Monday, July 02, 2007

On multiculti - something not overly reflective

I have just travelled from the UK to Canada. Both places brag about the success of their respective brands of liberal multiculti. Interesting other parallel: both places discuss what it means to be Canadian and British, respectively. Mind you, this is a particularly popular debate also in Down Under. Just check out the cartoon on the top left from THE AGE newspaper, Melbourne's broadsheet.

They also discuss (more vigorously in the UK than in Canada) whether multiculti as we know it might have been a failure in some respects, namely in so far as it permitted migrants to withdraw into their own linguistic, cultural and religious ghettos, with all the known consequences of the radicalisation of young Muslims in the UK, the continuing inability of second and third generation Turks in Germany to speak German and so on and so forth. In Canada and South Africa there is growing concern that respect for Islamic culture might have led to a laissez fair attitude toward the abuse of Muslim girls and women (as in: that's acceptable in their culture, so we won't interfere).

I attended in Glasgow a week or two ago an event organised by the British Council. It celebrated Refugee Week (an important annual event in the UK, and a good one at that!) with a book launch. The book consisted of short essays written by migrants. All in English. Comes an African migrant who works professionally with migrants in Scotland and goes on and on and on that the book wasn't published in the various migrants' mother tongues. So very politically correct and so very idiotic at the same time. My partner, who happens to be Mexican and a native Spanish speaker, couldn't believe what he was hearing. After all, virtually nobody in the UK would have been able to read any of this mother tongue stuff, so what's the point of such an exercise (an expensive one that that)? I could see though, why someone who makes a living from supporting migrants would not be too keen to actually enable them to live their own lives by means of facilitating English language classes for them, for instance... after all the more they remain stuck in their linguistic and cultural ghetto the more there will be demand for the support industry that is feeding him. A good counter example perhaps is a Burundian friend of mine. He came to the UK a couple of years ago with (according to his account) 30 GBP in his pocket. He worked day and night in menial jobs to support himself, learned English as quickly as he could, and importantly socialised with the local Scots as well as other Burundians. Eventually he found his first full-time job, and enrolled in a part-time college degree course at the same time. By now, due to hard work and smart choices aimed at becoming a self-sustaining member of the British society as opposed to a member of some idealised African ghetto within British society, he managed to get himself a reasonable well paid professional job in London. A few weeks back he became a British citizen.

The UK came up with something quite sensible, I think. It asks non-EU migrants who wants to remain indefinitely in the UK to take a 'Life in the UK' test. While one can bicker about some of the questions, at the end of the exercise most migrants will know the basics about how the country operates and what its values are. Not a bad thing - mind you, most young Brits would probably fail the test...

As someone who has lived most of his adult life outside his country of birth (admittedly not as a refugee but as a probably somewhat privileged academic), I am quite convinced that - the usually rightly maligned - conservatives both in Canada and in the UK are onto something with their rejection of special dispensations for cultures that do not take women's civil rights seriously, and with their demand that migrants learn the local language ASAP if they wish to stick around. How can one possibly live together if one doesn't even understand each other!

Getting off my soap box just now, promised :). Thanks for tuning in anyway!

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