Monday, 18 January 2010

Nigel Farage's Britain

I see Nigel Farage is doing his hopes of taking John Bercow's House of Commons seat no favours with his calls for banning the wearing of the burka and other face-covering veils by Muslim women. He reckons it is a symbol of "an increasingly divided Britain." Critics, including Schools Secretary Ed Balls, have said it is "not British" to tell people what to wear.

For me, I think Farage is wrong. I also think Balls is wrong - quite how something can be "not British" when you can't actually define what "British" means is beyond me - but that is a different debate. I don't think ANY government should intervene in personal religious choice (with exceptions in obvious cases of harm etc). Again, I guess that raises questions over whether wearing a burka is a choice and not forced. But again, that is another debate.

The question I really want to ask is this: how far must those who move to a country - any country - conform to that particular country's culture?

That question is at the heart of Farage's comments - and at the heart of this debate. In essence, Farage's comments suggest you should leave your religious/political and social baggage at the airport on your arrival in the UK. Multiculturalism is unacceptable to the former UKIP leader. Instead, immigrants should be forced to assimilate to the dominant culture within the UK - I guess just as soon as we work out what that is.

Now, I may be slightly exaggerating Farage's position - but that really is the end point of what he is suggesting. He makes a fair point about "divided society" (incidentally, a point Cameron's Conservatives have been making for several years) and offers his own solution, a solution which the liberal UK isn't quite ready for. Especially a liberal UK that is already fighting fascism in the face of the BNP.

I return to the question though. How much conformity are we looking for? Look at the US, a veritable salad-bowl (Standard Grade Modern Studies terminology) of cultures, immigrants retaining their own sense of identity and distinctive culture but becoming part of something larger. Look also at the levels of violence in the US, the cross-cultural trouble, gangland warfare and racial tension.

A multicultural ideal is just that - an ideal. A laudable aim. But the notion that all cultures can peacefully co-exist, without any cross-cultural tension is as wrong as it is naive. And that naivety is perhaps what Balls is looking for when he is defining what it means to be British.

6 comments:

James Mackenzie 18 January 2010 at 14:16  

I think the racial tensions in the States aren't primarily to do with cultural retention (plenty of white immigrants kept their culture). They're largely the poisoned legacy of slavery and continued racism thereafter.

Similarly, I think the free availability of weaponry in much of the US is behind the gun crime levels. I'd rather ban guns than burkas.

Salma Yaqoob totally nailed Farage on the Politics Show yesterday, btw. Get your iPlayer on..

Malc 18 January 2010 at 14:46  

You just wanted to put the line "I'd rather ban guns than burkas" in there, right James?

On racial tension, you have a point, I think, when referring to black/white tension. But there is plenty of tension between other racial groups too - Hispanic immigrants, Native Americans, Far Eastern groups too. And the guns make a difference too.

The point I was making - and that I stand by - is that tension between people who have distinctly different customs will always exist. Society is about managing that conflict.

Caron 18 January 2010 at 17:54  

We called the US a melting pot in my day.

I agree with James that you'd have a lot less violence without guns in the US.

Going back to your point about how should people going to live in another country change, I find it very strange when I go to Spain and find colonies of British people who don't make any attempt to even learn to speak Spanish. I suspect many of them would be of the opinion that people coming to live in Britain should learn English.

I think diversity is something to be celebrated. We're never all going to agree on everything but with a measure of respect, tolerance and that wonderful and underrated value that Obama mentioned in his inauguragion speech, curiosity, we should be able to live together.

There will always be divisions - whether religious, political, or cultural but there are other things to bind us together.
Look at Yousuf and I, at each other's throats politically, yet being mad keen Ferrari fans.

Re the veil, I agree with you that Farage is wrong. He's a nasty little bully. I wrote a bit about the issue last year.

http://carons-musings.blogspot.com/2009/06/rant-about-religious-expression.html

James Mackenzie 18 January 2010 at 18:45  

Going back to your point about how should people going to live in another country change, I find it very strange when I go to Spain and find colonies of British people who don't make any attempt to even learn to speak Spanish. I suspect many of them would be of the opinion that people coming to live in Britain should learn English.
Extra-double seconded.

tapestry 19 January 2010 at 00:16  

Farage wants Burko banned.

LINK

Farage has been opposed to multiculturalism all along. He believes in what he's saying. I don't think he's acting the bully, on reflection.

S.B.S 19 January 2010 at 05:39  

All those of you who advocate the removal of guns in the U.S.A. under the assumption that it would lead to less violence.
Think again, as the removal of guns in any society, would only mean that the law abiding would be effected, and only the criminals would have guns!
As is the case in the U.K.

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