We’re All Immigrants Anyway

Immigration

Two peculiarities present themselves amidst our now-extensive and often questionable discussion on migration.

You see, with current evidence we think the first man that ever existed lived somewhere around ancient Ethiopia. Whilst this location could easily change seen as what little we know about the distant past changes frequently, a clear and unquestionable principle arises from this; every single person living anywhere other than Ethiopia has migrated there at some point. Everyone in the UK today migrated to the Isles. The debates on immigration and British-ness then almost become a meagre contest of who got here first.

The concept of being ‘indigenous’ then becomes rather difficult to define. Since every family could conceivably trace its ancestry back to a time when they lived somewhere else in the world, in one sense there really is no such thing. Furthermore, those that argue this has connotations of how much time has been spent in a country run the risk of drawing abstract conclusions. How long before a people can genuinely be called indigenous residents of any country; 200 years? A thousand? Furthermore, anytime we make this argument here in Europe, by the very same token we’d also be arguing that Caucasian originally European Americans (initially mostly British) should also not simply be called ‘Americans’.  Native Americans should be the default ‘American’, and white Americans ‘European-Americans’.

Importantly, every nation in the world is a mix of various ethnicities and always has been. There may be a very small number of exceptions to this in truly isolated countries like Bhutan, or small and distant island states. The Normans invaded and conquered England in 1066. They were somewhat French, but originally Viking. French then became the language of officialdom for England for several centuries (Richard the Lionheart spoke French, by the way). Even so-called ‘indigenous’ Caucasian England is a mix of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Norman Frenchmen and more. British culture has always been impacted by the cultures of the nations it traded with, and more recently colonized. The idea that British culture is being ‘diluted’ or ‘attacked’ by an invasion of nominally foreign communities is a complete misnomer.

Do concepts like ‘indigeneity’ and ‘integration’ have any legitimate function? Sure, but they must be applied equally. If a Caucasian migrant can seamlessly be seen as wholeheartedly British after x amount of time with y degree of integration, then people of other races must be viewed as entirely British by the same yardsticks. That may sound random – but all of this really is. And there really can be no argument that any newcomers cannot integrate and become fully British, and actively contribute to what that means. After all, in 11th century England we can be quite certain the Brits didn’t think highly of their foreign French-Viking invaders, but that turned out okay.

All of this is not to say there aren’t real questions to be asked about immigration. Clearly it should not be done beyond the capacity of social services, and it must be acknowledged that integration as a process does take time and resources; if immigrant is high and too concentrated in certain areas this risks ‘ghettoisation’ and could hamper this process. But the anti-intellectual ‘clash of civilisations’ warnings for multicultural Britain ought to be rubbished, and soon as well.

Visiting the Homeland – Our own White Saviour Complex

Lahore

Recently, I travelled to my country of origin; Pakistan.

The nation gets a lot of press. Stereotypes exist about most countries, but few exceed the capture of the public imagination that Pakistan has unwittingly managed to achieve. So I found myself consciously navigating some of the difficulties of interacting with ‘back home’ from the perspective of an ‘educated’, Western mind (not entirely Anglicized, mind you).

I was keen not to expect the country to conform to the headlines; constant explosions, acts of blatant misogyny and endemic corruption. As HONY put much better than I ever could recently, limited headline space lends itself to negative news; most countries in strife are depicted with disproportionate negativity in Western (and probably all) media outlets. So I wasn’t expecting chronic insecurity and societal meltdown – I understand people still get on with their lives, and that the idea Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state is a horrendous mischaracterization of the nation.

Sure enough, the country pleasantly surprised me. I was not made to feel unsafe even once, in the mountainous regions or the cities, and if I was it was more due to the audacious traffic and winding mountain roads than any aspect of culture or social norms. The Kharokhorum highway is an incredible feat of engineering, and Lahore’s streets were remarkably clean and well-kept, and we encountered no obvious corruption or police misbehaviour. I don’t mean to say there aren’t great problems facing the country, but the idea it is an unliveable hell and filled with angry extremists is patently absurd.

Now, to my difficulty. How does an outsider, a Western, British-Pakistani Muslim, go about evaluating and discussing the faults and shortcomings of ‘back home’? It is no easy matter. Firstly, one needs the humility to accept people who live in the country know it far better than our reading of the headlines allows us to. Secondly, we also need to accept norms and cultures may very justifiably be different back home from Western society.

These don’t come naturally for one simple reason; the ‘White Saviour Complex’ that we criticize so unfailingly ourselves, is also something we have implicitly accepted and adopted into our own narratives of back home. This is evidenced by how many immigrant communities, a few generations down the line, almost instinctively cast disapproving proverbial glances back in the direction of their ancestral lands.

We enumerate the many ‘backward’ elements of the culture of our elders, and by extension our countries of origin. We also presume that, merely by virtue of our Western education, we know the solutions to most if not all the problems of our nations, implying that the people there are in their less-than-ideal situation simply due to their comparative lack of competence. Isn’t that arrogant?
We make sweeping generalisations only based on the headlines we read giving no thought to the possibility there may be more to the country than that; we essentialise entire nations with the bad, ignoring the mountains of good. And there is always good.

Sheltered ‘Brit-Paks’ lounging in leafy suburbs, radically divorced even from the reality of inner-city London, making broad pronouncements about the hopelessness of Pakistan and the backwardness of its culture, makes me want to do things I would rather not verbalise. It is horrendously naïve, arrogant and ultimately a product of the broader Western narrative, into which we have been rather successfully integrated. Responsibility for this cultural failure lies only on us, and nowhere else, even if the forces of influence that push us in this direction are fundamental to Western society.

This cannot mean that we refuse to discuss the situation of our countries of origin at all. Rather, we need to acknowledge our views can often spill into prejudice and ignorance, both of which can very easily occur in relation to one’s own people. Thereafter, it would hopefully be easier for diaspora communities from developing countries to have a meaningful engagement with said nations. This would benefit the latter, but also the former in allowing us to adopt a more balanced approach to fusing the cultures of Western society and that of our ancestral homelands.

Corbymania & The Economist

Are we being Naive?

Corbymania

Seemingly like a whole swathe of the British population, I think Jeremy Corbyn is pretty great, and worth a shot. Call me and every other young and hip Corbyn supporter naïve, but we have passionately committed ourselves to his rise (Millifandom is already a distant memory in the past for our collectively political community). Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly to some, The Economist has taken a markedly strident tone against Jeremy Corbyn.

I really do like The Economist, and have been reading it for many years. Part of my respect for it stems from its relatively non-ideological approach. Sure, it has an economic slant, but it has what I see at views with integrity that don’t fit easily into one ‘box’, and often jar with established government policy for countries like Britain and America. They even makes criticisms in areas where level-headed commentary can be quite difficult, like on Israel-Palestine. It is not often overtly partisan, and I value that.

So when The Economist decides on such a strong stance as to write against Corbyn in several successive articles, it troubles me. Am I to simply dismiss this as the inevitable panic of the ‘Establishment’ at the rise of a relative ‘outsider’? No – that’s not going to work for me. That’s falling into the trap of being a ‘lefty’, beyond simply being ‘left-wing’. I feel like I have to read and give respect to the views portrayed in these articles, and subsequently put effort into debunking them in order to justify my support of Corbyn to myself. Surely, if I can’t argue effectively against the magazine’s critiques of his economics, my support would be more emotional than rational? It would be naïve, as some like to so often say.

So I will embark on this journey of rebutting one of the world’s greatest current affairs newspapers ever. I have no intention of being a part of a wave of naïve students supporting an impractical policy package unsuited to Britain today. Young people can be naïve; I don’t want my political views to be defined by this. To do so, I feel like I need to be able to intellectually withstand The Economist’s onslaught, and if I can’t, I might have to reconsider some of my stances.

Are there any other avid readers of The Economist having (forbidden) positive thoughts about Jeremy Corbyn? Do let me know if you manage to reconcile the two contradictory currents.