December 11, 2006

Integration, integration, integration

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6219626.stm

“The right to be different, the duty to integrate, that is what it means to be British.”

Tony Blair raised eyebrows, and also some tempers, with his Downing St speech stating that people entering the UK must be prepared to be tolerant or not become part of society.

We’ve heard time and again how apparently it was because they ‘didn’t feel a part of society’ in the UK that young Muslim men went off to the Middle East and Asia to train with extremist groups and then fight for them.

It’s funny, that as a member of an ethnic minority I didn’t even think about the concept of integration until recent terrorist acts threw the issue into the limelight. I’ve never questioned my loyalties to this country: it’s home and always will be. My parents have been here since the 70s and identify themselves as British, let alone my brother and I who were born and brought up here. This doesn’t mean for one minute that we don’t hold on to the religion and culture that my grandparents brought with them when they immigrated. We’re practicing Hindus, I’ve been taught to cook traditional food, we listen to Indian music, and God help my brother and I if we dare to speak in English in the house!

But with all the fuss going on at the moment, I’m starting to wonder if I’m in a strange sub-minority of the ‘well-integrated’. It wasn’t easy for my grandparents’ and parents’ generations when they first arrived, the mindset of the time meant that there were (of course) those that felt they shouldn’t even be here. Yet, I dread to think what my life would’ve been like if my family had carried those negative experiences with them rather than moving on. Because sometimes I think that’s what’s happened with all these ‘disillusioned’ people we keep hearing about: the first immigrants into the UK had it tough and they’ve passed the hurt and resentment onto their children. The result of this is a generation who despite being born here, carry a chip on their shoulder about the country they should be calling ‘home’.

I look different, my religion is different, I speak some other languages. I still had the benefit of the same free education as the white person sat next to me. It was still the National Health Service that cared for my grandfather when he had a stroke, for one grandmother who had cancer, and for the other who had Alzheimer’s. My childhood was an intermingling of two cultures but they weren’t fighting each other. My parents saw that you couldn’t be in a country and cocoon yourself from the life it lived, so they’ve done their best to embrace it – without sacrificing anything they brought with them thirty-odd years ago. They strike this strange balance which has made things so very easy for my brother and I.

So here I am, this Hindu girl who went to a Catholic school, spent her Saturdays at the temple learning to read Gujarati, but her lunchtimes practicing hymns with the school choir. An unashamed Take That fan, yet an equally unashamed Abhishek Bachchan fan, who deliberates on a Saturday night whether to watch an old Bollywood film with her mum or Match of the Day with her dad. I just put up my Christmas decorations, a few months after filling my house with lamps for Diwali. And I’m thinking that perhaps the key to integration is some good old fashioned respect.

Respect by the ‘host’ community for the differences that ethnic minority communities have, and in particular the difficulties faced by those just beginning a new life in the UK.

Respect by the minorites for the culture of the country that you chose to come to, that you willingly made your home.

Maybe I’m being too naive, over-simplifying something much more complicated, but to me integration means respect and understanding on both sides.

What does integration mean to you?

V xx


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  1. Same thing. New patterns of immigration have always prompted the same xenophobic reaction until an acceptance arrives usually when it becomes obvious that the immigrants want to be in the country and are willing to get along. Before the Indian and Carribbean immigrants, the big scary immigrants were the Irish who have now integrated so much that most Brits don’t seem to recall the racist abuse and suspicion the Irish had to overcome. Likewise my family came over here because they liked England.

    Integration takes time and willingness from both sides. But coming from people who did this, who were patient and disproved many Irish stereotypes (for one it was tricky getting people to understand you were very anti-IRA when the IRA were seen in this country, and others, as representing the Irish), I think integration is a two way street which will ultimately work.

    11 Dec 2006, 09:21

  2. My thoughts exactly, Vib.

    xx

    11 Dec 2006, 10:28

  3. Allan Smith

    You’ve pretty much hit the nail square on the head there.

    I can’t help but cringe when you hear about people saying immigrants should fully integrate into ‘our’ ways and customs or leave. Who is this ‘we’ exactly, because I’d rather not associate myself with them.

    11 Dec 2006, 10:54

  4. Hero

    Why do you seem to associate integration with enforced integration Allan?

    I think the PM was referring to people who come here, hating the country, hating its values whilst taking advantage of them, and trying to bully the british public into changing the local culture into one that is an exaggerated fantasy version of the originating one.

    I have no problem with British Muslims or British anythings who understand the country and propose changes through democracy, or indeed non-british anythings who move here and contribute in the same way.

    This is different from people coming here and trying to enforce sharia law or equivalents. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if I moved to Spain and started saying that everyone was racist and should be killed and then try and impose a house of commons and English as the first language. People would think I was bonkers, ignorant and naive, yet some of the muslims I worked with in Birmingham were sympathetic to this idea. I could usually separate the ‘if I was in charge x would happen’ from the real hatred, but sometimes it was there.

    There is a problem with people who are non-british, and non-white british that equates white skin with racism, and you can’t do much to change that, but when that starts to change into a real racism, then those people should be deal with in the same way white racists are.

    11 Dec 2006, 11:26

  5. Allan Smith

    Hero: I was pretty much going off on my own little tangent in all honesty.

    11 Dec 2006, 12:54

  6. I understand what you’re saying Allan, that hostility when making people understand the importance of integrating isn’t helpful to anyone. That kind of attitude will only make the minority less willing to embrace their new environment, thereby annoying people more. But there are some things I agree with, the main one being that you must learn the language. I know a family who moved to Belgium years ago, but have never bothered to learn French or Dutch. And their children were always sent to international schools with an American curriculum so they haven’t learnt either. That’s something that I find ridiculous. My dad came to England at the age of 15 barely speaking any English, but through a combination of support from the local school he enrolled at and family encouragement he was soon fluent. Language is one of the key aspects of understanding a culture, so when the government insists that those immigrating into Britain learn English they’re not asking for too much.

    But by the same token, it should be appreciated that a lot of us do have other languages which we will continue to speak. I grew up learning to speak English and Gujarati simultaneously, with no detriment to my fluency in either. But from the age of about 11 my parents stopped allowing my brother and I to speak English in the house, because all our interactions outside the house: school, sports clubs etc were in English and they were worried we’d end up phasing out Gujarati. This doesn’t mean we were turning our back on everything English by any means, and I thank them for their decision to this day. I’m still perfectly fluent in English, but I’m also still fluent in Gujarati and have since learnt Hindi too. The fact that all four of us in my family speak the same three languages strengthens the relationships that have made me so ‘integrated’. It means my parents feel like we’re in touch with the culture they grew up in, and my brother and I feel like our parents relate to the one we’re living in now.

    (Sorry people, that turned into much more of a rant than intended!)

    V xx

    11 Dec 2006, 14:23

  7. Keeping in touch with a non-British culture shouldn’t mean rejecting British culture, look how easily British culture absorbes parts of other cultures! But I was wondering – what do your family do if a non-Gujarati speaker comes to visit the house?

    11 Dec 2006, 16:57

  8. Haha, then we switch to English… If we carried on in Gujarati that’d just be rude!

    V xx

    11 Dec 2006, 18:02

  9. Sarah pointed me to your blog. I completely agree with you. Integration cannot be a one-way street. There must be understanding on both sides for it to be successful. I’m just glad that you come from such a positive family background. Maybe you can help others achieve the same level of contentment.

    My grandmother was an immigrant in the 1930s. She always spoke with a strong accent and retained many of her Jewish (though not religious) roots but also functioned very happily for almost 80 years in her adopted country. There’s no reason it can’t work equally well for everyone coming into Britain as long as both sides are willing to compromise and work on the relationship a bit.

    Zoe

    12 Dec 2006, 09:45

  10. Paul Hunter

    I must commend you Ms Patel on a really well written blog. I hope lots of people read it and take something from it. I think we all can. I also have to commend Mr. Blair on what was actually a very meaningful speach (haven’t heard one of those from a politician for a while).
    I think you’re right that the key word is respect from both parties. Come on guys, how hard is it? And I wonder if I’m also being a bit naive and over-simplifying things by saying its a matter of education? Again for both sides. The so called ‘natives’ should be educated to respect ‘immigrants’ (just like they are taught to respect their elders or respect women), and I agree that the ‘immigrants’ should at least learn the language of the ‘natives’, even if you don’t speak it all the time. And by the way, I’m not just talking about foreigners learning English, I’m most infuriated by ex-pats not learning Spanish or whatever. Ignorance is not bliss, its stupid and will likely land you in a big pile of goo.

    12 Dec 2006, 17:37

  11. anonymous

    I can’t believe you just wrote that, last night I dreamt that my sister had a baby and they called it Goo….but she said it had to be pronounced with a French accent.

    14 Dec 2006, 09:20

  12. James

    Sarus. Bo sarus, even, to the original post.

    14 Dec 2006, 16:12

  13. Jigar

    Firstly, lol @ James.

    Secondly, I can relate to much of Vibhuti’s post. I do believe integration means mutual respect. I feel the majority of people would agree with this: certainly there is unanimity in the comments here.

    However, a more pertinent question would be how to promote mutual respect. Many immigrants see UK foreign policy as an obstacle to this mutual respect and refuse to be convinced otherwise. Some immigrant communities are underperforming by a long way in terms of education, housing and employment. This also forms a barrier. Second and third generations of immigrants in these ghettoised communities, who in many cases have few aspirations, do not see the benefit of mutual respect.

    The problem is not one-sided: the popularity of the BNP in some areas is evidence that there are British people who are not at all welcoming to immigrants. Clearly, there are people who have no interest in respecting others. I don’t know the answers, but I am optimistic that people will believe in mutual respect and integration as its natural consequence.

    14 Dec 2006, 18:43

  14. Anonymous person, did you eat cheese before going to bed?! That is one odd dream…!

    James, thanks! (or should I say aabhaar?)

    I like your optimism Jigar :o) I certainly hope that respect comes through as a natural consequence. It’s tough to convince yourself when there are still people like the BNP out there, but we can only hope that over time our undeniably multicultural society will finally see some more widespread integration and harmony.

    You raise that reoccurring point of ‘ghettoised communities’, though. Having never really experienced one, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to comment. Bbut I’d love to get views from people who may have grown up in areas which were predominantly made up of one ethnic minority community, whether you were a part of that community or not.

    V xx

    14 Dec 2006, 20:49

  15. Jigar

    Yeh, I have to admit that my knowledge of ‘ghettoised communities’ is second hand. However, I came across a report by ODPM (now known as Communities and Local Government) a while back which I found quite convincing.

    14 Dec 2006, 22:29

  16. Very well written and thought out Vibhuti, an excellent blog post.

    15 Dec 2006, 05:51

  17. James

    Jigar, I hope you meant lol “with” James, not at him …. ;-)

    I wrote about multiculturalism here:

    http://cricketandcivilisation.blogspot.com/search?q=Sze

    I think it’s very hard to generalise about immigrant communities, which indeed is a basic argument against racism: it is impossible to make generalisations about any given individual based on arbitrary factors such as ethnic origin etc.

    That said, there are a few obvious things one might mention in passing, such as that learning the language of the country in which you live is a basic requirement for getting on in that country. Others are nowhere near as tolerant as the British, who shelve out substantial amounts of taxpayers’ money on official translators and different language versions of official documents; seems to me that money would be better spent if at all on English language teaching. After all, vast numbers of other immigrants put the English language high on the list of reasons for coming here.

    Secondly, well-meaning steps can go too far, such as the ‘pledge’ certain police forces were required to sign (the particular example refers to the North Wales force, but I understand others have done similar things) committing themselves to show respect not just for different cultures but any kind of difference – different attitudes, views, values etc. Ludicrous. Respect for everyone equals respect for no-one. I don’t respect Ian Huntley’s views on child murder, for example. I don’t respect the cultural practice of female genital mutilation, nor the caste system, nor unbalanced marriage laws which allow husbands to hold the whip hand when it comes to divorce. Nor do I respect the views of Mr Tai in relation to wife beating, which I set out in the post linked to above.

    I would like to think, however, that that still leaves a broad scope of views that I would accept and tolerate (and the fact that I happen to know a bit of Gujarati might give you a clue that I practice what I preach ….) all manner of different cultures and customs.

    15 Dec 2006, 10:54

  18. petey

    If I moved to ireland I would drink guinness, bet on horses and wear brown suits, so I don’t know why these foreign bods don’t want to drink tea, wear pinstripes and a bowler hat. What’s wrong with them!

    (mind you I was torn in Amsterdam I wore clogs and pigtails to a gay bar.. whew what a night!)

    15 Dec 2006, 14:05

  19. Jigar

    Was definitely laughing with you, James, and at the fact most people reading the comment won’t know what you meant.

    Sorry if you felt I was making generalisations. The ODPM report does not make conclusions or suggest solutions, it only states facts: facts about education, housing and employment, and the density of minority communities across regions. When there are significant differences between the proportion of people within communities entering higher education or gaining employment, and also differences across genders, I do think it is is possible to infer something from this.

    That does not mean stereotyping people; that would be a negative, and indeed mistaken, use of the evidence. When you look at the evidence, there are huge discrepancies across communities. Take unemployment figures, for example. The national unemployment rate for over-25’s is 4%, and the figure for the Jewish community is also 4%. The figure for the Muslim community is 14%. This is not a generalisation but a fact. A policy which notes these changes is not guilty of stereotyping, it is making good use of evidence.

    15 Dec 2006, 14:55

  20. Jigar

    I do understand where people are coming from when they say nobody should not be categorised according to a single factor such as ethnicity. We know ethnicity isn’t the root of the problem, so why should it even be considered? There are movements, notably the New Generation Network, which seek to demote the practice of grouping communities by faith and ethnicity, and which want the MCB, HFB, etc, to become lobby groups rather than representative groups. I, however, believe these groups should still have a representation function simply because there are problems faced by whole communities rather than by individuals; this has been shown by reports such as the one I have mentioned.

    (Apologies for sidetracking this discussion, especially since the theme seems to be personal experience rather than policy.)

    15 Dec 2006, 15:37

  21. Jigar

    Correction in first sentence: should read ”...nobody should be categorised…”

    15 Dec 2006, 15:38

  22. James

    I knew you were, just teasing .... :-)

    You are right that it is valid to look at the data on housing, unemployment etc but I’m sure you’ll agree it is a tricky thing trying to work out cause and effect. That is, whether the fact that fewer Jewish than Muslim people within the community is connected in a causal sense to the fact that one group are Jewish and the other Muslim. After all, Judaism and Islam are both religions that might encompass many different ethnic groups, and also a wide range of immigration stages – 1st generation, 2nd generation and so forth. The latter is particularly so in regard to Jewish people, some of whom would be fiftieth generation British or more and who would have had a totally different experience from second generation immigrants.

    Similiarly with Muslims – some, like my former flatmate, will be first generation Britsh whose parents were part of the East African middle class expelled in the early 70s. I am fairly sure that ex-flattie has had a very different life from those who came here under impoverished circumstances more recently.

    One could go on. I haven’t read the report you refer to, but so many social reports I have seen over the years seem to have begun with a very clear idea of where they wanted to end up; that is, they seem to want to lump everything as the fault of group X or attitude Y, and seek the data to suit.

    15 Dec 2006, 15:46

  23. How does that saying go? There are lies, damn lies and statistics…

    It’s an interesting point you raise James and Jigar about the effect of the way in which stats on matters such as ethnicity are presented. It is absolutely true that the experiences of people who are the third or fourth generation of their minority community will be totally different to those who have recently come over. Communities such as the Jewish community, and Indians who came via East Africa in the 60s and 70s have had a long time to adapt and adjust to life here, their children have been born here and are an integral part of society. So of course it’s going to look like these communities are better integrated that, say, the Polish community who have just arrived. But stats can be (and are) spun different ways by different people. And you can start to categorise people in whatever way you want too: by country, continent, language, religion…then add some sterotypes to each and you’ve got media heaven!

    James, your point about language is inspired. Those people who came here back in the 60s and 70s had no choice but to learn English. There was no way they would have been able to function if they hadn’t. But ironically, using the benefits of having such bilingual people, official bodies are now busy translating all information into whatever language you want. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that some things need to be translated so that new immigrants can get important things sorted. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enforcing English lessons for those that can ‘t speak it (see previous comments re: learning languages). For one thing, if we begun to understand each other then explaining all those cultural differences that make up our melting pot of a society would be so much easier…

    V xx

    16 Dec 2006, 00:44

  24. Jigar

    Vib, completely agree with you on the point of translating official documents. People can, and do, live in this country without endeavouring to learn its language. It’s sad.

    I concede that correlation does not imply causation, which is the impression I appear to have given. However, I think Twain’s quote on statistics has become so trite that the value of statistics is often ignored. I do not believe you can simply ignore these statistics with vague statements about media exploitation and manipulation of statistics. Especially if a range of reports agree. Yes, judge them critically. But no, it’s not a huge conspiracy.

    James, the reason you give regarding differences in generation may account for a difference in employment figures. But without looking far you find that the rate of unemployment for Muslims is at least double that of every other group, and that this cannot be reconciled by differences in timing of immigration. Also, the Muslim community has by far the largest difference between male and female employment. Does that mean all the Muslim men first immigrated to this country, and the women followed decades later?

    In an ideal world, you can ignore what may be thought to be irrelevant factors such as ethnicity, race, religion, etc. But that isn’t feasible in real life. My point is that engaging with minority groups is important when they appear to face problems as communities, and to do this you need to understand the problems they face as communities. The government can’t meaningfully work with organisations such as HFB, MCB, etc, without understanding what issues are of concern to their members.

    I’m sure it’s possible to completely ignore ethnicity, race, religion, etc, completely in policy-making. But at the same time you would be sacrificing an important means of engaging with those groups, whose members may share similar concerns or problems. It’s not about stereotyping and fuelling the media (though these may be unintended consequences); it’s about more actively engaging with people who choose to identify themselves with certain groups.

    I think this will be my last post on this topic – must do some work – but I’m always happy to hear your responses!

    17 Dec 2006, 18:28

  25. Adam

    As other people have said – you’ve hit the nail on the head there.

    Good reading!

    17 Dec 2006, 21:30

  26. James

    Jiqar I don’t think actually there’s that much difference between us; I was merely urging caution against reading too much into statistics, which was a pretty trite comment at the end of the day. I too wasn’t going to post much more on the subject, though over the weekend there was this interesting story which seemed relevant to a number of points in this thread: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-2508040,00.html

    The author, who is of Bengali origin and hails from the East End, writes that “more than £100m was spent in the past year on translating and interpreting for British residents who don’t speak English. In the name of multiculturalism, one Home Office-funded community centre alone provides these services in 76 languages.

    According to BBC’s Newsnight last week, local councils spend at least £25m on these services, the police £21m, the courts system more than £10m and the National Health Service accounts for £55m at a conservative estimate.

    The financial cost is bad enough, but there is a wider problem about the confused signals we are sending to immigrant communities. We are telling them they don’t have to learn English, let alone integrate. ... The evidence is plain to anyone who visits Brick Lane in the East End of London. In the Bangladeshi community from which I come, English is a foreign language. Restaurants, shops and doctors’ surgeries all cater to a population that speaks Bengali or Sylheti. ... Every year Bangladeshis sit at the bottom of rankings of educational achievement.”

    The rest of the article includes some rather unfortunate rants against favoured media bugbears, but my own observations confirm the point about language, as others have made here already. I might compare the experience of my better half (who spoke only Gujarati in the home but only English at school), who went on to get a professional degree, and her mother, who worked at a level far below her capabilities because (she came to the UK as an adult with virtually no English), she had never gained confidence in the language.

    18 Dec 2006, 10:14

  27. Thanks for providing a link to that Times article, James.

    It’s a very interesting read: have a look if you haven’t already.

    To quote the article:
    ”...schools today seem intent on celebrating differences, I’m not convinced this helps. We seem to have absorbed the idea, almost unthinkingly, that acknowledging our differences is a step towards overcoming them…”

    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with acknowledging differences, but let’s do it in English! As I think I’ve mentioned before, when you can communicate effectively you stand a better chance of understanding one another. As for the school thing: I went to a Catholic school but it didn’t make me any less of a Hindu. My parents just wanted me to have a good education, so what if I read the Bible and sang hymns? They understood that it was their responsibility to teach me my faith, not the school’s. Besides which, this is a Christian country at the end of the day, is it not?! Let’s celebrate our differences, but not by passing judgement on those who are different. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in school children learning to wish each other a Happy Christmas, Diwali, Eid or Hannukah, but the minute you start letting kids have different days off because of these, you start on a slippery slope towards a divided community.

    As for the language thing, those stats on interpretation costs are shocking. How ironic that the government should spend so much money on something that ultimately will be detrimental to society. And James and the Times article have both commented, allowing the language barrier to remain in place means that people cannot achieve their full potential, which means we’re all missing out on the benefits of their education, training and skills.

    V xx

    19 Dec 2006, 14:20

  28. James

    Amen to that. And Merry Xmas, and Sal Mubarak while I’m about it. Enjoy Winterval as well. I recommend that Catholic inspired creation Chateauneuff du pape, while you’re about it.

    19 Dec 2006, 15:09

  29. Allan Smith

    Let’s not forget the Festivus for the rest of us. I got a lot of grievances to air this year.

    19 Dec 2006, 15:50

  30. anonymous

    Me too. Rudeness on Warwick Blogs, rudeness and vindictiveness on Warwick blogs etc. etc.

    21 Dec 2006, 09:04

  31. Down with rudeness, vintictiveness, intolerance and over-analysed ‘political correctness’ – it’s the festive season!

    So Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Eid Mubarak and a Happy New Year to all those celebrating…and to all those who aren’t too :o)

    V xx

    21 Dec 2006, 10:07

  32. Allan Smith

    And now for the feats of strength. Who’s wrestling first?

    21 Dec 2006, 12:20

  33. Shankar Jayaram

    Nadia Yusuf is of Pakistani origin. Her father is second generation, grown up in London. Her Mother is first generation from Lahore. Nadia is a devout Muslim, wears salwar kameez and speaks punjabi with her parents. She only supports the Pakistan cricket team. Yet she is certain of one thing “looking at my features and skin, you might think otherwise, but I am English and nothing else”.

    Another interesting question: There is a clamour for immigrants to be more British. Fair enough. But what about all those people who refer to themselves only as English, Scottish or Welsh? Shouldnt they also be more British?

    25 Dec 2006, 17:54


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