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Reform Magazine | June 17, 2018

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A good question: Is Britain unwelcoming?

A good question: Is Britain unwelcoming?

One question, four answers

 

MOHAMMED AMIN
‘I have never found Britain unwelcoming’

I came here as a toddler in 1952. Millions have immigrated after me in subsequent years to make their lives in the UK.

While traditional Britons have a reputation for being reserved, and not speaking to strangers unless someone has introduced them, I have never found Britain unwelcoming. As a country, we can be proud of our record in receiving and integrating people of different faiths and ethnicities. We have certainly done it far better than two of our neighbours, France and Germany.

There are two key reasons why the UK has been able to welcome people so well. Our country’s concept of citizenship is fundamentally civic, rather than ethnic or linguistic. This may come from having long established ethnic and linguistic minorities, such as the Welsh, the Scots, the Cornish and the Irish. By comparison, until recently, ‘guest worker’ immigrants to Germany were denied the right to become citizens because being German was defined exclusively as being descended from the Teutonic tribes.

Secondly, we have an established church, the Church of England, which has seen its role as acting as an umbrella for all faiths. Accordingly, Britain understands the importance of religious faith far better than an aggressively secular country such as France. I am a Muslim, and from the beginning, UK law has accommodated the needs of Muslims, for example, our need to have meat slaughtered in a halal way, our desire to build mosques and establish religious schools, and the desire of some Muslim women to wear particular religious clothing.

The UK government has long understood the need for integration and the importance of
outlawing discrimination on the grounds of race or religion, and has sought to make our society more
cohesive. The consequence is that immigrants to Britain have been able to integrate…

Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity

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SAVI HENSMAN
‘Britain’s scandalous mistreatment of immigrants struck a personal chord’

In recent weeks, many have been appalled by the scandalous mistreatment of the ‘Windrush generation’. But for some of us, it struck a personal chord.

I too arrived from the Commonwealth as a small child in the 1960s, travelling on my mother’s passport. I later took UK citizenship. But it would have been all too easy to end up facing a similar plight to those who have been denied jobs, housing, benefits and healthcare.

My parents tried to shield me from the often-undisguised racism which was so common in those days. I was still in infant school when the politician Enoch Powell warned of ‘rivers of blood’ if the likes of my family were allowed to settle here. Powell was a devout Christian and, sad to say, many in the pews thought similarly. Churchgoers were willing to benefit from the labour of immigrants but had no wish to take on night shifts or other arduous jobs for which people had been recruited from overseas. They were less keen on having us as neighbours.

White family friends and acquaintances who were our staunch allies sometimes took the flak for this from other white people. I will always appreciate their efforts, along with those of older black and minority ethnic people who kept pushing for change, without giving way to bitterness or despair. For some, faith helped to sustain them as they tried to create a more accepting society. They helped to lay the foundation for those positive changes which have occurred.

I remember scandals involving racism by police and immigration officials and talk of ‘bogus refugees’ as a further wave of Sri Lankans arrived, fleeing persecution and war. Various steps towards greater equality were met with a backlash. Yet…

Savi Hensman is a writer, author and activist who works in the voluntary sector


RICHARD SUDAN
‘Politics has failed Britain’s immigrant communities’

Sadly, overall, yes – Britain is unwelcoming. But remember, the hostile environment for immigrants in the UK did not begin with the current ‘Windrush generation’. It began when developed western capitalist or ‘free market’ economies began declining into what is now an acknowledged, full-blown economic crisis. Due to this decline, imperialist western countries are eyeing up new countries and emerging economies which threaten the west’s economic hegemony and monopoly. The global south, including Africa, the Middle East, China and Latin America have all become legitimate targets. So too have their diasporic communities.

Theresa May’s right-wing policies, and her targeting of Caribbean communities since 2010, are inextricably linked to the poor treatment of immigrants in places like Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. Similarly, the condition of immigrants in Yarl’s Wood is not separate from the plight of black and immigrant communities in the US who are feeling the brunt of Trump’s racist policies, and other presidents before him. The UK’s Brexit vote and the election of Trump in the US are both indicative of the failure of the capitalist war machine, with neoliberalism at the helm. Both are founded on a narrative that blames immigrants for society’s ills – nationalistic, nativist and politically isolationist reactions to deepening economic crises. All this leads to western imperialist economies throwing immigrants under the bus – often from nations which claim Christian values.

The war machine needs to stop, but it still has momentum because it’s profitable. This is why Britain continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, for example, causing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Britain’s economy needs arms sales profits; it will rely on them even more post-Brexit…

Richard Sudan is a writer, political campaigner and performance poet

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DALE ROMINGER
‘It depends on who you are’

It depends on who you are and where you’re from. I’m a straight, white, American male. While I experienced some anti-Americanism during my 30 years in the UK, I always felt welcomed. The UK became my second home—indeed, my primary home. However, if I were a person of colour from Jamaica, or India, or Ghana, my experience may have been quite different.

When Teresa May created her ‘hostile environment’ policy and hit the London streets with her ‘Go home’ vans, the campaign was ostensibly directed at illegal immigrants. Such programmes creep into the attitudes, feelings, beliefs and behaviours of a society, which any politician knows—unless they are self-deceiving or stupid. As a result, it’s my guess that if I had been a legal black immigrant from Jamaica, the ‘hostile environment’ and ‘Go home’ vans could have made me more than a little uneasy. Even if I had believed that overall, British people were decent and welcoming, it would not have been unreasonable for me to have feared that some members of white Britain might reconsider my place in the community, or worse, feel emboldened to express their racism. We now know the government may have sent me back to Jamaica.

The UK and the US are going through similar convulsions, though for different reasons. Our political leaders can encourage the best in us, or the worse. In the US, the presence of a white supremacist soiling the carpet in the Oval Office, and in the UK, the ‘hostile environment’ policy (now come home to roost) and Brexit extremism, have given the worst in our societies the permission to crawl out from under their rocks. In both my homes, racist abuse and attacks have increased. Political and attitudinal walls are being built. A dangerous white nationalism grows in strength…

Dale Rominger is a retired church minister living in Seattle. He runs an online writing community at www.thebackroadcafe.com

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These are extracts from an article that was published in the June 2018 edition of  Reform

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