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.

Definitely Not Confused – Pakistanis & ‘Brit-Paks’

BritPak

“So are you from Pakistan?” she asked. I proceeded, for not the first time since arriving at university, to explain that Pakistan was my country of origin, Britain my country of nationality and that I had grown up elsewhere.

“Ah, confused.” she stated, matter-of-factly, nodding her head in a part-sympathetic, part-patronizing manner, as if she knew all she needed to know to psycho-analyze my very existence. Well, I thought, I certainly didn’t come here for judgement to be passed on me by passer-byers, but since you are offering your self-evident wisdom to me for free, I suppose I ought to be grateful.

So marked the beginning of a prolonged background experience for me at university in dealing with my peers from my ancestral homeland; mostly rich Pakistani kids from a handful of elite schools and families. ‘Background’, because such views never bothered or distracted me for more than a moment in those 3 years, yet I always felt this sentiment lingering in my interactions with them.
I state the following with the caveat in mind that many of the Pakistanis I met on campus were agreeable and open-minded chaps, but this phenomena has occurred far too often for it to be anything less than a social trend.

For some reasons, many Pakistanis completely fail to understand the very concept of a comfortably British Pakistani community, with English as its mother tongue and Britain as its primary country of allegiance. It is either a conceptual shortcoming, or sheer ambivalence towards individuals who form part of this community (most of whom didn’t make the choice of migration themselves anyhow). Perhaps at the back of their minds they believe those who left Pakistan for greener pastures have somehow betrayed the nation, although as much is certainly never said. Perhaps they harbour some kind of rivalry or jealousy with Pakistanis who have become successful abroad. Perhaps their condescension stems from our inability to speak Urdu, or perceived ‘Anglicisation’. I admit I have yet to figure out the source of this misunderstanding, but it certainly baffles me given they are an otherwise intelligent and cultured group of students.

If it wasn’t so disappointing, their unintentional irony would be cause for some bemusement.

They are the same people who speak English in Pakistan as a sign of their class, and look down on the middle and lower classes who speak indigenous languages.

They are the same people who seem so uneasy with the culture, religion and traditions of the great mass of Pakistani people, instead opting for overt Westernisation and conformity with homogenised global norms. I don’t mean to reverse the condescension, but who are you to look down on my identity struggles?

And do we struggle with our identity? Sure. Being British, Pakistani, Muslim, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants in a country that is changing rapidly, hailing from a nation mired in crisis and global scrutiny – that’s not easy. Nor is it so difficult to be debilitating to us as a community. We do have issues, but we are dealing with those issues ourselves – we don’t need input from outsiders that haven’t the slightest appreciation of our circumstance.

So thank you for your concern, but really, no thanks.

And, as it happens, I’m not confused at all – but you are.