National identity evolves with or without immigration

What is the notion of the national identity and could we agree on common values? What is it that forms the nation apart from geography, justice and freedom?

I have written before on the economic benefits of immigration and the mix of cultures. But I wonder about the impact of countries taking in so many people, the changing demographics if immigrants do not speak the national language and the change in the balance of local culture.

The far-right might gain ground on these issues, but the left must address them too. Nobody on the left dares pronounce against immigration; socialism focuses on integration. And rightly so. But would anyone choose positive immigration? Some say that we need foreign workers to bolster the workforce. Would it not be better to retrain currently unemployed people? 

If not fleeing from war or hardship, migrants do not change their country to draw social benefits, they do so to find work. Migrants must always be integrated so that they also pay taxes. Clandestine immigration is the worst of both worlds because they are both accused of taking jobs and do not contribute to communal tax income.

Migration is for social reasons, people fleeing war or persecution, but would you actually call for people to come here? We might like their food and understand that mixing cultures is good for our own, but what is the risk of losing our own culture? Is it at risk of extinction or just improvement?

What cultural values?

Most agree that the fundamental values are those of justice, that the courts are supreme and that all adhere to their rulings. The UK has a thousand years of history and law. But do right-wingers think that African, Caribbean, Pakistani or Afghan immigrants want to overthrow the state? No more than certain white individuals.

We should not confuse the needs of migrating families with the intentions of terrorists to destabilise the world. A minority tarnish the name of migrants with despicable violence. We should not be swayed.

Evolving Societies

What does it mean for a state and a society to evolve? In the Western world states mostly evolve for the better. An example would be by voting for human rights. In Africa many states are unstable but after having been taken over by dictators – Uganda by Idi Amin and others, the Philippines by Duterte.

But are these fears of subversion really the fears of the right and why do they seem so far-fetched? I think it is more an everyday thing, of wanting to find others in agreement, the notion of belonging, perhaps wondering to what group they belong when around them many people seem to be from elsewhere. People look to their surroundings and local communities for their identity.

National Identity

Is this a tenable, desirable situation? The solution is to ensure that immigrants learn English, that they adopt local customs and adhere to Englishness –  if only we could define it ourselves.

There are people who think they understand national identity. What is it? History, the law of the land, the habits or opinions of a subgroup or behaviour accepted by the majority.

Even if British national identity were defined, it is understood and yet different for all. Perhaps it is geography or adhesion to unspoken norms that permeate everyday life? But even if we take a snapshot of society today, any national identity will change and evolve with or without immigration.

The rightists believe then that there should be a high enough proportion of nationals to influence change and maintain a national identity: keep England English and France French.

The far right wants English to mean white Christian ‘patriots’. Being English must not exclude Muslims.

After a while people just become English. I bet people born in England of whatever origin consider themselves as English as anyone after a while.

We cannot accept anyone who is against England or wishes to subvert the state but must beware of not stifling opposition, dissent or well-intentioned desire for change. Perhaps only a royal family can guarantee a continued national identity. But although steeped in history and tradition, even a royal family will evolve.

Common Values

In conclusion, then, if a nation has a national identity most would be hard pushed to define a set of values or beliefs acceptable to all. We do not even agree 100% in elections and referenda or even in everyday parliaments. Perhaps we could go some way to set down in writing some values or beliefs that identify each nation. Would we find agreement?

Perhaps then it is just geography and the maintenance of peace. How could we justify going to war if not to defend ourselves? Some countries such as Switzerland and Sweden do not. It might be our allegiance to the government and elected leaders. What then if we voted for those who lost the election?

There is the idea of fealty to a country even if the law binds us whether we like it or not. Perhaps the only qualification for nationality is accepting the law of the land while reserving the right to change that law by democratic means.

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