Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Putting the B Back in British"

For those who point to Western Europe as a model of progressiveness on immigration, know that they are dealing with many of the same issues as America: Did we let diversity go too far and end up with a society that lives in separate ethnic groups at the expense of national cohesion? How much assimilation should we be doing?

Separated Muslim minorities are much more of an issue in Western Europe than America, and more explicit government support for national identity and ideals has achieved good popular support in many countries. In signaling how his administration will change priorities from his predecessor, Britain's Labour Prime-Minister-to-be Gordon Brown gave vocal support to greater social integration (reported in the Christian Science Monitor):

As he took over Sunday as Labour Party leader, Brown – more traditional and mindful of Britain's heritage than his predecessor – hinted at a new "contract" between the British state and its people. "In return for opportunity for all ... we expect and demand responsibility from all: to learn English, and contribute to and respect the culture we build together." British values, he said, involved "liberty, civic duty, and fairness to all."

He's already hinted that he wants to institute a new public holiday – a "British day" – and that immigrants seeking citizenship should demonstrate their loyalty through voluntary community work.

"We do need a sense of identity in a changing world, and there is nothing wrong with saying if people come and make this country their home then there should be a sense of Britishness to which they must subscribe," says Bob Marshall-Andrews, a Labour parliamentarian.

Labour's rhetoric on this is similar to what was espoused in this blog in several recent posts: that this is not about abandoning one's culture, but accepting that citizenry carries responsibilities and core values that add up to an essential national identity. To live in a country together we don't need to agree on what films to see, marriage rituals to observe, or even the relative importance of work and leisure time. Those things matter, but we can all make different choices. But if we don't agree on the primacy of a secular rule of law, the rights of the individual, or the limitations on church and state, then it would be irresponsible to avoid their discussion on grounds of political correctness.

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