1. My dear Spanish inquisitor: It was a remarkably humid morning on the 10th of July when I thought of you. The heat was stifling, and the tension in the air was palpable. A ‘Super-typhoon’ Maria, with a maximum speed of 190 km/h near the centre, and with gusts of up to 235 km/h, was making her to our neck of the woods, the Northern part of Taiwan; we had spent the previous day preparing for her, and we were ready. Just as I settled down at my desk to put my thoughts on paper, in answer to a remark you made a while ago, in a form of a blogpost which I have entitled, “To my Spanish Inquisitor: embrace immigration if you want to rock;” a niece to my wife’s childhood friend telephoned. She wanted to pick my brains on the wisdom of her accepting a scholarship to attend a British University, to read for a Master’s Degree in, wait for it, immigration! Until that phone call, I would never have guessed that Taiwan also has an immigration issue. It is now clear as the day that immigration is a global phenomenon.
In dire straits
2. Anyhow, the young woman informed me that she was hesitant about taking up the scholarship…because of the current ongoing chaos in the United Kingdom surrounding Brexit. She had heard that England had of recent become a very hostile environment to foreigners; especially those with a dark or brown skin colour, and wondered aloud whether it was wise for her to go. “But I so very much want to go!” – she said, “However, I’m scared lest things should take a turn for the worst while I am in England; for I get the impression that we, that is, foreigners, are not particularly welcome. We are viewed by some people as the enemy…what do you really think?”
3. “Of course, you must go!” I answered. Yes, things do indeed appear dicey in England at the moment; but you must understand British universities have a long history in receiving foreign students. I have no doubt you will be in safe hands should you decide to go. I however do understand your concerns. Here’s the thing: Britain, like many other European countries, is in great pain right now. The Major Financial Crisis of 2008 set in motion events few could scarcely have imagined. The subsequent severe austerity regime imposed by Her Majesty’s Government left many ordinary people in England in dire straits; they are now feeling angry, frightened, confused, desperate and disenfranchised. The ground upon which old certainties once stood firm has shifted so profoundly, that many are uncertain about their immediate future.
Nothing is more trying…
4. Nothing is more trying to those that have fallen from a height of success and prosperity into the depth of adversity than to be trodden on, and insulted when they are down. An instance may now be mentioned to illustrate. During the Major Financial Crisis of 2008, I chanced upon a desperate classical musician at the Jobcentre in Milton Keynes in 2009. He was a graduate of a leading university in the UK, which is a member of the Russell Group of Universities (the Russell Group of Universities is the equivalent to the Ivy League Universities in the United States of America); he and I had turned up at the Jobcentre, to enquire about possible help; we were both collateral as it were, victims of the chaos which followed the financial crisis. When we struck up a conversation, I discovered that he had until then enjoyed a successful career in music, mainly running his own music company with a very busy schedule; he had lost everything in the chaos which swept the length and breadth of the country. Discovering that his music degree and many years of experience were practically worthless in the job market, such as it was at the time, he lost his composure; for he was utterly bewildered by what was happening to him personally, and to the country as a whole. In a desperate cry for help, which came from the depth of his heart, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he asked me a rhetorical question: “What does everyone desire, and desire more fervently the more wretched and hopeless their circumstances appear?” I had no answer! All I could do for him was to lend a ready ear for him to empty his anger and frustrations.
5. But what he had suffered was nothing new! Alas, it happens to be the lot to those who go to Jobcentres up and down the land, especially those who are well educated; Jobcentres were conceived to cater mainly for ‘blue collar’ workers and it can be something of a shock for graduates to be treated with rigour by officials; graduates are often left feeling despised and derided. Answering his own question, he went on to expostulate: “To have money, and a lot of it; to have power, a great deal of power in order avenge every wrong those XXXXX bankers have done to us; and, yes, including every slight suffered.” While it is the case that mystery may indeed give a tooth to misery; that is, when that mystery is extracted by a clear description, the sharpness of the woe is given relief. A crowd of curious onlookers had by now gathered outside the Jobcentre, and it became painfully clear to me and to all those around us, that his plight was one big mystery that was beyond my powers to relieve.
A virulent toxic narrative – whence it came
6. You have to understand that many people in Western countries like England, which are currently experiencing unfamiliar economic and social upheavals; feel unusually powerless. They dream of possessing great power and how to make their enemies [mainly bankers, politicians and immigrants] pay back every obligation. Perceiving that bankers and politicians are probably beyond their collective reach, some are reduced to asking emotionally: “Why, am I not blessed with a little good luck?” They ask again: “Why, am I not favoured like others are, well…especially those who are, by any stretch of imagination, less deserving?” You see few believe their misfortune may be owing to any choice(s) of their own, and it is for this reason that justice must somehow be found to assuage their anger, but very often a scapegoat is found instead. Moreover, it is in times of crisis such as those alluded to above, that a certain class of individuals, motivated by nothing more than to cut a figure on the political stage; emerge from the shadows to play the role of a deliverer, by setting forth a persuasive narrative. In the case of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, these saviours promised those who would listen to them that they had the wherewithal to restore the prestige of Great Britain, namely, her sovereignty; which, they argued, Britain had surrendered to the Europe Union.
7. They unashamedly took advantage of the popular clamour for justice, namely, a visceral desire that the Major Financial Crisis of 2008 should be paid for, even if it means being paid for by a scapegoat. Thus a toxic narrative emerged. The narrative went something like this: for the enemy to be recognised and feared he has to be in your face, on your streets; he must be living in your council houses, and working in your shops, farms and factories; his children must be taking over your schools and the playing fields; and yes, his excessively fertile women must be taking up all the maternity facilities, a drain on your beloved National Health Service (NHS). The subsequent perfect storm of globalisation merely aggravated the situation, pouring fuel to an already burning and restless spirit of disquiet walking abroad in England; it gave the so called ‘saviours’ a vehicle for their schemes, namely, to shift the focus of the collective anger against bankers and politicians, by pointing a finger at the foreigner, the immigrant. Thus they used the ‘immigrant’ and prayed that there would always be some immigrant or other to fear and to hate. They knew that the suffering poor such as the classical musician mentioned above needed hope; which hope, they were eager to offer.
8. It is well said that patriotism is the last refuge of cowards: those without moral principles usually wrap the flag round themselves, and in this case the British Union Jack was accordingly fetched; they talked about taking back their country, returning to the glory days of British values, where things were simple and pure. It is also well said that national identity is the last bastion of the dispossessed. But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, a hatred for those who happen to be different, especially the immigrant. The paradox of this new brave world is that the enemy has now become something of a friend to those peddling the said toxic narrative, and a true friend of the suffering people; sometimes people, when in dire straits, want someone to hate in order to feel justified in their own wretchedness. You can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred, therefore, warms the cockles of some people’s heart. That is how I think the Brexit referendum result of 2016 was wrought.
Are immigrants really at fault?
9. Two years following the Brexit referendum the British people, like their political leaders are more bewildered now than ever! They appear to be at a loss; for they know neither where they are nor what they must do, they are unsteady and uncertain in their motions, off and on, this way and that way, akin to a drunken man in a deserted city or town. They are, quite simply, in a poor posture. This unhappy reality begs the question as to whether the immigrants, especially immigrants with a dark/brown skin colour are the real reason for the chaos in the UK today? To answer the question, we must continue examining some other factors besides those already touched upon above, starting with the European Union.
The European Union
10. Let us now gaze upon the European Union: It appears that a vision of a community of nations, striving for a free trade relationship, breaking down barriers both in Europe and the world to the free flow of goods, people, capital and services; working together to make Europe the home of industry, taking the initiative(s) to solve world problems, forging political relationships across European political and cultural differences appears, at least for the time being, to have gone sour.
11. It is difficult to put a finger on the exact date or time when the above vision started to lose its savour. But subtly and surely it would seem that Europe changed direction, probably in the 1980s, away from being a community of co-operating and trading sovereign nations towards centralism. The tendencies towards centralism betrayed a longing by some Europeans to create what may be described, rightly or wrongly, as a United States of Europe. It struck fear in the hearts of some Europeans, especially those with a proud and ancient history(s), that their sovereign parliament(s) would be subordinated by a European Super State. This was the crux of the debate during the John Major’s years as the UK Prime Minister, especially after Britain was ignominiously humiliated during the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) debacle; I remember the event vividly, it’s etched in my memory. The UK Government spent 6 billion pounds trying to keep the pound within the narrow limits prescribed by ERM, but was afterwards compelled to quit the programme within two years; after the pound came under severe pressure from money speculators, precipitating what is known as ‘Black Wednesday’ – the stock exchange crush of 16 September 1992. The humiliation left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many Britons, especially those who were by inclination, Euro-sceptics; this was the time, some say, the European ideal begun to lose its shine.
The EU – loss of credibility
12. European credibility was not assisted by an even more tragic event which occurred in the 1990s; for the European Union failed to act decisively in a war which led to the Bosnian genocide. I well remember taking to letter writing; with the encouragement of my dear greyhead friend, Mrs Edna Millwood, I was one of many Britons who campaigned to persuade the British Government to intervene militarily in the name of humanity, in order to save the lives of innocent people. It was a shameful failure; it not only diminished the European Union’s credibility and moral stature, it precipitated, some say, the rise of populist politics that are now shaking the very foundations of Western Europe.
13. Continuing with the theme of Europe: The Treaty of Rome was a charter for economic liberty and was intended to cut bureaucracy on business, and to see to it that markets worked properly so as to create jobs. Indeed, the idea for the Single Market, which was coincidentally pioneered by the United Kingdom of Great Britain, was intended to give real substance to the Treaty of Rome; in order to revive liberal free trade. And, of the four fundamental freedoms that underpin the Single Market – free movement of capital, goods, services and people – it was the last of these that the most significant question mark hung. Thus it is argued that the apparent push towards the so-called federalist agenda in recent years, a United States of Europe to you and me, has unwittingly opened a Pandora’s Box on immigration: The 2016 migration crisis for example, exposed in the most public way, Europe’s inability to agree a common migration policy. Some have gone on to argue that this failure was the final death knell to Europe’s credibility and moral stature. But is what is said of migrants true?
Are immigrants really that bad?
14. To answer the question, let me please pray in aid of an answer given by Mr. Francis Ford Coppola. I think his answer, although addressing a situation in the United States, does also speak to the situation in the UK, as well as other European countries. Mr. Francis Ford Coppola was asked, “What do you think about the conversation the U.S. is having about immigration now?” He answered thus: “If America is great, it’s because it was a country of immigrants. Even the Native American is an immigrant. So to turn our backs to immigrants is more than absurd. The State of California, if we didn’t have Mexico, we couldn’t have had a California. Today what the Mexican people contribute to the state is profound. Our wineries fly the Mexican flag and the U.S. flag. Too many of our employees, it makes them feel appreciated, and they should be.”
15. While I do endorse Mr. Francis Ford Coppola’s answer, I must however place on the record, that not all migrants are angels. Alas, and it is with great sorrow seeing that I am an immigrant myself, that many among our number have done truly dreadful things; the ongoing saga involving British-Pakistani grooming gangs, who stand accused of deliberately targeting vulnerable working class white girls with a single purpose to sexually ravage them, is a sad case in point. And yet, immigrants are on balance an asset, and not a burden to a receiving country. This fact is borne out of numerous independent scholarly studies around the world, including “The Positive Contribution by Immigrants,” by UNESCO; and the “Impact of Immigration in the UK,” by The Migration Observatory. In May 2018, my interest was piqued by an article published in the Guardian, entitled: “Immigration has been good for Britain. It’s time to bust the myths.” In the article, Mr. Aditya Chakraborty writes thus:
“Yet time and time again, the politicians’ claims were false. The men and women who have come here from Budapest or Prague are like previous generations of arrivals: young, educated at someone else’s expense and here to work. They aren’t low-skilled labour but what former government economist Jonathan Portes describes as “ordinary, productive, middle income, middle-skilled – the sort of people our economy actually needs”. Study after study has failed to find any evidence of significant undercutting of wages. Far from jumping the queue, analysis published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows they are much less likely to be on benefits or in social housing than their UK-born counterparts.
Migrants from eastern Europe pay billions more in taxes to Britain than they take out in public spending. Far from squeezing hospitals and schools, they subsidise and even staff them. Rather than take jobs, they help create them. What has drained money from our public services and held down our wages is the banking crash, and the Tories’ spending cuts. As former Bank of England rate-setter David Blanchflower concludes in a forthcoming book on Brexit and Trump: “Government-imposed austerity has meant their money [migrants’ taxes] has not been used to finance the services they are entitled to, hence the overcrowding.” In one of the most breathtakingly cynical moves of our time, the very same ministers making the cuts looked at the fallout they created – and blamed migrants.”
We need a new narrative on migration
16. I do endorse Mr. Aditya Chakraborty’s general thesis. Many of us when in a strait, like that poor classical musician I met at the Jobcentre in Milton Keynes are hardly reasonable in our endeavours. Fear has a way of blindfolding our judgment; it makes fools of us. And speaking of the United Kingdom specifically, the Brexit referendum may indeed have brought instant gratification to both those who campaigned for it and to those stricken with fear, but its full implications long-term grief, not just for them, but to all of us. The migration issue is to be sure a niggling wound; we must by all means search it out to the very bottom, and not merely skimmed over; and, accepting that ordinary peoples’ lives are not so easily conducted in the shades of black and white which the so-called ‘toxic narrative’ peddlers most prefer; it seems to me that the real challenge in these difficult times is how to find a new narrative to counter their ‘toxic narrative’ which is right now destroying the UK, Western Europe and the USA. In order for a counter narrative to succeed, it must be founded on some tangible foundation; we need an inspirational reality to which we can all point and in which we can see ourselves in the script, as it were. And I can think of no better tangible and inspirational story, however simplistic it may appear to some, than the just concluded World Cup football competition in Russia, where France emerged as the World Champion.
17. Dr. Muniini K. Mulera, a Ugandan Canadian paediatrician, blogged about his experience of the World Cup in Russia. I feel constrained to quote him here as I cannot do better. His experience is a classic instance of what I mean by a tangible and inspirational story, to which, I hope, we can all identify with, that is, be able to see ourselves in the script of the new narrative. He wrote of his experience thus: “I was rooting for the Africa/France team. After all, Le Blues was an African affair, with names like Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Mendy, Blaise Matuidi, Ousmane Dembele, Steve Mandanda, Presnel Kimpembe, Djibril Sidibe and Steven Nzonzi….Besides their excellent sportsmanship throughout the tournament, the predominantly African team playing under the French Tricolour was a powerful demonstration of the folly of the racism and xenophobia merchandised by the likes of America’s Donald J. Trump and France’s Jean Marie Le Pen and his daughter, Marine Le Pen. The beautiful mix of skin colours in the Africa/France team was a not-so-silent affirmation that immigrants and their descendants had added great value to Europe and North America.”
Do not fear – but embrace immigration
18. Finally, I know that immigration is a vastly complex subject than this blog can ever pretend to answer. But the Chinese have a saying: “A crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind.” There is no denying the fact that the UK 2016 referendum on Brexit was a political earthquake like no other. In order to survive the political maelstrom engendered by Brexit, we must re-imagine a lot of things; we must first of all appreciate that democracy is, alike with all good things we take for granted, a gift. And, in order to appreciate the worth of a gift; one must first understand it. We all need to understand that democracies flourish best by a judicious application of a variety of democratic tools. The time has come for all of us to dig deep and fetch a tool that is perhaps as ancient as the hills, storytelling. And in telling our stories, it may be necessary for us to appreciate that a story is like an old English jumper, the one beloved of mothers and grandmothers as a special Christmas present in the United Kingdom. It is often the case that these jumpers are knitted together thanks to many strands of wool with many colours. A homemade Christmas jumper is an apt image to represent many a modern European country like the UK. The more colours there are, the more vibrant the jumper is; I am by no means alone in thinking like this, as George Monbiot’s recent talk at the RSA London, entitled: “A New Politics for an Age of Crisis,” (Please see the video below) clearly shows. The French World Cup football team is, in the circumstances, the best testimony we have today to show that migrants, if given a fair chance can also play a decisive role in a collective national endeavour. Accordingly, my dear Spanish inquisitor: embrace immigration if you want to rock!
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Stephen Kamugasa FRSA – is a non-practising barrister, an author, a consultant, a teacher, a podcaster, a blogger; and, an occasional opinion columnist for ‘Edge,’ the official journal of the Institute of Leadership and Management in the UK.