Monday, October 29, 2007

Mad Malik the very important person

So Shahid Malik, one of Labour's least objectionable Ministers, has been stopped and searched at a US airport - again - after speaking at a series of meetings on tackling terrorism.

The International Development Minister was searched, detained and had his luggage checked for explosives. Someone should have told them that government Ministers, just like drugs barons, get their mules to carry the merchandise from country to country. He may be Minister for selling weapons to poor countries but that doesn't mean he'll have an MI6 tucked into his satchel.

Malik was understandably miffed that he'd been singled out not once, but twice "I am deeply disappointed," he said. "The abusive attitude I endured last November I forgot about and I forgave, but I really do believe that British ministers and parliamentarians should be afforded the same respect and dignity at USA airports that we would bestow upon our colleagues in the Senate and Congress."

The pompous "don't they know who I am" attitude aside if, as a highly respectable member of the government of America's key ally, he can receive slightly degrading treatment every time he goes through customs how does he think the thousands of other suspiciously Muslim looking persons travelling to and from the US every day feel?

Malik has previous form for getting rough treatment from the law when he was previously duffed up by Burnley Police as he tried to calm local tensions. Malik, who was on Labour's NEC at the time, said "The riot shields were smashed in my face, causing four to five stitches above the eye, a black eye, lacerations to the arm, bruises on the back of the head, on the body and on the legs." Mr Malik said he had fallen unconscious before being taken to hospital in handcuffs. Such is the lot of the first Asian Minister.

Before you jump to conclusions these weren't class conscious coppers angered by the government's continuing privatisation of public services but were instead worked up and keen on beating up black people safe in the knowledge that they had government carte blanche - or so they thought.

Malik's continual brushes with racist authority figures clearly irks him - but he still insists on thinking that the main question is whether he should be afforded special treatment. He seems less vocal on whether every other dark skinned person should be stopped and searched at US airports.

At the same time the Tories are getting on the immigration bandwagon again. I rather wish they wouldn't.

19 comments:

Sue Luxton said...

Er, Jim, did you mean to put a link to a BNP website in this article?!

Jim Jay said...

Er, no. I should have looked more closely. I knew the story I was looking for and just reproduced the first reiteration of it that google found for me... which as you spotted was a racist blog. Something I didn't notice. Hmpf.

I've now altered it to a link to the BBC news story on the same story.

Thanks for letting me know.

Paul said...

Hi Jim,

I can understand your dislike of both Tories and bandwagons (I generally share both). But I would like to know your position on immigration. What the Tories - and Labour - are currently doing is responding to a very high level of concern in the country on this issue: which, of course, is the job of an elected politician.

Opinion polls are placing immigration as the number one concern of people nationwide right now. This can't all be put down to the right wing media. I find it worrying - this is a classic breeding ground for the right right. But it's one that has been encouraged by the left's long-term inability to discuss the issue at all, beyond cliches about immigration being 'a good thing', or suggestions that limiting it is inherently 'racist.'

There's a good article in the Graun by Jackie Ashley today on this, and the comments beneath it are often interesting. They put a number of good points across about why the left should be concerned about immigration - its foundation in the neoliberal need for cheap labour; the importance of community cohesion; strains on the welfare state; ghettoisation leading to human rights abuses and fewer chances for the children of immigrants. These things, in my view, need to be addressed. And if the intelligent left can't come up with some convincing answers, you can be sure the far right will.

So ... you may not like 'bandwagons', but where do you stand? Is all immigration good? Or is it nuanced? Are current levels too high? Are you for open borders? How would you address growing public concern? Because I don't think just having a pop at the Tories is going to be enough any more.

Paul said...

Sorry, I meant to post the link to the Ashley piece:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2202162,00.html

Paul said...

Sorry again! It was Jenni Russell who wrote that piece. Thought it was a bit too interesting for Jackie Ashley. I must have some coffee.

Jim Jay said...

My stance on immigration? Well I'll give you the short version as it's a long subject.

I'm for no borders. None at all.

I don't think lines on a map are an intelligent way to determine a person's legal status.

So for instance on the deportation of foreign criminals, I'm opposed. If someone rapes here, they should be given the appropriate sentance for the crime regardless of their nationality and that's it. Deporting a "rapist" does not make it less likely that they will rape again.

If people feel that a sentance is to lenient then they should lobby for something they feel more appropriate, rather than somehow imply that it's better to be raped by an Englishman than a foreigner.

Historically immigration has been a knee jerk policy for the Tories, playing to the "safe ground" but it's bandwagon that will sit ill at ease with Cameron's attempts to paint himself as a progressive.

Paul said...

Well, at least that's clear.

Do you not accept that cultural issues have any role to play in this discussion at all, then? When people express concerns about cultural identity, do you just assume them to be racist?

Do you regard the current concern about immigration as something 'whipped up' by Tories? Do real peoples' experiences play no part in it? Are they just dupes of the right?

Do you see any problems with the inevitable social tensions that are caused by a mass movement of very diverse populations across borders, and the resulting language/cultural tensions that result? Or is concern about that just racism too?

Do you see ghettoisation of communities as a problem - not least for those immigrants in the ghettoes, who end up with far fewer opportunities than the majority population? Do you not see the ghettoisation of society as inimical to social harmony and justice?

Finally - even assuming none of these are problems in your eyes - how will a welfare state be maintained with an open borders policy? Who will be taxed to pay for it, and who will receive its benefits? How would it retain its legitimacy, or even function? This must be a crucial question for anyone on the left. Open borders and a welfare state cannot possibly go together, under any model. So which do you choose?

Jim Jay said...

"When people express concerns about cultural identity, do you just assume them to be racist?" Do I? I think that depends on what their concerns are and how they express themselves.

Actually I don't believe racism is a zero sum game. I'm happy to keep open dialogue with someone who I think hold some racist ideas and I think people can be good on some questions whilst being poor on others. That doesn't mean I think discussing immigration with fascists is a good use of my time. Where the line is drawn will always be a matter of judgement and mood.

I don't think people are dupes of the right on this. I think the right are playing to the worst aspects of the gallery. I believe it is better to try to promote understanding not play to people's fears.

Social tensions are not inevitable. I live in a very diverse area with is defending itself on the veryy basis of its diversity. We like it. Social tensions come into being by those who want them to come into being.

I'm not sure exactly what you're refering to when you're mention ghettoisation - but let's take wages for instance. Eastern European workers (in some trades, say farm labourers) will work for less money than local workers. Much of this is down to the fact that the cost of living in their home countries is less and they only intend to be here for a short period to make as much money as they can.

This can have the effect of undercutting wages - driving them all down and leaving those workers themselves living in very poor conditions.

Now the answer to this, in my view, is a strong trade union movement who can ensure that everyone gets a decent living wage / conditions and recruits these immigrants into the trade union movement. The discourse of protecting "us" from "them" actually undercuts our ability to build a united union movement.

On the welfare state if we truly had an open borders model then it would not be confined to one country - but an international phenomenon - health educations et al can be organised on an international level with a mixture of local, national level and international decision making in my view.

The welfare state in this country, in particular health, has benefitted enormously from immigration. In fact I'd go so far to say that a harsher immigration regime would severely limit the NHS's effectiveness.

Paul said...

I have to say, Jim, that the idea of an 'international welfare state' is a serious pipe dream. How would that work? Presumably you'd also need a world government to administer it.

The problem I have here is this: there are already rising communal tensions in this country due to the current level of immigration. I live in a very diverse area too, and plenty of people rub along fine, but it's noticeably more tense than it has been in the past. There are many non-English speakers, and people of all communities - who increasingly do not understand each other and have less and less in common - are noticeably becoming more ghettoised, as they retreat to the safety of what they know.

'Open borders' would naturally increase immigrtation hugely, as vast numbers of poorer people came to the UK, quite sensibly and understandably, to seek a better life. This would increase tensions hugely. Immigration is a process of cultural mixing. It works well when it's controlled, so that both immigrants and the host community have time to mix and meld and change together. It works very badly when the change is too fast and people feel overwhelmed by differnce and things they don't understand. That leads, inevitably, to a rise in the popularity of the far right.

In my view, then, 'open borders' is a deeply irresponsible idea. It's a virtual invitation to the far right to grow in strength and numbers. You may as well cut out the middle man and just vote BNP. Far better to control immigration sensibly for the benefit of all - and also to promote integration rather than 'multicultural' ghettoes in which people are defined by their skin colour and background rather than their worth as individuals.

Jim Jay said...

Am I irresposnsible? Perhaps. But what is clear is that the current system is inhuman. The treatment of asylum seekers vile and the witch hunting of those from overseas in the right wing press stomache turning.

Now of course there are many sensible people who I respect who do not agree with me on open borders. I'm happy to have a constructive debate with these people - but I actually believe it is segregation that heightens support for the BNP, not intergration.

The BNP gains the highest votes in sinking white areas that do not have a high proportion of ethnic minorities. The willingness of white voters in areas with a broader cultural mix to vote BNP is far lower precisely because they have a better understanding of what cultural diversity can mean - I think.

It seems to me that a genuinely multicultural ghetto would not see people being defined by their ethnic origin - and I suspect that where tensions arise it is more due to marginalisation, poverty and narrow mindedness than a simple cultural clash.

That's my view. Personally I think the culture is at its best in this country when it is at its most accepting, where the old and the new come together in interesting new forms. That's the kind of culture I'd like to promote.

Paul said...

I'm not saying you're irresponsible personally Jim - and I can see the motivation behind open borders. It's just that I think a good motivation, in this case, leads to bad results.

I agree that segregation, rather than integration, is the problem. But segregation, to me, is exactly what 'multiculturalism' implies. It's in the name - rather than us all becoming British citizens, united regardless of colour or background, we are separated into 'multiple cultures' within one country - and encouraged to think that this is somehow 'anti-racist' or 'progressive'. It's the opposite: divisive and implicitly racist.

The left has bought into this big time and it has played a role in atomising society - precisely the kind of atomisation that pulls us apart rather than together, and which makes the kind of solidairty you want to see so much harder. Multiculturalism fails to challenge ghettoes - fails to challenge those who don't want to learn English, for example, or teach their kids to mix in wider society or mix themselves. fails to demand integration. It instead suggests that there is no 'British culture' into which people can integrate, and that to require integration is to oppress minorities. Hence the ghettoes; hence the rising popularity of the BNP, and those Daily Mail headlines you hate.

The trouble with open borders is, as I say, that it will leads to millions of people flooding into Britain. Those people will be poor and thus entitled to benefits - precisely the thing that aggravates the white working class. They will speak little or no English and have little or no knowledge of UK culture. They will, naturally, band together, creating new ghettoes. It's a recipe for conflagration.

I don't doubt your sincerity, but I do think the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Jim Jay said...

I don't mind at all if you do want to call me irresponsible... I can tend that way sometimes - but I also think it's best to aim high.

I'm aware there is an interesting discussion around the term "multiculturalism" although it's not one I've dipped into often despite my usual prediliction for semantics.

I agree with you, I think, on some debates on the left actually entrench divides rather than bridge them, although I think diversity is a good and useful term which does not imply a set ethnic segregation.

I believe that most non-English speaking immigrants want to learn english and do what they can to make this happen. Extra funding for english classes would not go amiss, although i'm aware that the centrally dictated courses often leave something to be desired.

I guess in essence I think immigrants don't need to be forced to integrate - this will happen naturally - but there are barriers to that integration which I believe need to come down. Some of them are cultural.

I think my main difficulty with the idea that immigrants come here to claim benefits is that it's not really borne out by the facts as they stand. Most immigrants work. The government's a bit embarressed about that at the moment as half the new jobs in the last few years have gone to immigrants but it does rather challenge the idea that they come here to claim rather than contribute.

With open borders you also need a more international taxation system, work and legal system - I agree. Open borders may well be a pipe dream, but certainly it is possible to make the immigration and asylum system more human centred one.

Paul said...

Hi Jim,

I wasn't saying immigrants come to claim benefits. That may be true of some, but I doubt most. And yes, many do want to integrate. Some don't. But within a managed immigration system these are problems that can be ironed out. Open borders will cause an immediate and vast flood of newcomers. It will also destroy the welfare state, which is predicated on British citizens paying taxes for services which they then receive. Add these two things together and you get chaos.

I agree the asylum system is inhumane, but remember that immigrants and asylum seekers are very different things. I just think we need a more mature debate on immigration that addresses real concerns (most of them in the working class communities you presumably want to motivate for international solidarity!) rather than dismissing those concerns as bandwagon jumping.

Jim Jay said...

Well I was saying that the Tories are jumping on the bandwagon - which i think they are - rather than anyone who has a view that immigration should be curbed, or whatever.

The thing is about the real concerns of working class communities some of them are real and some aren't. And some of the problems are not caused by immigrants but are suffered by them, and expose them - making them more visable.

Take homelessness. Homeless people are a problem sometimes. This is a real concern in my community, which has a large concentration of "street life" relative to cambridge. The solution is to help homeless people not single them out as problems. Although as individuals they will have to suffer thre consequences of acts they commit.

I think there is a similar (although different) force at play with immigration. Immigrants get blamed as the visible face of a problem - but it doesn't mean they cause that problem, any more than in the sense that homeless people "cause" homelessness.

Paul said...

Certainly immigrants are scapegoated sometimes for things they are not responsible for; something that needs to be battled with facts. It's always tough being an immigrant - especially a poor one - and we need to make sure they are treated well. That's why a fair immigration system is needed.

In my view, the key tensions caused by immigration are a combination of two things: a minority of immigrants who do not want to integrate into wider society, and the misplaced 'multiculturalism' thoughtlessly offered up by the left, which encourages them not to do so.

The problem we have with radical Islam is a classic example of this. Many - probably most - British Muslims are well integrated members of society. But plenty of others have made a conscious effort not to become part of it. Urdu is their first language and their 'real' home is Pakistan, even if they were born here. Their politics are sexist, homophobic and reactionary. Women are treated as fourth class citizens. 'The West' is treated with contempt, even while they are part of it.

A white man expressing these views would be condemned by the left as a fascist bigot. 'Multiculturalism', however, tells us that we must 'understand' these views as part of some 'other' culture to which we are not party and must not interfere. The end result, ironically, is racism: behaviour we would not tolerate from a white man becomes acceptable in a brown one; and brown-skinned women can be abused in the name of 'religion' and 'culture' without any interference from us liberal whities.

This is the real problem, and it's not a small one - 36% of young Muslims in Britain believe that those who leave Islam should be murdered, for example. We have allowed this situation to develop, because we have not stood firm enough behind the liberal tolerant values that we supposedly believe in. In the name of tolerance, we have allowed the mass flowering of intolerance. The victims have been those in immigrant communities who are powerless to resist the reactionary patriachies which control them. And that's our fault.

Jim Jay said...

"In my view, the key tensions caused by immigration are..." ha, I was just going to ask what you thought they were - you've pre-empted me! However, I think the two things you list are both the same point - integration.

So for some "Urdu is their first language and their 'real' home is Pakistan, even if they were born here." There are very, very few people who were born here who can't speak English. Certainly not enough to be socially significant.

But for those who have Urdu (or whatever) as their first language then that is a fact, not a choice. If someone has difficulty learning a new language then if you want them to learn you need to help them - and that includes welcoming them into the community, not treating them as a pariah if they don't yet speak english.

"Their politics are sexist, homophobic and reactionary." Well, there are plenty of English people like this, the fact that the UK has a strong progressive current that has helped to drag some of these people into the 21st century is a good thing - and the more people who are exposed to this the better. But you can't expect someone who is, say, homophobic to stop being homophobic without being exposed to a less homophobic culture. It may be a "painful" experience to encounter people with different views, but unless your advocating a political correctness test for those entering into the country there's little can be done to circumvent this process.

"A white man expressing these views would be condemned by the left as a fascist bigot." Well I'm on the left and I haven't condemned you as a fascist bigot. It doesn't mean I agree with you though.

The fact that some people on the left are stupid, rude or dogmatic should be no surprise, particualrly as all political currents have their over enthusiasts. But it is my experience that some people who oppose "multiculturalism" come in with all guns blazing and then get upset that they meet with a robust response.

"36% of young Muslims in Britain believe that those who leave Islam should be murdered," This is rubbish. Where did this info come from?

This is the where your argument is dangerously weak. I think underlying it is an exageration of the amount of control the communities have over their members and overplaying the lack of integration. It's process that takes time - but I hope it's one that changes the culture in this country into a more accepting, more tolerant society and I think it has the potential to do that.

Paul said...

I think maybe we're straying a bit from the original debate. My overall point was that controlling immigration is crucial for community cohesion. You don't agree, which is fine, though I think you're dangerously wrong on that.

The reason I bring up radical Islam is that it's a frightening example of what can happen when minorities don't integrate and society doesn't require them to. As I said, most immigrants, including Muslims, do want to integrate. Obviously all new immigrants should be welcomed, made part of the community etc. As a whole I think we're actually pretty good at this as a nation, obviously with some exceptions - and we're certainly better than we used to be.

The problem arises when we begin to tolerate intolerance, and this is exactly what 'multiculturalism' has led us to. I think this is a bigger problem than you recognise. Out of this came the 7/7 bombers, and they were not the only ones. We have allowed ghettoes of reactionary nastiness to develop, in the name of 'respecting' other cultures. There is a huge amount of evidence which makes it clear that those who suffer from this are the weak within those cultures: women, homosexuals, 'apostates.'

The 36% figure, by the way, is not rubbish:

"A poll of more than 1,000 British Muslims, conducted by the Policy Exchange think-tank this year, found that 36 per cent of Muslims aged between 16 and 24 believe those who convert to another faith should be punished by death."

Here's the link:

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2170160,00.html

I don't want to turn this into a thing about Muslims though, as that's not really the point. It's just an illustration of what can happen when ghettoes are allowed to flourish. I think we need to pull together as a nation, whatever our backgrounds, but it seems that at the moment we are pulling apart.

There are no easy answers - and shrilly demanding that people change is not, as you point out, very effective. But I do think we all need to change our attitudes.

Jim Jay said...

A little bit of straying never hurt anyone, but yes, we can get back to migration control if you like.

But first statistics. Whether or not some Muslims selected by Policy Exchange (how I wonder?) said they were for what it says in the koran - and the highest proportion in a narrow demographic range was chosen to demonstrate the bishop's point - I'd also point out that there are no records of any muslims in this country being killed for leaving islam... so they can't believe it very strongly. It is not a social phenomenon - but it is a moral panic, and one that I am wary of.

Having said that I rather regretted using the word "rubbish" as it is quite strong so I'm glad you didn't take too much offence.

"The problem arises when we begin to tolerate intolerance, and this is exactly what 'multiculturalism' has led us to. I think this is a bigger problem than you recognise. Out of this came the 7/7 bombers"

I think this is a knotty problem. As racism can hide under the guise of liberalism as much as intolerance can use others tolerance as a cover. I think its about balance and analysis of specific cases as we can can get into dangerous territory if we are too sweeping.

For example I've often felt that Muslims are too deeply scrutinised over whether they are homophobic or not. In fact the default position is an assumption that they are. But is a Muslim's soft homophobia (where they have it) any worse than a Christian's or an athiest's - yet we don't go round demanding to know if they are homophobic. Hopefully I don't need to put on record that I'm opposed to discrimination against gay people - but when it actually arises.

I don't think organised religion has a great record on tolerance (which may be regarded as somewhat of an understatement in many quarters) but I'm uncomfortable with putting people on the backfoot when they haven't down anything as an individual to merit being accused of this or that intolerance. Religion and its adherants is a complex phenomenon and just cos it says this or that in the Bible, Koran or whatever does not mean their followers believe it (perhaps unfortunately)

Anyway, I'm glad that despite our differences we have been able to find some points of agreement.

Paul said...

Don't worry Jim. It's very hard to offend me! In fact, don't even get me started on the culture of being immediately 'offended' that seems to have infiltrated most discussions like this, on all sides! I'm, glad it hasn't infiltrated this one.

Anyway - yes, points of agreement are good. And I can certainly agree about organised religion and its dangers. Let's just hope that our various 'communities' can keep mixing, and not retreat into fear and anger. That's all too easily done. Discussion is the way forward!