Monday, April 13, 2009

Britain's not what it used to be

The show All Things Considered on National Public Radio started a 5 part series today, 'Revisiting the Road to Canterbury', on Britain's struggles with its identity. From what I heard today I think the series is going to be well worth listening to.
The whole concept of what it means to be British has come into question in recent years, as immigration has increased and as the pillars of the old identity that united the kingdom — empire, monarchy, the Church of England — have been eroded.
I found it fascinating to hear a former Islamist extremist say that he thinks Britain has tried too hard to accommodate immigrants and Britain needs to become more like the United States if it wants to avoid immigrant groups becoming alienated and radicalized. He says,
In America, there is more of an understanding that citizenship is based on allegiance and not on ethnicity … and it's allegiance to a set of principles, a set of values, what it means to be American.
I am not sure that I entirely agree with his opinion - but of course I didn't grow up feeling that the society I was living in did not reflect my culture or values. (Nor have I lived for any extensive period of time in the UK in the last 20 years, so what do I know about Britain any more anyway?!) I suspect many Arab Americans who have had their identity and allegiance questioned in the years since 9/11 would disagree with him too.

The United States has certainly been dealing with the issue of immigrants for far longer than Britain has. But for all its experience with the issue, it is still one that the country struggles with.

6 comments:

Canoez said...

Strangely, Yahoo News had an article on how the UK is becoming the 51st state...

iwi said...

The US been dealing with immigration for longer than Britain? You have been away from Britain for a long time haven't you? Have you forgotten your history lessons at school?

See http://www.sovereignty.org.uk/features/articles/immig.html

iwi said...

what I meant to say in that previous post was that Britain has been a nation of protectionist, racist bigots for longer than the US has been in existence. :-)

notfromaroundhere said...

It's still shocking to me how white and British it is here, I'm far more used to the American melting pot. And as far as I can tell, there are just far too many rules in place here to keep it white and British.

Almost American said...

iwi - well, that's what I get for posting when I'm tired - distinct lack of clarity in what I was trying to say. Not sure that I'm any more coherent tonight . . .

That was an interesting article you posted a link to. Yes, the US is a far newer nation, but immigration has a been an essential part of its nature since the Europeans first arrived here. I think in some respects immigration in the UK has been ignored and certainly not valued in the way it is in the US. Despite all the resentment of illegal immigrants, immigration is what has made the US what it is. Immigration has not shaped Britain's culture in the same way. Yes, there are large pockets of immigrants, but as NFAH commented it is still very white in most places. (Well, especially where she is.)

Too tired to finish this up properly. Maybe I'll come back to it another day. . . Perhaps after I've listened to or read the rest of the series.

notSupermum said...

Ah yes, immigration is a real hot potato here in the UK now. I do agree with the US model that immigrants have to show allegiance to the country, that is something missing here.

I could go on about Britishness for hours - it's something really odd about our reluctance to be patriotic, you don't find it in many other countries. The English are also less patriotic than the Irish, Welsh and Scots. Weird. Having said that up until recently being patriotic was aligned with being racist, which I don't agree with at all. Lack of pride in this country has done us a lot of harm as a nation. Ooh, I could go on for ages....thanks for the interesting post.

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