europe are "much much worse" than is commonly thought (meaning by those who subscribe to the Islamophobia phenomenon). She gave as an example how in some EU countries what she terms "far right" parties are polling at about 20 per cent. She then proceeded to castigate the French parliament for passing a law banning the full face veil (burka/niqab) describing the Communist MP who instigated the bill as a "useful idiot for the far right". Islamists and their apologists have taken this law for scrutiny to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of violation of religious freedom. But Ms Maliki also vented fury at the judges examining the law as she worries that they will rule in favour of the French parliamentary system; that is to say, uphold a democratically passed law on the grounds that the veiling of women is oppressive and which runs counter to France’s strong secular values.

Now what is interesting and relevant to this article is that she bemoans the burka-ban law as a failure by the French polity and ECHR to adhere to liberalism and the tenets of a liberal constitution. Again, such chutzpah is a clear manifestation of an Islamist attempting to utilise liberalism to undermine secular, liberal values – in order to defend the most appalling misogynistic beliefs and practices (my reasons for this view of veiling are provided in chapter 5 of my 2010 book cited above).

Ms Maliki provides a classic example of how Islamists with a liberal veneer operate. For Islamists, democracy is acceptable only when their demands for religious privileges are met; otherwise it is held in contempt. The fact that an overwhelming majority (80 per cent) of the French population supports the law that was unanimously passed and supported across the political spectrum is of no concern to her and her Islamist allies.  It barely needs reminding that it is extremely rare that such strong consensus is reached in parliamentary democracies. An adage that Islamists excel at is apposite: why let facts and reason get in the way of our ideological stance?

Jacqueline Rose, of Independent Jewish Voices, showed approval of Malheiha Malik’s arguments by stating that her group recognises the harm that has been done to other people, notably to Muslims from Islamophobia. Now I have great respect for groups such as IJV who have bravely spoken out against crimes committed by Israel. But this is a variant of ‘we who have suffered also feel your pain’; and is dangerous because it can lead to a race to the ‘victimhood’ bottom. Doubtless Islamists will nod with approval – and other religious groups avail themselves of the opportunity to play their own ‘phobia card’.

A blunt truth needs pointing out: if it were the case that Europe was becoming a hot-bed of ant-Muslim racism/Islamophobia, why are so many Muslims from around the world clamouring to get in? Surely we should expect them rushing for the exit door in their droves to the 56 Organisation of Islamic Conference countries? Lest one forgets, in the supposedly ‘Islamophobic decade’ of 2001-2011, the Muslim population of Britain (England and Wales) increased from 3 to 4.8 percent, that is, a 60 per cent increase. Such irrefutable facts do not register on the radar of purveyors of Islamophobia.

Whilst recognising that Islamists in Muslim-majority countries – from the Wahabbi House of Saud to Sunni Pakistan to Shia Iran – are contemptuous of liberal, democratic, values, many Islamists in the west now realise that this rejectionist approach is counterproductive to their cause. Hence they are skilfully resorting to arguments coated with liberalism. It is, therefore, imperative that those concerned by the corrosive values of Islamism: gender segregation, attack on freedom of expression, and veiling are only three instances – should see through this liberal veneer to reveal the reactionary agenda underneath and to put up robust opposition to their demands.


Published on Open Democracy 23rd December 2013

Do you speak English?



Do you speak English?


Given the dominance of the English language across the globe, is it time to make knowledge of it a human right?

Last updated: 21 Dec 2013 10:01
Many professionals, like airplane pilots, are now required to speak English by industry standards [Reuters]

For the first time in history, the world now is close to having a global language so that people from all corners of the globe can communicate with each other without recourse to interpreters and translators. This language is, of course, English. The reason why English has become so dominant is certainly interesting and debatable, but there is no debate that it is the sine qua non for many aspects of life. It is the language of diplomacy and international relations - the Iranians recognised this by agreeing to speak in English in their recent negotiations on their nuclear programme with the P5+1 countries. It is increasingly the language of global news as evidenced by many non-English speaking countries having television networks in the English language.

It is also essential for international business and finance, sport, airline travel (pilots are now required to have good command of English as part of the drive to improve aviation safety standards) and, to a significant extent, for popular music (for example, in the annual Eurovision Song contest, all but a handful of countries have their representatives sing in English).

It is also the language of knowledge. In many academic disciplines - especially natural and social sciences - cutting-edge research is conducted in English and findings are published in English language publications and websites. Accordingly, international conferences invariably demand that papers be submitted and presented in English. There is no denying, therefore, that without English, many avenues of some of the most rewarding careers and activities are simply closed.

There is the suggestion that the dominant language of the future will be Mandarin in view of China's meteoric rise as an economic power in the past three decades. This, however, seems highly unlikely. Indeed, even in China, as a major survey in 2004 showed, standard Mandarin (Putonghua) is spoken by only 53 percent of the population (and just 18 percent speak it with family members). Moreover, an estimated 300 million Chinese (a quarter of the population) are learning to speak English (true, the standard remains very low), and plans are afoot to start teaching English in primary school, so there is good reason to think that by the middle of this century, more Chinese people will have knowledge of English than Mandarin. In this, the Chinese will emulate India where English is spoken more widely among literate Indians than any Indian language.

Even in France - the one country which has dragged its heels in coming to terms with the dominance of English (French was the diplomatic language of the 19th century) - the Higher Education Minister Genevieve Fioraso recognised the reality when she proposed that French universities must start teaching some courses in English. She authored a bill to this effect which, after much controversy, was passed by the National Assembly in May.

Why this caused such a stir is bewildering given that this is precisely what has been happening in many universities in countries where English is not the indigenous language. Indeed, many UK students are enrolled in English-language courses in European universities to reduce tuition costs. In the summer I spoke at a conference at the Middle East Technical University's campus in Northern Cyprus (an offshoot of the university in Ankara, Turkey) and discovered that all courses are taught solely in English; METU has clearly realised which way the wind is blowing in the knowledge economy.

Furthermore, in February, the German President Joachim Gauck no less called for English to be the language of the EU: If there were a vote on this, the majority of EU countries would probably be in favour (only France, Italy, and Spain would likely vote against).

The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses the importance of education. Article 26 (1) states:

"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit."

By "elementary education" is meant literacy and numeracy. All this leads one to ask: If achieving basic literacy is considered a human right, might it now be the case that such literacy should also be in English? Perhaps not yet but this question is likely to be posed with great force among many throughout the world, for whom English is not the main language, desiring to be part of an increasingly inter-connected global community. The implications of this profound fact ought to be given serious consideration by the powers-that-be and properly prepared for.

Published on Al Jazeera English Opinion

Segregation and censorship on campus must not be tolerated




While mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, many are also celebrating the staggering achievement of those who struggled to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Lest we forget, apartheid means separation or segregation on the grounds of race. There is overwhelming consensus that racial segregation is intolerable in a civilised society. Yet, until an apparent intervention by Downing Street, the policy maker in the citadel of learning in Britain – Universities UK – appeared to have given the green light to segregation, on grounds of gender.

In its guidance on the use of external speakers on campus, the following recommendations are provided:

Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either the female or male attendees …

Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.

Universities UK chief Nicola Dandridge, defending the document, stated that gender segregation “is not completely alien to our culture”. Basically, this is an accommodation to university Islamic societies which demand that meetings they organise are segregated on gender grounds.

The guidelines were given as hypothetical case studies but the reality is that gender segregation on campus has been quietly tolerated until now. One outcome of the document was that it has brought the issue into the open – including protests and media coverage of the issue.

And on Friday evening, following comments by the Prime Minister David Cameron, that segregation on campus should not be allowed, there was an apparent change of direction. Universities UK said the guidance was being withdrawn while it reviewed its stance.

There is a wider issue, though. Recently, in the furore over the failings of the Al Medinah free school, it transpired gender segregation was de rigueur. But once you allow segregation along the lines of faith at school, it is not at all surprising that when these pupils enrol at universities, they demand the same rights. If these are granted, you have the beginnings of the corrosion of the core values of academia, which are progressive and secular.

The same point was notoriously made in the Plessy vs Ferguson case in the US in 1896. The Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana segregation law on the grounds that segregation does not mark “the coloured race with a badge of inferiority” unless “the coloured race chooses to put that construction”. This judgement provided the principle of “separate but equal” and paved the way for de facto apartheid in America. It was not until the Brown vs Board of Education in 1954 that this was reversed under the principle that separate facilities were inherently unequal.

Universities UK ought to pay heed to this important principle, but the law also needs to be firm on this issue. Indeed on Friday night, the body pointed out that the legal position in the UK remained unclear on whether the voluntary separation of men and women could be allowed at events such as lectures on Islam by visiting speakers.

But there is hope. It is pleasing to note that Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, has taken a firm stance on the issue. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a future Labour government would outlaw segregation on campus. A spokesperson for Cameron said the prime minister also wants a ban on gender-segregated audiences on campus, but not in places of worship.

But government must now be pressed to pass a law that bans gender segregation in public places.

Prior to Universities UK developments, the LSE took its own misstep. At the fresher’s fair in October, two students of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos) were forced to remove their “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts by security guards and officers of the Student Union. What were the grounds for this brazen attack on a peaceful freedom of expression? The t-shirts were deemed to be creating an “offensive atmosphere” and could constitute “harassment”.

Unsurprisingly, this has generated much publicity and rancour; lawyers defending the two students are asking for assurances from the LSE management that freedom of expression – a bedrock of universities – will be guaranteed in the future.

There is another consideration which may be a factor in all this. Given cuts to university funding, universities are scrambling to recruit overseas students. In view of the income that can be generated from their fees, this is an effective strategy. From this perspective, it makes sense to accommodate as much as possible of the cultural and religious belief systems of students from Muslim-majority countries in particular; which tend to be more restrictive than those of students from some other countries. The toleration of gender segregation and the curtailing of freedom might help the recruitment drive. But that doesn’t make them right.

The lesson from these two recent events is that the spilling over of religious sensibilities into academia is a clear and present danger to values that have long been cherished. We must defend them with vigour.

Published in The Conversation on 13th December 2013

First world problems: why economic development categories need a rethink



Judging countries by GDP per capita, especially those with high income levels, is a blunt measure of categorisation.

Aerial view of Qatar

An aerial view of Dohar, Qatar. World Bank development indicators for 2012 show that Qatar had the third highest GDP per capita. Photograph: Fadi Al-Assaad/Reuters

The term "third world" came to be adopted around the time of the 1955 Asia-Africa conference in Bandung, Indonesia, of "non-aligned" countries – mainly former colonies of Asia and Africa, together with countries of Latin America – that were not part of the advanced west (the first world) or the communist bloc (the second world).

It was therefore an indicator more of a country's geo-political stance rather than its level of development. Notwithstanding the inherent limitations of such a broad brush typology, it nevertheless described the reality of a very large part of the globe. It was also progressive – here were newly independent countries articulating not only an independence of political thinking, but also refusing to be sucked into the dangerous spiral of the cold war driven by two superpowers. While usage of first world and second world was always minimal, third world did garner traction.

Gradually, however, there began to be an unease with the term in that it had connotations of "third class" . In the post-colonial era, it was not considered politically correct to use such terms, especially by those in the former colonial powers. Accordingly, alternatives – not least in academia – such as "developing countries", or "the global south" or even just "the south" began to take preference. Certainly, with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet bloc – and with it the loss of the original rationale for using second world – it seemed that third world would also be made redundant.

This has not been the case. Indeed, the term is still used quite frequently in its economic sense, that is, the level of a country's economic development and standard living as evidenced by GDP per capita. Moreover, many third world countries, especially in east Asia, have forged ahead with development and were accorded a new epithet, newly industrialising countries (Nics). In the development sense, these would now better be described as being part of the second world. They are no longer in the third world, but most are not yet in the first world either. And the old Soviet bloc countries can also fit within this grouping.

In my experience as a longstanding academic, I have found little discomfort in the use of third world by students and academics from the developing world. In the same vein, last year, in an interview with Channel 4 News, Barack Obama's Kenyan half-brother was asked what he thought was the key difference between himself and Obama. He replied quickly that Obama was from the first world and he from the third world. Similarly, in his 2011 book on the modern history of Singapore, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew makes use of the terminology by using the title From Third World to First to highlight the astonishing transformation of a small impoverished country into a modern state with one of the world's highest living standards.

So there is some evidence to suggest that, despite the unease from some quarters, the term third world still has some mileage left when used to refer to countries that are relatively poor with low levels of development. But it is interesting to consider whether the term first world ought to be applied to some countries that have attained very high levels of income per capita. I am thinking of the Gulf states in particular.

The World Bank's world development indicators for 2012 shows that Qatar had the third highest GDP per capita at $83,000; UAE had the 16th highest at $42,000; Saudi Arabia 29th at $32,000. In 2011 Kuwait had the 10th highest at $45,000, with Oman and Bahrain a little further back at $26,000 and $25,000 respectively.

All these have a GDP per capita which would suggest that they are part of the first world. However, in the IMF's country categories, none of the Gulf Cooperation Council GCC states comes within other advanced economies (which exclude the G7 and euro area countries). Rather, they all fall within the highly disparate grouping of Middle East, north Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Yet South Korea, which has a GDP per capita slightly lower than Saudi Arabia's, is considered an advanced economy. Has the IMF got it wrong? Surely the GCC states should also be included in this exalted grouping? There are good reasons to think not: putting it somewhat euphemistically, these countries have quite some way to go.

Judging countries solely by GDP per capita is a blunt measure of categorisation. While it might be a necessary criterion, it is certainly not a sufficient one. GCC Human Rights, a campaign group highlighting the plight of migrant workers in the Gulf provides clear reasons for this. It reported: "In GCC countries non-white ethnic groups experience blatant discrimination ... [they] consistently deny immigrant workers the same rights enjoyed by their own citizens."

GCC Human Rights website provides evidence of the most appalling abuse of human rights of non-white migrants, including systematic brutalisation and torture, which was also recently highlighted by the Guardian and Amnesty International. Their mission statement concludes with these words: "Persuade the GCC countries to treat immigrant workers with the respect that is due them, remove all discrimination against them, and acknowledge them as first-class citizens – by doing so, these nations will become great."

What constitutes countries becoming "great" is highly contentious but if and when the GCC countries grant international norms of human rights to the large numbers of migrants within their ranks, then their eligibility to join the ranks of the first world can be considered. Currently though, despite their stellar GDP per capita, they are better considered as part of the third world – and there should be no unease at the derogatory meaning attached in this context.

On Guardian's Econ Blog


American dream retains appeal despite tarnished reputation




The reputation of the American political system both at home and abroad has taken a battering of late. A recent poll showed the overall approval rating for Congress at just 11%, falling from what were already very low levels. It’s time the US put a little effort in to winning back its former friends.

After a deal was finally brokered on the debt ceiling on October 16, Barack Obama said that “probably nothing has done more damage to America’s credibility in the world … than the spectacle that we’ve seen these past several weeks”.

It was refreshing that a US president, for once, spoke the truth about the harm done to his country’s global standing by its own failings. That America’s international credibility was damaged by the shutdown is not in doubt – where in the developed world can there be such rabid opposition to a government’s attempts to extend healthcare to a large chunk of the population? Yet the Tea Party Republicans utter not a peep when far greater sums are spent on the military and waging of wars.

But is it really true that nothing has done more damage? What about the present avalanche of leaks about NSA spying? Obama has nothing to say of it, just as he kept silent about the damage done to America’s standing by the Chelsea Manning leaks. Then there are the black marks of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram which have shamed America over the past decade.

When it comes to serious damage, surely top of the list are the many countries and millions of people who have suffered at the hands of America’s foreign policies and interventions. Since World War II, America’s actions have all too often been characterised by lawlessness and criminality, centred on incessant wars and attendant war crimes which have resulted in the killing of countless millions of people – the body count exceeded only by the evil trinity of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Indochina, Latin America, and the Middle East have in particular been devastated by US interventions.

In 2007, during the George W Bush years, a BBC World Service poll of 22 countries rated US influence as negative overall. This changed to a positive influence in 2010, a year after Obama arrived in office with his vision of hope. But since then, America’s influence has been middling at best. The poll for 2013 shows that 45% of those surveyed thought US influence was mainly positive while 34% thought it mainly negative. It would not be surprising to see the overall numbers turn negative again in the future.

Self-serving “doctrines” have long been put forward as justification for American intervention in order to mask imperial ambitions. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Clinton and Bush Junior have all had doctrines named after them and, in each case, the doctrine sets the terms for launching a war. Surely it is only a matter of time before an “Obama doctrine” is proclaimed: the waging of war by use of drones and cruise missiles.

The American paradox

America’s claim to be the land of the free was always hyperbole. During the World War II, black soldiers saw immense hypocrisy in being told to fight for freedom abroad given the institutionalised racism they experienced at home. Since then, and after much struggle, great progress has been made on this front but genuine freedom and equality remains a long way off. America’s motto E pluribus unum (out of many, one) remains most elusive.

America today remains a paradox. Despite its dysfunctional polity and unashamedly imperial adventures, its achievements are immense. It has more Nobel Prize winners than any other country, it is the bedrock of the technology industry that has transformed the lives of the majority of the world’s population in an astonishingly short period of time and its music and film industries are unrivalled. Its productive capacity is enormous, enabling it to spend – or waste – vast amounts on its military.

The “American dream” retains its magnetic appeal too. People from across the world clamour to live in the US and have received a relatively warm welcome. The US is one of the countries most open to immigration - in 2006, for example, the US accepted more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all the other countries who run “green card” immigration systems combined. As US academics Reza Aslan and Aaron Hahn Tapper found in their 2011 study, “Muslims and Jews in America”, Muslims from 68 countries have settled in the US – a country supposedly at war with Islam. And countless millions more would doubtless like to do the same. It has always stuck in my mind when some years ago, the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, in a televised press conference, summed up the attitude to America when he related about a trip to South Asia being told by his hosts: “For God’s sake, the US should just go home … And take us with you!”

On a pedestal on the Statue of Liberty is inscribed the poem The New Colossus with the famous, inspiring, line: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Despite America’s often brutal nature, there is no avoiding the fact that the sentiments of this poem still ring true to millions around the world. It might appear a distant fantasy but if the US can somehow curb its destructive zeal, perhaps by adopting a Hippocratic “do no harm” doctrine, it could help to realise the aspirations of its own citizens and help many others around the globe attain their own version of the American dream.

This post is also published on the The Conversation website.

Immigration and The British Dream - review of Goodhart



On Open Democracy

This post is also published on the Open Democracy website

Does solidarity break down with multiculturalism? And if so, how can we respond? Rumy Hasan reviews The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration by David Goodhart.

Children playing
How can we build solidarity in multicultural Britain?/wikimedia

The issue of immigration has become of supreme importance throughout the world. There appears to be a universal desire on the parts of governments, on the one hand, to curb levels of legal immigration whilst, on the other, to show zero tolerance for illegal (‘undocumented’) immigration. The recent election victory of Tony Abbot in Australia was in good measure due to his Liberal Party’s very hard stance on controlling the borders, specifically to keep out boatloads of asylum seekers. 

Similarly, in the US, Republicans have raised the issue of millions of illegal Latino (mainly Mexican) migrants to the highest priority and, by so doing, cemented their popularity in the southern states. In crisis-ridden Greece, the rapid influx of large numbers of illegal migrants has been put down as a core reason for the rise of the violent, neo-Nazi, Golden Dawn Party. Countries as disparate as Malaysia and Tanzania have been forcibly removing illegal immigrants.

In Britain too, immigration has become a defining issue for all political parties: in a 2007 Ipsos-MORI poll, for example, 64% said that immigration should be much tougher and a further 12% said it should be stopped altogether, while 68% agreed that there were already too many immigrants in Britain. A recent opinion poll showed that 64 per cent of Britons said immigration was more of a “problem” than an opportunity for the country and this is reflected in the rise of the anti-immigration, anti-EU, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). David Goodhart’s new book provides a robust analysis of post-war immigration to Britain to seek out the factors which have contributed to this deep unease. He provides his key theses at the outset: 

“[P]ublic opinion is broadly right about the immigration story. Britain has had too much of it, too quickly, especially in recent years, and much of it, especially for the least well off, has not produced self-evident economic benefit. What is clearer still is that it has not been well managed. Britain has never had a culture of integrating newcomers, though most have done it for themselves: in the early post-war decades this laissez-faire approach was overlaid first with racial prejudice and then later by a liberalism that was reluctant to intervene in individual choices. Moreover multiculturalism, particularly in the more separatist form that emerged in the 1980s, has allowed ‘parallel lives’ to grow up in some places and made it harder for ordinary Britons to think of some minorities, and especially Muslims, as part of the same ‘imagined community’ with common experiences and interests.”

Goodhart proceeds to take issue with two sets of theorists of immigration: those espousing economic laissez faire and those who advocate, or are silent about, cultural laissez faire. Curiously, the laissez faire approach to immigration was championed by economic advisers to the Labour government post-1997 (such as Richard Portes of the NIESR) as immigration rose by 4 million in the next 15 years (less than a quarter were from the EU) – more than the combined total since World War 2. 

Such economic ‘immigrationists’ focus has been on the purported benefits: labour is a factor of production that must be permitted to move freely to wherever there is demand for it, thereby improving global efficiencies and resource allocation. It naturally follows that immigration will help raise economic growth and, conversely, immigration controls can be a barrier to growth. Goodhart provides evidence to show that the overall impact of recent mass immigration to Britain is, in fact, neutral. Migrants certainly gain – the history of migration from developing to developed countries shows that very few return, so that despite all the problems of adjustment, their lives have improved for the better. And naturally, employers who employ migrants also gain (and public services in particular have benefited enormously from migrant workers). 

Crucially, however, for the low skilled and unskilled workers, the impact of rapid large scale immigration has been negative from the increased competition in the labour market and attendant downward pressure on wages, so much so that some employers have preferred to recruit foreign workers. This has contributed not only to a persistently high rate of unemployment, but also to increased competition for public services. So it is not too surprising to find widespread hostility to immigration from this section of the working class.

But what has been little examined – and stressed by Goodhart – is the impact of emigration on poorer countries: the argument has invariably been confined to the gains from remittances. There has, however, been little analysis of the damaging effect from the loss of young, hardworking, often skilled workers. The ‘brain drain’ often leads to social pain back home. Thus, for example, emigrating nurses and doctors – the benefits of whose education and training have been lost to their home counties and passed over free of charge to richer countries – inevitably weaken the health service of their home countries, which is not compensated by remittances. This issue was famously raised by Nelson Mandela in his visit to the UK in 1997 when he asked the British government to halt recruitment of nurses from AIDS-afflicted South Africa.  All credit to Goodhart for highlighting this important, neglected, issue; which is also the focus of Paul Collier’s new book Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century.

The social, political and cultural impact of mass immigration has been of no concern to the economists for whom labour is simply labour. Historically, the focus of those in favour of immigration has understandably been on immigrants themselves, that is, on the difficulties and struggles of settlers – often from the former colonies – in new lands and societies far from home. 

Ipso facto, little, if any, attention has been paid to the non-economic impact of mass immigration on the established white population. It transpires that this neglect of the views of the latter – importantly, this is a democratic deficit – is a prime cause for the increasing angst around the subject which has somewhat belatedly been addressed by all the major political parties.

Goodhart gives an example of the London suburb of Merton which has, in recent years, become ‘super diverse’, that is, attracted an array of sizeable migrant communities from around the world, including that of Ahmadi Muslims. The latter group, after a long battle over planning permission, has built a giant mosque (though the opposition was nowhere near as hostile to that of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in New York in 2010); in similar vein, a large traditional pub has been replaced by a Sunni Islamic centre. 

Goodhart points out that ‘the Ahmadis are model immigrants in many ways. They preach an ecumenical form of Islam and are grateful to be given refuge in this country. But to many locals that’s not the point. As one man described as White Heritage Elder Male in the jargon of race relations said: “We’ve lost this place to other cultures ... it’s not English anymore”’. Such sentiments – or indeed the concerns of the long-established majority white population in general – have certainly not been given an airing especially by those of a soi disant liberal/progressive bent.

The reason why little interest has been taken of the social and cultural impact of minorities is because of Britain, by default, evolving into a ‘multicultural society’. Goodhart deems the progressive anti-racist stance of those supporting immigrants in the 1970s as constituting ‘liberal multiculturalism’. This is mistaken as the struggles by the first generation of migrants were for equality in all aspects of society (just as in America, the clarion call of the civil rights movement was for equality and against racism). 

In fact, what multiculturalism is really about – its apotheosis has been in Canada, enshrined by its 1988 Multiculturalism Act – and which, as Goodhart proceeds to elaborate upon, is cultural and religious laissez faire underpinned by cultural relativism, whereby immigrants are allowed to lead lives pretty much akin to those obtaining in their places of origin. That being so, some groups have demanded separate rights, resources, institutions, and exemptions to the law. Moreover, there appears to have been an increase in ‘choice’ on the part of some minorities to live in separate enclaves (de facto ghettos) – hence the phenomenon of ‘parallel lives’.

Not just Merton but London itself has become ‘super diverse’ as the established white population has fallen from 60% in 2001 to just 45% in 2011 (a stark statistic that has doubtless made the political establishment sit up and take note). So London is now truly a ‘global’ city with people from all corners of the globe residing in it and its multi-ethnic nature as a result of immigration was warmly highlighted in Danny Boyle’s widely acclaimed opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. 

The ceremony was indeed marvellous, not least in its positive portrayal of ethnic minorities. That said, its minority focus was almost entirely on the Caribbean component; it could, for example, have been more truthful by making specific reference to the input of Asians in the section on the glittering tribute to the NHS. Indeed, British Asians (the largest ethnic minority) were pretty much absent from not only the opening and closing ceremonies (being no more than extras in the various sets) but also from the sporting contests – pretty much the entire Team GB compromised of whites, blacks, and those of a black-white parentage – hardly a resounding success of multicultural, multi-ethnic Britain.

Goodhart suggests that London’s ‘success’ as a multi-ethnic city needs to be tempered by the fact that 600,000 white Londoners left the city between 2001 and 2011 – the phenomenon of ‘white flight – but does not delve deeply into the reasons for this. Part of the difficulty is lack of hard data which requires rigorous research. But, one can legitimately surmise, the often rapid changes in many neighbourhoods caused by mass immigration is an important, perhaps decisive, factor. Such a reason might seem inexplicable or even deemed to be racist by those afflicted by what can be termed ‘white liberal post-colonial guilt’ – whereby any criticism of the modus vivendi of ethnic minorities is a taboo, which is in itself racist thinking. But this simply fails to grasp the reality. 

In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that broad swathes of the white population are not, putting it somewhat euphemistically, enamoured by an array of peculiar and undesirable cultural and religious characteristics – with their stress on ‘difference’ – of some migrants that have transformed their towns and cities; and so have voted with their feet. Moreover, this has little to do with ‘race’ or ethnicity given that sections of ethnic minorities who wish to integrate and live in a neighbourhood reflecting society at large also vote with their feet.

Goodhart demolishes the oft-held belief that ethnic minorities are an undifferentiated mass forever suffering from discrimination and racism. In fact, there is now a significant variation between Hindus, Sikhs, East African Asians, and Chinese – whose educational and income per capita levels are now, on average, above whites – and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Caribbeans, and Somalis who languish at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The well-established segregated mono-cultural, mono-faith neighbourhoods particularly of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in towns and cities across the country provide ample evidence of their low levels of integration, and what I have analysed as high levels of ‘psychic detachment’ from mainstream society.

But the relative prosperity of Hindus, Sikhs, and East African Asians does not necessarily indicate high levels of integration. Indeed, well-to-do ethnic minority professionals and business people residing in mixed neighbourhoods can – and often do – lead highly segregated lives with few points of contact with those not from their own religious-ethnic community and so also display high levels of psychic detachment. Goodhart cites the example of ‘Punjabi Wolves’, Sikh supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, as an instance of integration. This is odd; in fact it is a mark of separation – just as if Kashmiri fans of Bradford Football Club formed a ‘Kashmiri Lions’ supporters group. The genuine integrationist route would be for Sikh fans to join the Wolverhampton FC supporters club as a mark of unity.

Goodhart retraces a controversial argument he put forward in 2004 about the impact of high levels of immigration on society – the ‘progressive dilemma’, that is, the conflict between diversity and solidarity. Basically, the more diverse (by ethnicity or religion) a society is, the less the likelihood of solidarity, and this is a contributory factor for the erosion of support for higher levels of general taxation which underpin the welfare state. 

The US is an example of a highly diverse society which, as a result, has low levels of solidarity – Robert Putnam’s uncomfortable research suggests that the higher the percentage of immigrants in an area in the US, the lower is the level of trust. This is thought to provide the explanation for the minimal welfare services in America (it remains the one developed country without universal health care): put bluntly, white Americans are reluctant to see their taxes going to welfare programmes to support blacks and Latinos. By the same token, increased diversity from recent mass immigration in Europe is likely to lead to a diminution in solidarity and, accordingly, in support for strong welfare services. There is not yet enough compelling evidence in support of this hypothesis – but even the situation in the US can be open to a different interpretation.

The strong welfare provisions in Western Europe are often associated with the formation of political parties with strong links with trade unions which garnered sufficient support to form governments that pushed through fundamental welfare reforms after the destruction and sacrifice of World War 2. In stark contrast, America has never had such a party let alone a social democratic consensus that became the norm in post-War Western Europe – which is to say that even if America had an entirely white population, there is no guarantee it would have obtained Europe’s level of welfare services; on the contrary, it may still have had rather weaker welfare services akin to those obtaining in ethnically homogenous Japan.

What can boost solidarity in ethnically diverse societies are core commonalities among the established population and migrant settlers. Here Goodhart does offer some suggestions: the stress on English language proficiency for all immigrants is indeed important. Beyond this, however, what is recommended is largely symbolic – citizenship ceremonies in town halls are perhaps an improvement to the purely bureaucratic form-filling of the past but, nonetheless, this is weak in forging commonalities, and of the need to robustly tackling the separatist dynamic now so prevalent. 

The lengthy discussion of the various ‘sub-nationalisms’ that have arisen in the devolved nations within the UK is not really germane. The suggestion that Asians are enthusiastically identifying with Scottish nationalism is of limited import. The fact remains that Glaswegian Asian Muslims are far closer to Asian Muslims in Lancashire, Yorkshire, or Birmingham – and indeed with Muslims in Pakistan – than with non-Muslim Scots. Their espousal of Scottish nationalism is in line with being identified as ‘British’ in the rest of the UK. The problems of separateness and high levels of psychic detachment that emanate from their strong religious identity remains – and this has been allowed to nurture throughout Britain. Therefore, the discussion on the implications of Scotland becoming independent is largely irrelevant.

The great lacuna of the book, in how to truly forge a meaningful common citizenship, is the failure to address the core factors for segregation, poor levels of integration and social cohesion, which have led to parallel lives and high levels of psychic detachment. The answer is blindingly obvious (indeed Goodhart singles out Muslims in his key theses given above): the vast bulk of immigrants from outside Europe, be it from former colonies or not, have very strong religious identities. Certainly governments have been all-too-willing to accept these settlers in their own terms – the laissez faire approach. More than that, both the present Coalition government and the previous Labour government have fuelled this by stressing ‘our multi-faith society’. Goodhart acknowledges this by asserting that ‘[r]ather than appealing to Muslims and Sikhs or other minorities as British citizens and trying to draw them into the mainstream political process, local and national politicians came to see them as people whose primary loyalty was to their faith and culture and who could be politically engaged only by their own leaders’.

History, however, shows that faith identities are divisive and militate against integration and social cohesion. The lesson of Northern Ireland is a sobering reminder: for most people in mainland Britain – for whom religion is of little and rapidly vanishing importance – it comprises sectarian identities. The Dutch writer Ian Buruma provided an insightful explanation for the sudden rise of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn in the early 2000s which is highly relevant here: ‘Fortuyn’s venom is drawn more from the fact that he, and millions of others, not just in the Netherlands, but all over Europe, had painfully wrested themselves free from the strictures of their own religions. And here were these newcomers injecting society with religion once again’.

It naturally follows that a sine qua non for engendering a common citizenship is for the reversal of the ‘injection of society with religion’. This means lessening – and ultimately removing – the mark of religious identity and, accordingly, necessitates, in Paul Cliteur’s words, a ‘secular outlook’ and the thoroughgoing secularisation of society. Of paramount importance in this regard is the phasing out of faith schools: there is now mounting evidence to show that minority faith schools in particular are deeply problematic and constitute a transmission belt for the inculcation of sectarian identities infused with obscurantism and dogma that is quite unsuitable for children in a modern 21st century multi-ethnic society.

To sum up, Goodhart’s analysis of the problems is far better than the solutions proffered. As someone espousing liberal, social democratic beliefs, another lacuna is the absence of the ideas of some of the foremost liberal thinkers: no Voltaire and John Stuart Mill on the defence of freedom of criticism and expression; no recourse to John Rawls as to how a liberal society should deal with the illiberal; and no mention of Brian Barry whose Culture and Equality was the first major – and devastating – critique of multiculturalism from a liberal perspective. Setting aside these shortcomings, David Goodhart has written a seminal, courageous, book that is likely to prove enormously influential on key debates on the nature of British society for years to come.

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