UK: The Guardian view on immigration and Covid-19: old myths are exposed

Good editorial:

Covid-19 has accomplished in weeks something that UK governments spent a decade failing to do. It has drastically cut labour migration. Lockdown prevents the gathering of real-time data, but it is a reasonable assumption when international travel has stopped that net migration is currently happening at a rate well below 100,000 per year.

That was the target adopted by David Cameron in 2010 and pursued aggressively by Theresa May at the Home Office and in Downing Street. It was never met before being abandoned last year. What happens next is uncertain. This week would have seen the government’s post-Brexit immigration bill return to the Commons, but the timetable has been discarded, not least because parliament’s digital systems are not yet ready for remote voting.

There is no indication that ministers are reconsidering the new regime, which is based on a points system designed to select “skilled” workers over “unskilled” labour. The distinction is meant to favour what ministers call “the best and brightest” while deterring those whom decades of political rhetoric have cast as undesirable. The charges against that latter group are various: poaching jobs from British-born citizens, depressing wages, failing to observe cultural norms and generally upsetting people with conspicuous otherness.

The vilification reached its apogee in the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. The promise to “take back control” of borders had strong emotional appeal, but was never rooted in the reality of modern Britain, where migrants of all skill levels and income brackets keep the economic and social wheels turning. That awkward fact was always bound to emerge over time, but it has been revealed abruptly by the pandemic.

Farmers are already warning that fruit will rot in the fields without seasonal labour normally provided by EU citizens. Attempts to entice UK workers to fill the gap are failing. Immigrants have kept public transport running, delivered goods and, most poignantly, kept the NHS and social care services operational. They have put their lives at risk for a country that has been, at best, ambivalent about their entitlement to live here at all.

Source: The Guardian view on immigration and Covid-19: old myths are exposed

The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

Good commentary:

Thousands nationwide have protested against India’s new citizenship law in recent days, facing a brutal police response. This is arguably the biggest display of opposition to Narendra Modi since he took power six years ago, and for good reason. Demonstrators have been urged into action not by the sense of a new direction being established, but of the confirmation of the country’s alarming trajectory. The legislation is the proof that Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist project is not a containable anomaly, but an enterprise that threatens the nation’s very foundations of pluralism and secularism. Fear overshadows the hopes of that seven-decade endeavour.

The prime minister has piously tweeted: “This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.” Superficially this is, as the BJP government claims, a law that expands rather than removes rights. It creates a fast-track path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees and Christians arriving from Muslim-majority states, who would otherwise spend years labelled as illegal immigrants. But no one considering either its text or context could seriously regard this as a measure of inclusion. It is inherently one of exclusion, which discriminates against Muslims fleeing persecution, and signals that Muslim citizens are not “truly” Indian. It undermines constitutional protections which apply to foreigners as well as citizens in India.

Source: The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

And an upcoming court challenge:

India’s controversial religion-based citizenship act will have to pass the scrutiny of the nation’s top court, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pledged to push ahead and implement the law.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A.Bobde issued a notice to the government seeking its response. The court agreed to examine the legality of the legislation following more than 50 petitions filed by activists, lawyers, student groups, Muslim bodies, and politicians from across the country. The court will next hear the case on Jan. 22 and may decide in January if the law should be stayed, Bobde said.

The move may calm protesters who have called the law discriminatory because it bars undocumented Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from seeking citizenship but allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who migrated from these regions to do so. On Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah, who shepherded the Citizenship Amendment Act through the Parliament last week, defended it and ruled out any possibility of repealing the law.

“When the country was divided on the basis of religion and the minorities are being persecuted there in the name of religion, then will you not give them your citizenship?” Shah said in comments broadcast on Times Now, referring to the partition of India in 1947. “Where will they go?”

Stateless Risks

The new law is seen as a precursor to Shah’s plan to implement a nationwide citizens register to weed out illegal migrants.

Demonstrations first began in the eastern state of Assam where there are fears the new law would allow an influx of migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Some 1.9 million people in Assam — many of them Muslims — risk losing their Indian citizenship after the state enforced the citizens register in August.

Anger soon spread across many parts of India, including the capital New Delhi, over fears it would damage India’s traditional secular ethos enshrined in its Constitution that treats all religions on par.

Meanwhile, police stormed university campuses across the country this week to quell the protests, which have so far been led largely by students of all faiths.

“This isn’t about religion, this is about justice,” said Neha Sareen, a 22-year-old student at Tuesday’s protests outside Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, which faced the worst police crackdown. “The law is against the constitution of India. It discriminates against fellow citizens.”

Repeal Demands

Protesters remain firm on their demand for a repeal of the act, said Shifa Ur Rehman Khan, president of Jamia university’s alumni association. Yet, the government has shown no signs of backing down on the bill. On Tuesday, Shah said no Indian citizen of any faith need worry about the citizenship rules.

The government is now turning its attention to building a temple for the Hindu warrior god Ram on the site of a demolished mosque in northern India, after the country’s top court gave a verdict in the favor of Hindu groups last month.

If the protests continue to gather steam there are fears it will distract the government from its economic problems and undermine efforts to attract foreign investment. Asia’s third-biggest economy is growing at its slowest pace in more than six years and unemployment is the highest in more than four decades.

Shah told industry leaders in Mumbai on Tuesday that the Modi government is working toward fixing a temporary economic slowdown and that it should recover ground in three quarters. Shah, whose interview was broadcast at the Times Network India Economic Conclave in Mumbai, got support from at least one executive.

“The idea of a strong India is important and it is sad that the students are getting sucked into politics,” said Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Steel Ltd.before Shah’s speech. “This law will protect the country from illegal immigrants.”

The last time Shah addressed business leaders in Mumbai billionaire Rahul Bajaj spoke to say corporate India was hesitant about criticizing the current government.

Source: Supreme Court to Examine Contentious India Citizenship Law

The Guardian view on attitudes to immigration: focus on people, not numbers

Sensible suggestion:

Given what is already known about the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy, the discovery that hundreds of people, legally in the UK, were wrongly detained between 2010 and 2017 is not surprising. That makes it no less shocking.

Figures released to parliament’s home affairs select committee show that the government has paid tens of millions of pounds in compensation to victims of these egregious errors. But perhaps most illuminating is the revelation of staff bonuses for meeting “personal objectives” linked to enforced removals.

Confusion and obfuscation over deportation targets led ultimately to Amber Rudd’s resignation as home secretary. The use of financial incentives to meet targets adds another layer of perversion to a bureaucracy that plainly lost sight of the fact that it was dealing not with numbers but with human beings.

A lesson of the Windrush scandal is that public opinion towards real-life immigrants is more nuanced than public debate over the abstract thing called immigration. Harrowing individual stories elicited compassion and outrage. It was not a turning of the political tide, but it felt like a significant current.

Government policy is still skewed by the presumption that voters demand strict immigration regimes. That imperative is paramount in Theresa May’s conspicuously unsuccessful Brexit strategy. It comes as little consolation that the rest of the EU is struggling with the same issue. The difficulty in finding a common position on border control, and the potentially destabilising consequences of failing to do so, dominate the agenda at the European summit that began today.

There is no diplomatic bandwidth for discussing Brexit, and the UK is judged to have removed itself from any other top-table conversation among continental leaders. Yet even Brexit will not neutralise anti-immigration feeling in the UK, which pre-dates the leave campaign and was co-opted by it to foment hostility to the EU. Brexit was mis-sold as the antidote to deeper economic and cultural anxieties. Now it is a distraction from the task of addressing those concerns.

Liberal opinion has for years been divided on how to acknowledge concern about rapid demographic change without indulging prejudice. Not everyone who is worried about immigration is racist, but every racist resents immigration. Political rhetoric does not always permit nuanced distinction between the two positions. Trumpeting the economic benefits of immigration doesn’t persuade those who suspect such benefits are enjoyed by elites, elsewhere. But colluding in the narrative that immigration is a drain on prosperity does nothing to shift opinion towards greater tolerance.

There is no guaranteed method for spreading positive attitudes, but endorsing negative views in the hope of mollifying hostility hasn’t served the liberal cause well. A more effective device, as the Windrush scandal proved, is the telling of individual stories, tracing the contours of the real migrant experience as distinct from faceless abstraction.

Politicians who trade on fear of migrants achieve their goal by dehumanisation – conjuring sinister floods and hordes. The antidote is re-humanisation – bringing the conversation back to real people with real hopes and real contributions to make to society. The xenophobes are winning an argument framed around abstract numbers and targets. They can be disoriented, and ultimately defeated, when those numbers are shown to be human beings.

Source: The Guardian view on attitudes to immigration: focus on people, not numbers

Guardian Debate on Islamophobia and antisemitism: Mehdi Hassan and Jonathan Freedland

Two short video extracts from the 15 September Guardian debate, both adding nuance and understanding to the issues:

Mehdi Hasan on Islamophobia and antisemitism: You won’t change peoples’ minds with data, facts and figures – video | Membership | The Guardian.

Jonathan Freedland on antisemitism: Britain’s Jews don’t necessarily support what Israel does – video,

The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

Worth reading for an alternate view on the “root causes” of extremism and terrorism by Arun Kundnani, and some of the missteps in the “war against terror.”

It does not answer why people in some communities are more drawn to extremism and violence than others. This is not unique to Muslims as other examples, such as previous patterns of violence among some Sikhs or Catholics in Northern Ireland. And many of the people implicated in terrorism and extremism are not the most disadvantaged or excluded in their communities:

This failure to engage with the real roots of violent alienation has ramifications going far beyond security. Both culturalism and reformism neglect what Kundnani calls “the basic political question thrown up by multiculturalism: how can a common way of life, together with full participation from all parts of society, be created?” Those British Muslims who “ghettoised” didn’t do so by choice but as a result of industrial collapse, discriminatory housing policies and the fear of racist violence. Identity politics was promoted and funded by local government in response to a 1970s radicalism (for instance the Asian Youth Movements, modelled on the Black Panthers), which linked anti-racism to anti-capitalism. Home secretary Willie Whitelaw supported “ethnic” TV programming on the grounds that “if they don’t get some outlet for their activities you are going to run yourself into much more trouble”. Multiculturalism, then, was not a leftist plot but a conservative move bringing together the state and community “uncles” against a much more subversive alternative. And in the last decade, while “anti-terror” resources have flowed into Muslim communities, benefiting the usual gatekeepers and provoking the envy of equally deprived non-Muslim communities, young, alienated Muslims, as likely obsessed by the Illuminati as the caliphate, are deterred from speaking – and being challenged – in public.

The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror – review | Books | The Guardian.

If you don’t think multiculturalism is working, look at your street corner

A more encouraging take at the daily interaction level on multiculturalism in the UK:

Think of all those tiny interactions between different ethnic groups on an average British city street: the newsagent, the corner shop, the delivery driver, the postman, friends laughing, children playing, a pair of lovers. This is what generates passive tolerance. You don’t have to be part of the interaction yourself; just witnessing it is enough to have a significant impact – comparable to the effect passive smoking has on your health, hence the term passive tolerance.

This is the finding of seven studies carried out over 10 years in the United States, Europe and South Africa, led by a team of social psychologists at the University of Oxford and published in the journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences. They were careful to rule out the most obvious explanation for their finding, social psychologists Miles Hewstone and Katharina Schmid explain – namely, that the higher levels of tolerance in more diverse neighbourhoods are a result of more tolerant people choosing to live there. Two of the studies were conducted over several years and tracked the same individuals, showing how attitudes changed. Even prejudiced people showed a greater degree of tolerance over time if they lived in a mixed neighbourhood.

The study’s positive message is reinforced by the finding of a separate study led by the same Oxford team – the biggest to date in England on diversity and trust. White British people were asked whether they felt ethnic minorities threatened their way of life, increased crime levels, or took their jobs; ethnic minority participants were asked the same questions. Both groups were then asked about how they interact with other groups in everyday situations, such as corner shops, and then about how much they trusted people from their own and other ethnic groups in their neighbourhood. What the study found was that distrust does rise in diverse communities, but day to day, direct contact cancels it out.

It may be a bit over optimistic, given the rise of UKIP and anti-immigration sentiment, but worth reading and reflecting upon; Putman’s thesis of the negative impact of diversity on trust may be overstated or incorrect.

If you don’t think multiculturalism is working, look at your street corner | Madeleine Bunting | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century by Paul Collier – review | Books | The Guardian

Sounds like an interesting, nuanced read. Review quote:

The economist Paul Collier aims to introduce a measure of nuance – perhaps, as he recognises, unwanted nuance – into this “toxic” sector of public debate, where “high emotion” inspires “fundamentalists” on both sides of the argument. Liberals, however benign their intentions, turn out to be no less emotive in their predetermined approach to immigration than the small-minded racists and nationalists from whom they recoil. Immigration, Collier contends, has been out of bounds for liberal thinkers: “The only permissible opinion has been to bemoan popular antipathy to it.” Postcolonial guilt about historic injustices tends to shape responses to current migration policy, while stifling consideration of wider problems of global poverty.

Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century by Paul Collier – review | Books | The Guardian.