It’s fascinating to watch the uproar in the UK over the wisdom of giving a platform on a BBC TV program to Nick Griffin, leader of the controversial British National Party.
Griffin and the BNP are not afraid to flaunt their anti-immigrant, pro-’indigenous white British’ basic platform. The furore has been on whether allowing Griffin on to a popular BBC interview program was simply in line with accommodating all viewpoints and with free speech, or whether doing so encouraged hate speech.
There seems little doubt that while the BNP may still be a fringe party with no representation in the British parliament, it has definitely struck a sympathetic nerve in a section of British society that feels inundated by immigrants from Asia and Africa. Many white Britons who would never admit it publicly may well agree with Griffin quips such as that London ‘is no longer part of Britain. There is not much support for me there because the place is dominated by ethnic minorities. There is an ethnic minority that supports me: the English. But there’s not many of them left. London is no longer a city my grandparents would recognise. It is changed beyond all recognition. Many of the ancestral Londoners have left over the last 20 years because they can no longer call it home.’
Griffin’s opponents react with outrage to such comments and point out that London’s increasingly multi-cultural nature is one of it’s strengths, and that the immigrants whose numbers there have been growing for decades have given as much or more to the society as they are perceived to take from it. All this may be true, but I also have no trouble at all understanding the misgivings of ‘indigenous white Britons’ to the speed and scale of the changes that have been caused by the influx in recent decades of immigrants, legal and otherwise, from ‘strange’ cultures.
Compounding the tensions is the fact that the nature of British political-correctness, perhaps influenced by sensitivity to charges of discrimination and racism from Britian’s colonial era, is such that even new and illegal immigrants to that country can claim societal ‘rights’ which would not be expected or granted in most other societies. One result of this is that some groups of immigrants there seem to feel less of an obligation to fit into the mores of the society than would be the case in other countries. So instead of feeling a need to fit into the ‘British way of life,’ many of the immigrants instead demand that their host society go out of its way to accommodate their cultural, religious and other practices. I can well understand how many Britons feel that this politically-correct, bend-over-backwards accommodativeness has gone too far, and that in sections of their society they feel increasingly like the strangers rather than the hosts/natives.
Yet a lot of this is colonial chickens coming home to roost. Many years ago during what used to be called a ‘race riot’ by immigrants protesting some ill-treatment or other, to the question of why the immigrants were coming into a Briton where their reception was then at best mixed and sometimes hostile, replied, “We are here because you were there.”
What she meant was that the links that were now drawing many of the new immigrants to the UK were formed during the heydays of Britain’s colonizing mission, when it dominated and ‘owned’ a good chunk of the world. What the protester was in effect saying was that in a way the tables were being turned and the once-colonizing British had to put up with the waves of immigration as one consequence of their once having ‘ruled the world.’ To different extents, other former colonial powers like France, Portugal and Italy are facing the same issue of large numbers of people from their former colonies regarding their capitals as magnets for achieving life goals which it is thought are difficult to impossible to achieve at home.
There is obviously indisputable truth to “we are here because you were there,” although the fact of that truth is hardly comfort to a Briton who feels that ‘the natives’ (of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, etc) are ‘taking over’ places like London.
I don’t know whether Griffin and his BNP have an official position on ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis.’ But it is a pretty safe bet to guess that they are nostalgic for Rhodesia and are sympathetic to ex-Rhodesians like the white farmers who have borne the brunt of Robert Mugabe’s fury. Yet one irony is that Griffins’s message of representing what he says are the ignored interests of white Britons is very similar to that of Mugabe’s ‘Zimbabwe for the black Zimbabweans’ message. Yet the British right wing loathes Mugabe for his treatment of Zimbabwe’s white farmers in the name of black empowerment and of correcting the ills of the colonial era.
Another irony of the resentment of that section of white Britain at the ‘colonization’ of places like London by African/Asians/Middle Easterners/etc is that there are many ways in which the British colonization of the ancestral homes of today’s immigrants was similar. Griffin speaks for the white Britain that is worried not just about the numbers of immigrants, but about how they often stick to and propagate aspects of their culture more than they learn and take on the ‘British culture.’ Yet there was rarely ever any question of British colonialists feeling the need to learn the languages of ‘native’ peoples or bend to their cultures, let alone adopt them. As a matter of course the natives simply had to learn the language, culture, religion, etc of the mighty colonizer Britain, case closed. In this regard then, the new African/Asian/Middle Eastern/etc ‘colonizers’ of the British are much more benign: at least they speak English, many of them have taken on European religions and so forth. So the new colonizers are being much more accommodating of their British ‘subjects’ than the once-colonizing British were of theirs!
It will be interesting to see how the British debate on immgration progresses, and to observe how the BNP influences it. But it seems clear from a historical point of view that what the uneasy-at-immigration Britons are experiencing is a version of “what goes around, comes around.”