The Multi-Identity Society: England and Immigration

The Multi-Identity Society
England and Immigration
by Hazhir Teimourian
Harvard International Review

(A Muslim woman wearing a burqah walks down a London street in 2005. Increasing immigration to the United Kingdom from Islamic countries has created severe political conflict in Britain. Photo courtesy CS Smith.)

Hazhir Teimourian was born in 1940 in Iranian Kurdistan and has lived in Britain for 47 years. A journalist and writer, he has recently joined the Council of Migration Watch UK to press for curbs in Britains immigration figures.

I have lived in London for the past four decades, mostly working as a journalist for the BBC and The Times, and have always thought of it as one of the greatest cities in all history. My wife, a former BBC television news presenter and daughter of a British naval officer, has loved it even more. But recently at breakfast, she suddenly lifted her eyes from the newspaper and said: Lets sell up and leave.

She had not panicked so badly last July, when four suicide bombers killed 52 innocent passengers on the citys underground train network. She loves our house on the northern bank of the Thames: the ancient river, with its working barges, sailing yachts, and ocean-going cruisers, is a living organism. London has some of the greatest libraries in the world for my work, and, more importantly, our daughter and most of our friends are here.

What made my wife anxious was the belief that the city, and by extension the whole of Britain, had become politically unstable. The results of Mays local municipality elections had just been announced and a virtually all-Muslim partyformed early last year by George Galloway, an anarchist admirer of Saddam Hussein and former Labour member of Parliamenthad captured nearly a third of the councils seats. The winner, the Labour Party, is also locally dominated by Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants and is rumored, despite vehement denials, to have won only by resorting to vote rigging. This practice is new to Britain and is typically associated with a large Muslim presence of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. It takes the form of political activists requesting that people under their influence or care, such as those they employ or look after, be allowed to vote by mail. When the ballots arrive, they are collected by the activists and filled in without securing the consent of the people concerned. A few people have been convicted for such fraud.

A Shifting Demographic

Of course, signs that our locality was becoming less European had been noticeable for years. Had my kind and liberal wife, now a university lecturer in broadcast journalism, really wanted to see, she would have noticed that, as one moved northward away from the narrow strip of big houses beside the river, the white inhabitants of the large, publicly owned tenement blocks had largely disappeared over the past two decades. As the newcomers were settled in thousands of new high-rise apartments by the local authorities, the previous inhabitants, poor native whites and East-European Jews, moved out in a phenomenon known as White Flight. Other signs of demographic change included the increasing number of women clad in black, all-enveloping burqahs, the erection of mosques, municipality leaflets arriving in the mail in several languages, and attacks on white males passing though our local park by groups of teenage Muslim boys.

George Galloway, founder of a nearly all-Muslim Respect party, speaks at the University of Toronto in September 2005. The significant gains made by Galloway's party in the municipality elections last May was further indication of the increasing instability of British politics. Photo courtesy mje.
One more news item that was even more disturbing, though not surprising, was that a far-right party had come out of nowhere to become the second largest party in the neighboring municipality, Barking. There, too, Labour managed to hang on to power with 19 seats, but the British National Party (BNP), which urges the expulsion of all non-European immigrants from Britain, captured 11 seats in the same May elections to overtake the former major players, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Barking suddenly became a national newspaper headline as the race hate capital of Britain, causing soul searching among the countrys well meaning liberal elite as to how such an outrage had become possible.

A week or two before the May elections, Margaret Hodge, the local Labour member of Parliament and a member of Tony Blairs cabinet, had caused controversy by announcing that 8 out of 10 voters she canvassed in her Barking constituency told her they were thinking of voting for the BNP. She was accused of giving publicity to racists. She answered that reality had to be faced and the grievances of the local whites had to be heard if the danger were to be averted. The whites had told her that they were fed up with decades of discrimination in favor of foreigners who had never paid a penny in taxes. As soon as they arrived from the airport and said they were homeless, these foreigners were given the best and largest housing while the homeless children of the whites were ignored. The minister implied that the objectors might have a point and that, if the mainstream parties did not pay them attention, they had other parties to turn to in a democracy.

The British are a proud, even arrogant, people in some respects, despite trying not to appear so. On numerous occasions I have had members of the political class tell me that they would never be like the Germans, meaning that their people are much more experienced in the ways of the world; during the days of empire they learned that tolerance was best, and indulging in ideologies and social theorizing of any kind was dangerous. The thought that the BNP could gather enough muscle in the country to make life unpleasant on the streets is ridiculous to such elites. But I am not so surethere are signs that some sections of that same political class, including my fellow journalists, may be waking to the danger. Certainly Margaret Hodges announcement that the majority of her constituents were thinking of voting BNP is still reverberating.

The Overall Situation

In large areas of Britain, immigration has not become a front-running electoral issue. But they are sparsely populated rural areas with relatively few seats in parliament. Elsewhere, in the urban conglomerates, more and more people are noticing the development of ghettoes as immigrants take over some districts while indigenous populations move out. Recently, the chairman of the governments own Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Philips, himself a first-generation West Indian immigrant, said that Britain was sleepwalking toward segregation.

This is all natural. Most of Britains immigrants come from the rural parts of Asia and Africa, where they are regarded by their own countrymen as less culturally advanced. When they arrive here, they are bewildered by alien European ways. They seek solace, understanding, and employment among their own people. They watch satellite television beamed in from their homelands and, if literate, read only their own newspapers. In short, they soon find that they do not need the natives and have spent months or even years without having been required to utter more than a few words of English. Their children go to schools where over 90 percent of the pupils do not have English as their mother tongue. Furthermore, Britain has always allowed these immigrants to import their own religious leaders from their own villages, often steeped in jihad and little else. This is reminiscent of the shock the French felt last year when a survey in Marseille, the countrys chief southern port, revealed that out of 56 imams only 3 spoke French.

I am trying to avoid Samuel Huntingtons emotionally charged catchphrase, clash of civilizations, but how else could one describe the violence that British Muslims unleashed upon Salman Rushdie, a Westernized novelist of Indian Muslim birth, who wrote for Western readers, forcing him eventually to flee to the United States? That was in the 1990s. Since then, mutual suspicions have deepened. Last Julys bomb attacks in London have made many among the liberal elite, who were previous advocates of multi-culturalism, ask themselves whether they had been too optimistic. The rage that Muslim immigrants throughout Europe displayed earlier this year against the Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Muhammad as a terrorist made millions of Europeans feel that they no longer live in free countries, that they must now give up some of the liberties to which they had become accustomed.

Such fears play into the hands of the far right to such an extent that I should not be surprised if one major European country turns to a quasi-fascist party in the foreseeable future. I have France in mind, where race riots among its 12 million Muslims have become regular news. We must not forget that during the last French presidential election, the loutish leader of the far-right National Front swept aside the countrys second largest party, the Socialists, and became the challenger to President Jacques Chirac.

A Deeper Dilemma

While the overwhelming majority (over 70 percent) of British citizens wants immigration into the country to be drastically cut from its annual net level of 320,000 people, the government confesses that it cannot estimate how many illegal immigrants might be in the country. Adding to the problem is the fact that 80 percent of all people whose applications for asylum are rejected by the courts nevertheless manage to stay in Britain. The recent revelation that the Home Office, through incompetence or neglect, had allowed over 150 foreign murderers and rapists remain in the country at the end of their sentences despite court orders to deport them has caused the sacking of the immigration minister and brought the whole government into disrepute.

The latest estimate by the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, states that two million new homes will have to be built in the South-Eastern corner of England by 2016 to cope with the bulging population, with 1.5 million of them for first generation immigrants and their families. But a parliamentary committee declared in mid-June that the government was underestimating the need. In any case, everywhere greenbeltsareas where new housing has been banned for decades to provide lungs for the citiesare under pressure from local authorities applying for planning permission for new housing estates, occurring in a small island that is 12 times more crowded than the United States. If we take into account that 75 percent of the newcomers settle in London and the South-East, the dire situation becomes even more apparent.

The latest major intervention in the debate came from the highly respected former Labour cabinet minister, Frank Field. Writing in The Guardian of June 23, he said that in 2004, the last year for which statistics were available, 582,000 newcomers settled in Britain. Fields figure is 242,000 above the figure released by the government and quoted by Migration Watch. Field urged the prime minister and the country to begin looking into the alarming situation. He said that the data did not even include illegal entrants and that, since 359,000 native Britons left the country in 2004 to settle elsewhere, we had an overall change in the total of the population of 940,000 people in the span of a single year. This was equal to 67 parliamentary constituencies from one parliamentary election to the next, with most of the newcomers settling in the poorest districts.

In the midst of such headline grabbing woes, the question on many peoples minds nowadays is: How long will Britain manage to remain a decent and liberal society? The example of the Netherlands next door is not reassuring. One of the most liberal societies in Europe has now become intensely hostile to all new immigration of non-European race and one of the most segregated countries on the continent.

The distinguished journalist and historian, Max Hastings, who is on the liberal wing of the Conservative party and writes a column in the left-wing newspaper The Guardian, claims that the ruling Labour partys loss of control over Britains borders is deliberate. Labour really hates the majority white middle class and knows that immigrants overwhelmingly vote Labour. If present trends continue, it would help make certain that the Conservative party never again challenged its political supremacy. The theory seems incredible to me, even paranoid, but at least in the short term, it does make electoral sense.

But whatever the true motivation of the present British government, immigration from distant cultures into a formerly homogenous society, without first assimilating those already there, is an irresponsible policy. I have brought up my two children in Britain to be loyal to their country and to be grateful for its hard-won liberties, the fruits of the European Enlightenment. Yet I now fear very much that both may one day be expelled from the country they love merely for the color of their skin.

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