Monday, 7 December 2015

Take off that veil and integrate

The horror of yet another gun attack by the so-called disenfranchised aka terrorists as a couple in America go on their deadly rampage. The media provides important information on their pasts- one born in the States, one born in Pakistan. Despite his Western upbringing, the husband imports and marries an ultra-conservative Muslim. I can't get my head around these people who are born in the West but for some unfathomable reason hanker for their roots to such an extent that they reject the values, traditions and customs of the First World. If I am completely honest and this is very un-PC, I find the whole thing quite vile. I am not being a snob or a racist in making such a statement but I do not understand how immigrants can show the finger to their hosts by enjoying all the benefits of living in the West (such as the simple luxury of having potable water running in the taps, good medical care, public transport etc) and yet refusing to assimilate.

There is a very disparaging description used by blacks to criticise their ilk who adopt Western thinking: coconut- black on the outside, white on the inside. Such a criticism is complete and utter garbage- what way should British-born blacks behave? Should they join a gang and perpetuate the stereotype? Those who have West Indian parents probably find it the easiest to integrate given the colonial history of the British-speaking Caribbean but to always point the finger and declare that one is defined by one's skin colour is just plain ignorant.

Obama and Oprah Winfrey are both black and they have excelled in a country that is supposedly anti-black. Oprah's childhood was dirt poor and she grew up in the deep south of America- she could not have been more disadvantaged if she had tried! I'm no fan of Oprah Winfrey (or Obama for that matter) but you have to admire her for what she has achieved. She certainly doesn't run around in a boubou (traditional African Kaftan) spouting back-to-her-roots rhetoric. Instead she recently posted photos of her Thanksgiving celebrations (a feast first introduced in the 17th century by white pilgrims - immigrants - in America) because she defines herself as American albeit African American.

There is no doubt that immigration has benefitted the West- today many of our ancestors came from somewhere else- Barbra Streisand, Albert Einstein, Lucien Freud, Henry Kissinger, Steven Speilberg are the descendants of Jews fleeing persecution. Steve Jobs was the son of an immigrant. Immigration by definition is about wanting a better life. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously chose the US over his native Austria.  I've been to Austria on walking holidays and my parents enjoyed their honeymoon in Innsbruck. Austria is a heavenly place where cultural identity is very strong- women and men still wear traditional costumes and anyone who has eaten the popular liver dumplings is unlikely to forget them easily.

When I'm in Austria or any other country for that matter, I can't wait to try the food and the booze - in Austria, the herb-infused schnappes is invigorating and therapeutic. In America I am particularly fond of Miami and the Cuban restaurants. In France I order a good Bordeaux with a bloody entrecôte. In the UK I enjoy a bacon sandwich on white bread with brown sauce. When in Rome one must behave like a Roman. I had hoped to go to Syria where the cuisine is/was renowned and ironically a combination of Mediterranean, Turkish and Persian flavours (in other words, influenced by those who settled there over hundreds of years).

What I object to is the insularity of immigrants and sadly, the government has little idea of how some ethnic groups in the UK simply refuse to integrate. There are two arguments here: liberals will say that we should facilitate those fleeing persecution etc. but the discussion seems to end once these refugees are given leave to remain. The other argument is that immigrants should simply dive in to their host country. My suggestion is that anyone who wishes to live in the UK, for example, must speak fluent English and they should be tested before being granted residency. It is also completely unacceptable to dress in traditional attire- the old country is now exactly that- a place that belongs to the past. There are countries in the world where Muslims and Christians live in harmony- Trinidad, for example- where Western attire is the norm in everyday life and when attending the mosque and church in equal measure. To my knowledge, neither group has attacked the other and begun a war.

The issue of identity has something to do with religion, yes, but also much more- having a job, being useful in society and forging an identity which everyone regardless can be proud of. Furthermore Britain is a Christian country- thousands of years of history and our peculiar offshoot of Catholicism, the Church of England, have led us here. This is a country of spires where we used to celebrate religious holidays instead of 'bank' holidays. Our culture has created some of the most unforgettable literature, art, music some of which has shaped the way we live now. Did you know that our royal family popularised decorating fir trees to celebrate Christmas? And it was an Englishman, Henry Cole, who sent the first Christmas Card in 1843? At the same time Charles Dickens', already a celebrated and hugely popular author, published A Christmas Carol, which one could say, paved the way for an entirely new market celebrating Christmas in all its sentimentality.

I am not entirely sure that politicians understand how to cope or deal with the terrifying prospect that awaits us with the rise of extremism. I doubt politicians have a clue what extremism actually is- the belief that immigrants are disenfranchised is too convenient. The monumental failure in my opinion is what politicians didn't do. We are at a crossroads where the rot has set in- cue to the terrible attacks taking place around the world. Yes, we have rights and I wouldn't wish for totalitarian rule where our every move is scrutinized- I was lucky to visit East Germany before the wall came down and saw what happens when people are forced to live in fear. But we simply cannot go on the way things are now hoping it will improve. Hoping that terrorists will take a happy pill and stop wanting to kill us. The Far Right is gaining ground in France. We are literally running out of time.

Photo copyright SvD.

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