Janet Daley: Integration will take more than a hyphen

Absorbing migrants involves more than taking in strangers and leaving them to it

Share

A quick fix for the ethnic problem: as multiculturalism sinks into disrepute, the Home Office offers us hyphens. Alienated Muslims are to be known as Asian-British, plagiarising the American model for incorporating immigrant groups into the national identity. This risible semantic exercise, like multiculturalism itself, is a non-policy: a vacuum, a substitute for thought.

The idea that many cultures could co-exist side by side in one country, going their own ways, cultivating their own disparate and distinct identities, was always a cop-out. It assumed that coming to live in a country was rather like lodging in a rooming-house: new tenants could keep to themselves and do what they liked so long as they didn't make too much noise or block the toilets. How they lived their lives was nobody's business, not even the landlady's.

Well, as we have apparently now realised, being a country that absorbs migrants involves rather more than taking in strangers and leaving them to get on with it. Multiculturalism may have been dressed up as cosmopolitan virtue but, at heart, it was a rationale for not really giving a damn, and a cover for the least attractive British traits - intellectual laziness, indifference to the needs of other people, complacency, and contempt for any sort of energetic commitment to a social ideal.

Well, the serious thinking starts now. The lodgers - or, more to the point, their children - clearly need to be offered a bit more than a key to the front door and a reminder not to leave the landing light on.

Much has been made of this country's failure to give any instruction to incomers on the essentials of Britishness - whatever that is - and the consequent lack of any sense of national identity. Acres of newsprint and hours of broadcasting time have been devoted to producing a defining sense of what it means to be British.

The results have been banal, embarrassing, and pointless. We are, or like to see ourselves as, tolerant, law-abiding, humorous and fair-minded. Yes - and how far does that get us in dealing with cults which actively preach intolerance, urge people to break the most fundamental laws, are deadly serious about their aims and opposed to fairness (that is, social equality) as we understand it?

This failure to inculcate some mysterious core of national pride is being contrasted unfavourably with the practice of my home country. In the United States, it has been noted, waves of immigrants from vastly differing parts of the world have been successfully integrated by a determined, conscious programme of "Americanisation" in the schools and throughout the wider society.

Somehow, the US with its pledge of allegiance and its "civics" lessons, has cracked the problem of inducting people into a more-or-less unified society within one generation. Ah yes, snigger the British, but we don't go in for that sort of thing here. We don't make children rise up every schoolday morning, put their hands on their hearts and pledge allegiance to the flag. No super-patriotism please, we're British.

Sorry, but you've missed the point. American primary schoolchildren may salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance, but a few years later, it is the Constitution they learn to revere and its preamble (which begins "We the people") that they memorise.

Their high school civics classes require them to write letters to their congressmen in Washington and to their state senators, to study specific pieces of current legislation whose progress they can follow through Congress, and to campaign or canvass for the party of their choice in elections.

And the politicians to whom they write are all primed to respond in a helpful and generous way, because it is their responsibility, as much as the schools', to educate children in the democratic process. What American children learn, in other words, is not some amorphous concept of "American-ness" but how their system of democracy works, and by implication, what its value is to them and to the nation.

Britain, too, has a system of government and principles of law, such as the independence of the judiciary, which need to be explained to school children (and not just the ones born of immigrant parents) in order to give them some understanding of the part that they should play in their national life if it is to be sustained. It too has institutions and processes that must be participated in, if they are to have meaning.

Feeling alienated from your surroundings generally begins with not understanding them. Curing that is going to take more than a hyphen: it needs national confidence, fervour and concerted effort. All those things that laid-back multiculturalism disdained.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice