The voice of young liberal democrats

The Rhetoric of Hate, The Immigration Debate by georgeinwashington
November 1, 2007, 4:00 pm
Filed under: immigration | Tags:

As I watch the daily procession of stories on immigration march across the front pages of the newspapers, I often wonder to myself whether politicians and public figures really understand the effect of their rhetoric on society. The academic veil of economic analysis that the government has attempted to place over the issue has done little to mask the aggressive tone and frequently bigoted character of the debate.

Politicians today believe that throwing in one sentence “immigration is of great economic benefit to the UK” can dispel any charge of prejudice. However that phrase in itself, essentially, what can they do for us when they come here, is in itself divisive and selfish, paying little regard to the immigrant themselves. We are told that we are in an immigration crisis, well crisis to me sounds like a bad thing. Immigration, said David Cameron today, needs to be brought under control. Does he mean to say that immigration today is out of control? that to me doesnt sound too good either. The front page of Migration Watch UK, the oft quoted “think tank” says that the problem is very serious indeed and we must act now to cut numbers.

This kind of negative rhetoric does nothing but promote a feeling of exclusion that immigrants are faced with, and will continue to divide society, delaying social integration. When people fear, they naturally tend to shy away from the object of these feelings. On the part of the immigrant they are less likely to interact with the same people attacking them. Imagine being told every day that you are a guest in your own home, sometimes the only home you have ever known. This is the reality that immigrants face in the UK, and I speak from experience.

I was born in Croatia to a Croatian mother and father from New Zealand, my father already having worked in Britain for a long time brought us to London when I was four months old. English was my first language. With my European complexion and without knowing my background, nobody would be able to tell that I was anything other than an Englishman. I have British citizenship but my birth certificate is still emblazoned with six burning torches and a red star. Despite being indistinguishable, I still feel excluded, because I know that when people fear immigrants changing society, taking jobs away from British people and overpopulating the country, they are talking about me.

Generations ago, the British too were immigrants, driving out the native populations of the counties they went to with violence and disease. The Aboriginal, Maori and Native American peoples have never recovered, the places that they now inhabit now some of the poorest places in the developed world. Is it not strange that one of the descendants of these invaders should feel unwelcome back in England? such is the hysteria surrounding immigration in Britain today.

For now, I am back in the former colonies, albeit a different one, the US. Of course there are huge political debates surrounding immigration here also, but once can easily sense the difference here. Despite explicitly being foreign, I only have to open my mouth for people to hear that I am not an American, I feel strangely more welcome here than the country I was brought up in.

Once again I firmly believe that the difference in attitude here comes down to politics. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights”. The commitment to this, which still to a large extent exists, gives the immigrant the confidence that comes with knowing that they have the same rights as any American. Let us not forget the protests last year where illegal immigrants protested for the right of citizenship. I simply can not imagine this protest taking place in Trafalgar Square.

This has an effect on society too, many citizens in the US take an active role in helping the transition of an immigrant and many of my friends give up their spare time to teach English to immigrants. Our generation of middle class Brits on the other hand go to teach English abroad.

Immigration will only work if we make our residents feel included in society and work hard to integrate them. This means talking to our neighbors, helping them deal with administration and government services, inviting them round for tea and helping them to understand other British cultural practices. This exchange should not be seen as an effort as it can only enrich all who take part, greatly benefiting society. It is not something that the government can do, but it is something that the government can prevent. It will certainly not happen, if politicians continue to poison the political discourse and promote the politics of fear. This will only serve to divide society and prevent the types of social interaction that can make immigration work