The colour of bias

Published : Feb 25, 2005 00:00 IST

Demonisation of and discrimination against dark-skinned immigrants and the all-encompassing fear of terrorism draw the lines of conflict between the West and the Other.

THE leader of Britain's Conservative Party, Michael Howard, has made a strong statement on the dangers inherent in the present system of allowing immigration into the United Kingdom. He has called for "controlled immigration". "The first responsibility of government," he wrote in an article in The Telegraph on January 27, "is to control the nation's borders. But this government has comprehensively failed in its duty to police entry to our country." He goes on to say that a Conservative government would set an upper limit on the people to be allowed in, and follow a work permit system like the one in Australia.

What policy his party or the present government in Britain follows on immigration is, of course, its business, but one cannot but help being slightly curious about just who Michael Howard has in mind when he talks if immigrants. "Do we mean the Australian bar-worker, the American academic, the French physiotherapist?" asks Joseph Harker in The Guardian. He continues: "I think not: people seem comfortable with them in our midst. As we all know, an `immigrant' is dark-skinned - that layabout who is over here to milk our welfare system." That is precisely what makes Michael Howard's statement so interesting, even if it is illogical. Harker points out in his essay that "while for the last eight years immigration has been rising, unemployment has been falling."

Whatever. That is their problem, and we need not spend too much time on it. But it is indicative of something else, something wider, that seems to define a little more clearly the conflict lines between the Western, white world, and the dark-skinned world of the Other. For one thing, Howard is not saying anything terribly new. Consider this: "It almost passes belief that at this moment 20 or 30 additional immigrant children are arriving from overseas in Wolverhampton alone every week - and that means 15 or 20 additional families a decade or two hence. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiances whom they have never seen."

No, it is not from a speech or article by Howard; it is an extract from Enoch Powell's notorious "Rivers of blood" speech made in 1968. Powell was then a member of Edward Heath's shadow Cabinet and was duly sacked for making that speech, but the point is these sentiments run through many Conservative Party members and there are large numbers who respond positively to them - Powell knew that, and Michael Howard knows it. The resentment of the black immigrants, which means not just people from Africa and the West Indies, but people from India, Pakistan, West Asia - anyone who is dark-skinned.

That immigration of this kind should not only exist but also grow is inevitable. Paul Kennedy, in his book Preparing For The Twentyfirst Century, has shown how Malthus' prediction in his essay On Population that the rapid growth of the population in Britain, France and America would result in famine, disease and a "rending of the social fabric" failed in Britain because of three factors - emigration, the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. But, Kennedy warns, prophetically, that this is not the picture today. Work opportunities and a rapidly increasing population are not situated in the same country, as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. The inevitable result would be a migration of labour to areas where there is work, and that is precisely what we see today. The growth of population is in the countries inhabited by dark-skinned people, while it is virtually stagnant in the countries of the white people, which is where the work opportunities are.

Consequently, there is an ever-increasing movement towards the West, to Europe and the United States from Third World countries.

Add to this is another factor, which is the unrest in the Third World countries. Exploitation by powerful commercial agencies from the Western countries of the people in these countries which, though impoverished, were rich in natural resources like oil and minerals, led first to resistance and then to the appearance of terrorism. Samuel Huntington says, predictably, that one of the "challenges" to Western society is "from immigrants from other civilisations who reject assimilation, and continue to adhere to and to propagate the values, customs and cultures of their home societies. This phenomenon is most noticeable among Muslims in Europe... "

So we have the immigrants - people who are dark-skinned, refusing to be assimilated, prominent among whom are Muslims - and we have the terrorists - also dark-skinned, usually Muslim as well. Is it too far-fetched to see that to the white, developed world the two would be difficult to tell apart, that every immigrant would come to be seen as a potential terrorist. We see the white world reacting, openly now, and officially, to the ways of immigrants. France has barred school children from wearing traditional headdresses, be they the scarves worn by Muslim girls or the turbans worn by Sikh boys. The determination seems to be that if you do not accept assimilation, we will make you do so by force.

Gradually, then, the lines of conflict are being drawn; using terrorism to feed the fear of the Other, draconian laws are passed in different countries to try forcibly to suppress the migration that Paul Kennedy foresaw as inevitable. In fact, ironically enough, the work done by immigrants in Europe and the U.S. has benefited the host countries immensely; without Indian doctors, for example, Britain's National Health Service would have collapsed long ago. The willingness of immigrant labour to take up menial tasks has reduced the expense these countries would have had to spend on civic services. Many thousands of those who work in developed countries send money to their families in their own countries; as Joseph Harker has pointed out, "World Bank figures show that, globally, money distributed in this way dwarfs the entire international overseas-aid budget."

But the demonisation of the dark-skinned immigrant, always an easy thing to do, has been fanned by the media in the West, and now politicians like Michael Howard have been quick to see that it will bring them votes. In the process, discrimination, the increasingly harsh treatment of immigrants, aided by the all-encompassing fear of terrorism draw the lines of conflict more and more clearly.

What was said about Iraq, and the terrible devastation that the attack by the U.S. and U.K. on it has caused is in danger of being repeated, as, ominously, Iran is being mentioned as next in line for the same kind of attention. Controlled immigration, assimilation, terrorism - all these have been and are helping to draw the lines of conflict until a time comes when there will be a kind of confrontation between the West and the Other. The message will be: Conform to the identities we are comfortable with or we will make you conform. Multiculturalism will become a word to use in political speeches; the reality will be quite different. Comforting for the white population of the developed world, frightening for the dark-skinned immigrants seeking their fortune there.

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