How do you handle a question like immigration and social integration from the Left?
First of all, I should apologise. It has been almost a month since the last post, on the subject of Grenfell Tower and disasters and unfortunately I have not been able to produce anything since due to first a bout of illness which is, I hope, settling down now and also due to a holiday to Germany. From now on, the schedule should be as normal.
In Germany, an issue came to my attention, namely the problem for social democrats of the immigration debate. This was brought to my attention for two reasons: the first being the undeniable influence and widespread existence of the Turkish diaspora (as I saw in the Mülheim district of Cologne) and the second was the rather unexpected experience of witnessing a protest in Dresden city centre by the anti-Islam group, PEGIDA (English: Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, German: Patriotische Europäer Gegen Die Islamiserung Des Abendlandes). Both the influence of immigrants and the angry and often violent response to the influence of immigrants or with regards to PEGIDA, the acceptance of Muslim refugees into Europe pose tricky ground in terms of policy and argument for social democrats.
Too often, when talking about these issues social democrats and socialists are all to happy to sweep the issue under the carpet and proclaim that discussion about immigrants, immigration and its effects which may be critical or investigative in nature are racist or derogatory. This creates a very toxic atmosphere in which an issue which unaired festers – without open and frank discussion, without politicians being able to have productive arguments which are unfettered with the chains of political correctness in its more extreme forms issues such as this fester, gather strength inside of those who have been sidelined and when, eventually an outlet comes for their anger they will often side with it to a fanatical degree. This idea I have previously formulated in the post English Patriotism and Identity Suppression which looked at the way in which politics in the UK has suppressed the English identity. With this issue however, let’s just take a look at the chief problems arising from both the influence of immigration and also the movement which has sprung up to oppose the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe.
Walking around the suburbs of Cologne, it was not difficult to understand why there is tension between the ethnic German and the ethnic Turkish population. Wherever you look you can see the influence of the Turkish community which has its roots in the Gastarbeiter agreement which came about to procure, from Turkey, cheap labourers to fuel the West German economical miracle in the 1960’s. Since, Turkish migrants and German-Turkish citizens have become the mainstay minority ethnicity of Germany, as the Poles have to the United Kingdom. However, from my own experience, much like the in the UK, immigration can be seen to have been focused into small areas which therefore become almost ghettos for the minority population. In Mülheim, the district of north-eastern Cologne in which I stayed, it was clear to see the needs of the Turkish population being met at parity with the needs of the ‘native’ German population (native denoting, a German by their Northern European ethnicity and native German language broadly speaking). Newspapers in supermarkets were sold in Turkish and German, Turkish takeaways and corner shops were ubiquitous and Turkish and German thank you stickers could be found on the bins. The same pattern can be seen in a city such as Bradford with its Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.
In a sense, the minority communities may be seen to be subverting or displacing the original culture, in the case of Mülheim that of German and Rheinland culture or in Bradford that of Britishness, Englishness and sense of Yorkshire identity. Now, I am not attempting to suggest that immigrants and their cultures are trying or are in fact destroying the enigmatic notion of native identities (it would be worth establishing the originally minority practices, such as curry houses and Chinese takeaways which now seem as British as bulldogs and baked beans) but really that is besides the point – what is key is whether these communities are perceived as being a threat or displacing the native peoples or culture.
Here enters a problem for the Left. What was once a sense of common decency and respect for which we could be proud of has now morphed into a rather oppressive atmosphere of political correctness. Due to many, to be frank, over-sensitive and drama-loving leftists who spring on anyone, left or right, who attempts to engage with this wholly irrational and subjective sense of an identity crisis relating from immigration, the Left has, in the UK at least, almost abandoned, until this year, conversations on immigration, controlling immigration and integration. Instead, too often, statistics and charts were touted which showed the economic benefits to the country, workers for the NHS etc but in acting like technocrats telling people “You’re not concerned about immigration, you’re concerned about x instead!” we missed the fundamental problem. With identity and existential threats to that identity, facts do not matter, it is feelings which are the masters. In not wanting to deal with the core problem as many perceive it; immigration, the effects of migration and the erosion of traditional community – likely due to the myriad of deep, controversial questions which would arise of which the Left may not have had adequate answers to – the Left completely lost the plot. This may also be indicative of the problem which spans the Left in that many progressives and liberals are, compared with say the Labour titans of the 1940’s, predominantly middle-class and do not understand the existential threats or forces which are perceived by the working-class to affect their communities and thereby misunderstand the way to win the argument. The same factors caused the loss of Remain in 2016 – using facts and figures rather than facts, figures and feelings to win over people on an issue which was intrinsically bound with identity.
A similar problem exists with the perceived issue of ‘Islamisation’. Whether the true is that Europe is being ‘Islamised’ or not (which it likely isn’t) you cannot oppose organisations such as PEGIDA with the facts, namely because those supporting either are racists and xenophobes or because it matters not what the facts are, but the legitimate feeling which they may have that their sense of place and identity is being eroded. Failing to act upon these feelings in a way which is adequately satisfying, insofar as addressing the feelings of these individuals and resolving the crisis of identity then allows for such outfits as PEGIDA to offer what we can consider the wrong answers to questions to which there will be moral but no doubt difficult and controversial answers. The fear of the Left and social democrats to cause offence is a weakness, not just costly in terms of electoral support but also for the support which it indirectly provides for extremism.
Clearly I have not set out to resolve these issues with specific policies – that would requite intense and no doubt heated political debate, but the issue is that we need the debate to occur in the first place for such problems to be solved. The way to fix an issue is not through repression or censorship but by thinking and proposing and implementing. The Left must learn this lesson to stop it falling foul of the traps of immigration and ethnic tension – and to do so we must wipe the slate clean and not be afraid of controversy within our politics again.