The most striking things about the commentary on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza is the broad failure to ask why the Israeli government/military, backed by a large percentage of the Israeli population, is behaving like this.
Maybe the conflict has gone on so long that few people feel the need to ask this fairly basic question: what are the roots of Israel’s need to kill hundred of defenseless civilians in an act of “self-defence”, when any reasonably rational assessment of the actions suggests these actions a) constitute cold-blooded murder of children and other non-combatants, and b) feed an increasing hostility on the part of the Palestinian (and wider Middle-East) population, this decreasing the long-term chances of peace?
Perhaps the failure to ask that basic question, especially at times like this especially, is because the answer is at so obvious. Or perhaps – much worse for any possible resolution to the conflict in the long-term – it’s been forgotten by outside observers, and internalised by Israelis to such an extent that it is no longer utterable.
But I think the answer bears repeating: the root of the murder of Palestinian children today is simple: the holocaust.
The State of Israel came about because of the holocaust, and the national identity not just of Israeli Jews, but also – until relatively recently – the vast bulk of American Jews, is inextricably linked to it. After an initial period in which those creating the new, deeply militarized Israel built their identity around the Sabra, the very real threat to the new state’s existence in 1967, and the implied/inferred threat of a further genocide, led to very rapid formation a of national identity based on what Daniel Navon calls the “embracing of victimhood” and in consequence a “paradoxical perception of military superiority and existential anxiety” (p.10). Moreover, this national identity became shared not just in Israel but in the United States, to the extent that in many ways to be an American Jew was to be an Israeli living in America.
Ultimately, it is the fear of a new holocaust, however remote it might seem to outside observers but very real and very near in the days leading up to the 1967 war, which created the path-dependent institutions which we see in Israel and America (think Wall Street Journal) today, in which there is no escaping the internalised logic of “self-defence” born of victimhood.
It seems to be that until outside observers start to remember/learn all of this for the first time – perhaps starting by taking American Jewish and Israeli scholarship more seriously than it is “allowed” – then the chances of a long term resolution remain slight, since even the welcome generational shift amongst American Jews away from their parents and grandparents emotional link to Israel and to victimhood (and back towards the kind of relationship being developed in the 1947-67 period) may not have enough weight to counteract 50 years of institutional path dependency.
Of course none of this stops children being killed today, or tomorrow, or next year. But maybe it’s better to promulgate some kind of informed hope for the future, based on some kind of understanding of the past, than it is to simply regard the Israel/Palestine conflict as an elemental hatred between peoples.
The appalling gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi has created the usual, and somewhat predictable, divisions in the left commentariat.
On the one hand you have Owen Jones:
But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.
On the other there’s Sunny Hundal:
I despair with well-meaning people who say India’s endemic violence against women doesn’t have cultural roots. Desperate attempt to be PC. The debate will go on into the night. Nothing will be resolved, mostly because both are (only) half-right.
Owen is right to state the obvious – that violence against women remains a massive, under-recognised problem in Western Europe, but Sunny’s argument – that to ‘dilute’ the issue by suggesting that India is no worse than the UK, does a disservice to Indian women – is also reasonable. (Like Sunny, I’ve spent plenty of time in Indian (and Bangladeshi) houses/shanties/huts and support his view that, quite simply, women have a lower status in many households). Sunny’s probably also right to suggest a reluctance to pin the blame on Indian ‘culture’ stems, at least in part, from a wariness on the part of lefties of being taken as making racist assumptions about the cultural norms of brown people.
The problem with Sunny’s argument, though, comes in his essentialist use of the word ‘culture’. For Sunny, culture appears to be a thing, which you have, or you don’t have. Such a conception leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that, if the position of women in India is to be improved, Indians must lose a bit of their culture. That, I suggest, doesn’t lead us very far. Indeed it creates the condition in which the PC-gone-mad lefties like me, and maybe Owen, are tempted to reach for the safety of the ‘violence is everywhere’ argument.
I have a different conception of culture, and one which I think helps us through the current analytical impasse.
For me, culture is the product of a historical process of power struggle. It is dynamic, and consistently evolving in response to those power struggles. The biggest power struggle in the history of modern India was British Imperial rule, and this colonial rule had a very large impact on the position of women in India today. The best analysis of this that I know of is in Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright, The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and Women’s Rights in India, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1315 (2007), in which the authors argue that the unequal status of women in India today has its roots in the power struggle between
the native elites and the colonialists [which] was fought on the backs of Indian women because it was the alleged degraded position of Indian women and the barbaric actions of Indian men that justified the colonial mission in the first place. This brings into the picture a third group, British feminists, who claimed a moral imperative to reclaim for Indian women the dignity and rights of Western women (p.1318).
As a consequence, argue the authors:
The condition of the Indian woman, particularly within the home, became the battleground on which the contests of power between Indian and British men and between British men and women were fought…… [O]ne of the post-independence legacies of this complex tussle for power is that even secular laws for women today are either protectionist and patriarchal, or else modem Indian women are not in a position to exercise their legal rights in meaningful ways. Victorian notions of womanhood (chastity, innocence, self-effacement, and passiveness) continue to pervade some laws, and certainly the traditional training of lawmakers and judges in the British legal system allows them to bring their often patriarchal understanding of the historical foundations of these laws to bear as precedents and jurisprudential principles, even when the laws are facially egalitarian (p.1319).
Of course, blaming the unequal position of women in India on colonialism doesn’t get us very far in itself. India has been independent for 70 years, and while the effects of colonialism are certainly longlasting and path-dependent, there are of course many other influences. My point is simply that, if people in Britain are to support in any way, shape or form, the liberation of women in India and elsewhere in South Asia, it will be important to engage in any such action not on the basis of judgment about the inadequacy of Indian culture when compared to Western freedoms for women – that would be, after all, neo-colonialism writ large – but on the basis that we’re doing what we can to help Indian women gain the power Britain arguably denied them in the first place.
This is a guest post from Justin Baidoo. He can and should be followed on twitter @justinthelibsoc.
Ed Miliband’s speech on integration was a more nuanced and positive take on immigration than Theresa May’s speech earlier in that week. He had many warm words about identifying with migrants and celebrating Britain’s diversity in typical New Labour fashion. You could see why many Labour policy wonk-types were pleased with it, there was some positive stuff, like offering more English language training for new workers and cracking down on slum-lords. However these were small mercies in a discourse that is framed against the freedom of movement. While it was dressed in less hostile language, the focus of debate still has the migrant as a source of significant social and economic ills.
Most people won’t read or hear Ed Miliband’s speech, but they’ll see the headlines and could surmise that immigrants, if left to their own devices, will eventually ruin Britain. This was deliberate, Labour press officers spun the main message to be that immigrants have to learn English, New Labour was “too soft” on immigration and as a result, segregation has become a serious threat to Britain. Thus Daily Mail readers can be reassured that One Nation Labour will empathise with their xenophobia rather than challenge it.
So while the Labour leader rightly addressed exploitative practices by employers and recruitment companies, he also highlighted four key issues that he believed mass immigration posed, to his vision of One Nation Britain:
1. The indigenous community have well founded anxieties about immigration due to its real negative economic impacts
2. Public service delivery such as healthcare and elderly care, have been hampered due to poor quality of English by foreign workers
3. Communities have become increasingly segregated because migrants will not or cannot integrate
4. One Nation Labour should not repeat the “mistakes” of New Labour on Eastern European migration and a cap may be sensible
These arguments, lauded by Dan Hodges as mature, nuanced, intelligent – and surprisingly right-wing are essentially wrong.
Issue one: This popular economic myth suggests that mass immigration has stunted wages, strained our public services and blocked job opportunities for British born workers. These claims have been intensely scrutinised by Migration Watch, the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR). The evidence from all these sources shows that these claims are patently false. There is no serious case to answer and is acutely explained by Jonathan Portes here. In short, migrants proportionally use fewer public services and cost less and cost less than the UK born population, disproportionately pay more indirect taxes, and have a negligible effect on low paid workers. The recent Autumn Statement, according to the IFS, costs those on the lowest decile £3.34 per week in comparison to the maximum probable immigration cost of £0.30 per week.
Issue two: Many would argue that quality of care, rather than English proficiency is a key problem within social and health care services. Though there have been a few cases where the ability to speak English has been the key issue, it is a farcical to suggest banning workers based on their language capability will solve this. Already an estimated 150,000 migrant care workers are not even being paid the minimum wage! It is telling that Miliband would rather pontificate on a pensioner’s anecdote on migrant workers accents, than discuss the well-documented issue of care worker exploitation. These are poorly waged hard labour jobs, where a worker can typically be given 15 minutes to wash, dress and feed a person with Alzheimer’s disease. A public discussion is needed on the great and corrosive pressures of the profit motive and bureaucratic drives for efficiency that are heavily placed on nurses and care workers irrespective of if they are British-born or foreign-born. This is the true crisis in patient care rather than grasp of English by the foreign worker.
Issue three: Danny Dorling has wonderfully destroyed this argument. Basically, we are mixing ethnically more than ever. The real segregation is due to economic inequality not language proficiency. There may be an issue, albeit a relatively small one, so why is it addressed solely as the fault of the migrant and portray the settled white communities as helpless victims of segregation? Why don’t we discuss segregation that is caused by fear of the foreigner? The phenomenon, known as “white flight”, shows that white communities actively move away from their new migrant neighbours rather than migrants purposefully creating single ethnic ghettoes out of a desire to exclude themselves. Of course, Ed wouldn’t mention this as telling the truth wouldn’t get him The Sun reader vote.
Issue four: Eastern Europeans helped not hindered Britain, perhaps due to their skin tone and Catholicism no-one suggests that Polish culture is detrimental to Britain. Economically speaking, EasternEastern European migration was good for Britain. During the 2010 general election debates, Gordon Brown opposed the much disputed migrant cap, on the principle that enough migration measures had been made by Labour. Ed Miliband now will consider keeping the mechanism only “if it works”. His aim here is craven positioning in the migration debate; constructing himself as the honest and sensible saviour who will end the racial and cultural segregation that is fragmenting Britain before our very own tear-filled eyes. But this isn’t a debate, this is the acceptance of right-wing propaganda. Instead of the old concrete trope of “they are stealing your jobs and your houses”, it is the now ephemeral affect “they are separating themselves and making you feel alien in your own country”.This is progress from Gordon Brown’s use of the BNP slogan, “British Jobs for British Workers”, so while the BNP can’t endorse this nuanced argument, UKIP happily could.
Britain doesn’t have an immigration problem, it has a problem accepting migrants as human beings. When immigration is publicly debated, it is assumed that the freedom of movement for people is inherently dangerous, migrants are a menace who will destroy “British values” if our politicians are not vigilant. Conversely, the power of Capital to disrupt lives, destroy communities and decimate public services is ignored and unexamined. This is what One Nation Labour is offering and I think it can it fuck right off.
There’s been plenty of coverage of Ed Milband’s speech on ‘cultural integration’ in Tooting today, and I don’t intend to repeat stuff. For the record, I agree that it was an attempt at celebrating cultural diversity, along with some decent enough policy points about protecting migrants from some of the worst excesses of capitalism. I still don’t see how the labour movement can really claim the high ground on how we all live together until it confronts once and for all its shameful institutionally racist past, which helped create the divisions of today, but that’s another post (here’s one I wrote earlier). As it stood, it was on ok speech.
But this bit was strangely strawman-like:
Where there are Home School Agreements, English language learning should be included. Which too often doesn’t happen at the moment. That would ensure that both schools and parents share the responsibility for helping foreign-born children learn how to speak English.
Is Ed Miliband really suggesting that there’s a substantial number of parents out there who are keen to stop their children learning English at school – children who can only be saved from a lifetime of English-free non-integration by making their parents sign a piece of paper which presumably they won’t be able to read anyway? If so, who and where are these people? Because the research I’ve seen about migrant parents’ attitude to their children’s education suggests quite the opposite of what Miliband appears to be suggesting is going on.
For example, Haleh Afshar’s research back in the 1980s found that:
Muslim women in West Yorkshire, like their male counterparts, place an inordinate trust in the ability of the educational system to act as a means of delivering their children from the drudgery of poverty. Although in practice there is not enough evidence to support their optimism, women of all backgrounds, regardless of their own levels of educational achievement, seek to promote their children within the school and further educational systems and are increasingly doing so for their daughters as well as their sons.
And later (2002), Tahir Abbas found in his study of Asian families in Birmingham that, while social class may play a part in attitudes to the importance of education:
In general, both parents and their children are convinced in their enthusiasm for educational achievement, with research continuing to show the importance of parenting to secondary schooling.
If Asian and Muslim communities – arguably the broad group in Britain most demonized as separating themselves off from the ‘mainstream’ – are so keen for their children to participate and succeed in school (for which presumably a grasp of English is necessary), what other groups are out there actively denying their children access to the lingua franca? Is Miliband suggesting that ‘foreign-born’ children are affected by a a whole new set of attitudes from parents which don’t seem to be held by earlier migrants? I just don’t get it.
But perhaps I’m being too pernickety. Perhaps Miliband was merely seeking to point out the importance of newly arrived parents learning English as quickly as possible so that they can help their kids out at school, so that those kids get over the barrier of a late start and catch up as best they can. That would sound much more reasonable.
Oddly, though, the research doesn’t seem to support such a thesis. On the contrary, the research that has been done (in the US) on children of migrant families who learn English while their parents don’t suggests that their role as ‘language brokers’ is a significant factor driving their educational achievement. Dorner et al (2007), for example*, studied “the regularity with which the children of mostly Mexican immigrants in Chicago interpret languages and cultural practices for their families”, and found that:
[S]uch “language brokering” is related to academic outcomes. Using data collected from a subset of children (n=87) longitudinal regression models, which controlled for early school performance, showed that higher levels of language brokering were significantly linked to better scores on fifth- and sixth-grade standardized reading tests………The practice of language brokering that we have identified has not received much attention from educational researchers seeking to boost students’ achievement. And yet it is a literacy and numeracy practice that takes place every day in the homes of immigrant families, and it is one that may have measurable payoffs for children’s school successes across a range of subject areas. While not all language brokering situations may have uniformly positive benefits—and earlier research has demonstrated the trade-offs between cognitive and psychosocial costs and benefits—standardized test score gains may indeed occur for the children of immigrants who accomplish deep and varied brokering tasks.
This, I suggest, is more than an esoteric research point. It suggests that significant numbers of children coming into schools and not just learning English for themselves but using their new language to help their families navigate through their new lives in Britain might, if the proper teaching resources are in place to help, actually be beneficial for educational standards overall, with native-born children carried along in the wake of these growing competencies and life skills. It even provides one partial explanation, dare I say, for the impressive surge in the achievement across London’s very diverse schools (p.18 of report), which, as Chris Cook at the FT has pointed out, is difficult to attribute entirely to improvements within the schools themselves (though this is undoubtedly important).
In short, maybe immigration is making for a cleverer country. Even the Daily Mail might have trouble arguing that that’s a bad thing.
That is not to argue, of course, that we should be actively seeking to deny parents access to English tuition so that their children can grow into even more rounded, talented people than they will be anyway. That would be pretty stupid, given the other advantages that having parents who can communicate freely in their new country will bring.
But it is to point out that, sometimes, this stuff about ‘cultural integration’, and the creation of a problem just so that Ed Miliband can offer the papers a thoroughly New Labour, managerial solution (Home School Agreements for Gawd’s sake), might not actually be a very good idea, and that a wholesale defence and celebration of immigration, in the interests of the (One) Nation, might actually end up being a winner, if Labour has the balls for it.
* For more, see also Halgunseth, L. (2003). Language brokering: Positive developmental outcomes. In M. Coleman & L. Ganong (Eds.), Points and Counterpoints: Controversial relationship and family issues in the 21st century: An anthology (pp. 154-157). Los Angles, CA: Roxbury.
Ed Miliband wants us all to be secure in our English identity. His speech yesterday sought to claim that because Scots benefit from having a Scottish identity alongside a British identity, then the English will too.
This is utter rubbish, and not just for the reasons that Owen Jones (rightly) gives, namely that an attempt by the Left to create a sense of English togetherness is a distraction from the real business of the Left: creating a sense of togetherness as a class.
The main reason Ed’s speech is rubbish is that it fails to pin down what identity actually is and how it is formed.
Let me try to do so here.
Charles Taylor sets it out in his seminal Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition:
[Identity] designates something like a person’s understanding of who they are, of their fundamental characteristics as a human being….[O]ur identity is shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people of society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves (p25).
That is, our identities are always created as a reaction to what others make of us, and how they treat us.
Thus with the Scots. The Scottish identity is largely formed as a reaction to the domination and exploitation of Scotland by England, whether that be in the form of the highland clearances or the perceived stealing of oil revenues. That is why, despite best efforts, Scottish identity is still often expressed in terms of anti-Englishness.
And that is why there is no English identity comparable with that of the Scots. Quite simply, because the England was a dominant power for so long, because no other groups was in a sufficiently powerful position to “mirror back’ a contemptible picture of the English in a way that made the English sit up and take notice, it didn’t need its own fully fledged identity.
So what’s changed? Why now does Miliband feel the need to help us discover our Englishness?
The answer is that the ‘identity vacuum’ has been filled by a pernicious and intolerant nationalism. Think English flag, and you think BNP. This offends the liberal left, because it cuts right across its belief in equal rights of citizenship, irrespective of colour or creed, and the understandable reaction to this on the part of people like Sunder Katwala at British Future is to seek to develop a more inclusive sense of Englishness, open to all who live within England’s borders.
This is a laudable enough reaction to the racists who have ‘stolen’ the flag, but it doesn’t get to the bottom of why and how racist nationalism came to steal the flag in the first place. Only if we understand this, and deal with the consequences of that understanding, can we hope to develop anything like a proper unity of Englishness.
To understand why Englishess has become equated with racist nationalism, we have to look at the bleaker side of our recent history; but less (contra Owen) at our behaviour as a colonial power, important though that is, and more at our domestic post-colonial, post-war history.
The facts are clear enough, and I have set them out in some detail here. After the war, Britain (but primarily England) needed workers for its public services, and the workers came, primarily from the Caribbean and South Asia. When they came, they received a huge amount of discriminatory treatment in terms of housing and education; they were, in effect, second-class citizens.
The key effects of this discrimination is that these ‘ethnic minorities’, as they became known, developed their own identities in relation and reaction to the ‘misrecognition’. People became self-consciously ‘Black British’ or ‘British Asian’ in their primary identity (as opposed to, say, becoming primarily a Korean-American, where the emphasis tends to lie with the American bit).
What happened was exactly as foreseen by the great sociologist John Rex in 1979:
[T]here are clear difference of life-chances between them and the white British…….Such differences of life-chances, if they were sustained over a period, would undoubtedly mean that consciousness of a common identity, common exploitation and oppression, and a common conflict with the host society would emerge and find expression in some kind of ethnic-class-for-itself.
From there, it is easy to see why Englishness-as-racism developed. What had begun as the overt racism of post-colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s was transformed into a statement of identity in the 1970s. This ‘Englishness’, perverted though it may seem to the liberal left, was largely formed in reaction to the strengthening of black and Asian identities, and the perceived ‘misrecognition’ of (seen as disrespect for) white people’s cultural norms.
If racist-nationalist Englishness is to be challenged in the way Ed Miliband and Sunder Katwala want – if the flag is to be taken back as the flag of all those who live within its borders – the Left needs to be clear about why it was lost in the first place. The Labour movement in particular needs to be honest about its own post-war history of racism, and how that created the ‘politics of recognition’ problems we have today, in which there is an unresolved (though expediently exaggerated) tension between the rights/duties of communities to their own identity and the more limited rights/duties of citizenship.
Only then can we really move on with the forging of a genuine spirit of inclusivity, which – if the theory of identity I set out here is correct – will soon cease to be called Englishness anyway, because there’s nothing specifically English about inclusion, and because national identity is always about the other, not ourselves.
A journalist called Christopher Hitchens, who died a few days ago, has received thousands of column inches in his praise largely because, in addition to a good prose style, he chose to take controversial positions. One of Britain’s greatest sociologists, Professor John Rex, who died on Tuesday at the age of 86, will gain few column inches, perhaps because he chose excellence, rigour and consistency in all his work.
It seems a shame that the works of a serious socialist thinker and researcher like John Rex are likely to remain consigned to the backshelves of secondhand book shops, while the entertaining but ultimately frivolous offerings of Christopher Hitchens go off for further reprints.
In 1968, in a typcially forthright piece The Race Relations Catastrophe, Rex predicted what would happen in British inner cities, and urged politicians to take decisive action:
We have just about ten years to break down our ghettoes and to see to it that all men have the same opportunities in education and employment…The difficulties we face do not arise from our ignorance about how the problem should be tackled. They arise from a lack of will or from opportunist electoral fear. Yet trying to placate the electorate with semi-racialist policies, or keeping quite in the hope that you won’t be called a nigger-lover hasn’t paid off, while a deliberate assault on the ghettoes with a view to clearing them would eliminate one of the most important of all the secondary causes of racialism.
The politicians did not act, and in 1981 race riots took place across the country. For another 30 years, politicians continued to pander to opportunist electoral considerations. In 2011 rioting took place again – though the intervening years had changed some of the specifically racial characterstics in the ghettoes, and some of the ghettoes had been relocated to outer estates. Most of those involved think further riots will take place soon, and the police are drawing up their plans.
Rex is probably best known in the academic community for his key works Key Problems of Sociological Theory (1964), Race Relations in Sociological Theory (1970), Race and Ethnicity (1986). However, it is his groundbreaking and meticulous 1967 study (with Robert Moore) Race, Community, and Conflict: A Study of Sparkbrook which really mark him out for members of the non-academic-but-politically-engaged community that I like to thing I belong to.
In this, he set out with great precision the overtly racist policies being enacted by local and central government in Birmingham, and the legacy of discrimination it was creating, which would in turn create the conditions for much of the urban conflict we see today.
Rex founded the Sociology Department at Warwick University in 1970, when Warwick was very much a new ‘red brick’, not the institution with the world-class reputation it has now earned. He stayed with Warwick for most of his career.
I emailed him a year or two ago when I discovered his work – at the back of a secondhand bookshop – seeking his advice. I got an automatic reply saying that he was in hospital and that he’d reply on return. Sadly, he was never able to. I wish I’d read his stuff earlier.
I hope this little obituary note will at least persuade one or two others to look up his work. He had, and still has through his published a lot to say that is relevant to where we are now.
As I set out here, better late than never to act on his advice.