RANT ALERT (This is v abnormal for me, but I’m quite exercised about it!)
I’m getting tired of people complaining about immigration, and just wish politicians would have the courage to speak up for it. The UK has ALWAYS been a country of immigrants – you just have to look at the history of London’s East End over the last 5 centuries to see this. The fact is that it says a lot of positive things about the UK that people want to come here, not least in terms of the culture, the economy and the vibrancy. This should not be a Right/Left issue – it is a cheap and historically infamous shortcut to popularity and votes.
This is not to deny the problems re cultural ghettos and the benefits system scroungers etc – but these are separate issues IMHO. There are genuine political challenges in it – for all parties. But it is not immigrants’ fault that the system is faulty. [Nor do they cause congestion on motorways for that matter.] Here are some random thoughts, in random order, with no particular logic because I’m no political theorist by any stretch (as will be clear).
As I said, I’m just quite exercised and disturbed about it.
- Why is economic migration such a problem anyway? It has always happened and always will. And I know for a fact that many who abhor immigration would be tempted or driven to it in different circumstances. Just look at the myriad reasons for people emigrating from Europe to the USA a century ago. As I noticed one Tory commentator this morning, it should be a positive thing.
- Immigrants often do the jobs ‘natives’ are too ambitious or proud to do. It has always happened and always will.
- There are many more pressing issues in our society, like the wealth gap (or rather chasm) and the fallout that inevitably comes from that, the superficiality and foundationlessness (is that a word?!) of so much public ethics and theory, the relationship we all have with difference. Again, these should not really be right/left issues.
- But quite apart from the politics of the issue, there is the ethics of it. The ‘other’ and the ‘different’ have always felt threatening to those who form the majority or the powerful. Very often that fear is derived from ignorance, prejudice and even insecurity. But a measure of any society’s health is how it looks after its vulnerable, weak and oppressed. This is nothing less than biblical morality (which, contrary to what many secular folks assume, is quite exceptional on this issue, and more than relevant in our generation, STILL):
- Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused… (Exodus 22:21-23)
- When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
- … et ad infinitum – there is a huge list of verses making this point.
- There is a richness that comes from learning from those who are different. The years we lived in Uganda weren’t always the easiest – but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Uganda is a country that I now love deeply and I was changed by it profoundly. At the same time, it made me appreciate my own country all the more more, but paradoxically, at also relativised my patriotism. For there is actually something irrational about nationalism because it extends to its logical extreme George Bernard Shaw’s quip that patriotism is the conviction that “your country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it!”
- I’m not sure there is such thing as a Christian country anyway… and if there is, it’s certainly not the kind that chucks out and excludes those who are different.
This is not to deny that there must be obligations and expectations on those who live within a community different from their own – and there are all kinds of reasons behind why they don’t. It is a big job to help people adjust and acclimatise. But there are also major issues of how locals accept outsiders – and this is where those of us in any demographic majority, as well as those who hold political power or influence, have a duty (it is nothing less) to protect, support and encourage the ‘alien in the land.’
So I’m innately suspicious of rabble-rousing soapbox politics that refuses to acknowledge the benefits of, and responsibilities to, immigrants. That’s where things must start. It’s only in that kind of positive atmosphere can we begin to tackle issues of assimilation and cultural engagement, as well as all the challenges associated with a plural society. The current rhetoric and scapegoating merely alienate and endanger the vulnerable, and they corrode our moral well-being. They certainly make it infinitely harder to tackle the rights of the vulnerable in the world’s regimes that are clearly more oppressive than ours.
Rant over for now… I’m not really going to engage in heated online debates about this, though. I find such things are usually fruitless and just invitations for trollers. But this is my blog – and I can say what I want to on it!