There seems to be a genuine debate emerging about the nature of citizenship in Britain in the wake of the London bombings.
In a Times interview yesterday, Home Office Minister Hazel Blears used a similar American comparison to the one made by David Davis last week.
The new “minister of multiculturalism” does not even like the word. “Diversity” is better, she says. People should be able to lead different, but not separate, lives. In her series of meetings with Muslims this summer, one question she will ask will be whether they would rather be termed “British-Asian” or “Indian-British” rather than simply Muslim or Asian.
“In America, they do seem to have the idea that you’re an Italian-American, or you’re an Irish-American, and that’s quite interesting,” she says.
“I think it’s really important, if you want a society that’s really welded together, there are certain things that unite us because we’re British, but you can be a bit different too.” (Times Online)
I argued after Davis’s speech that any attempt to transplant an American concept of citizenship raises profound questions about British political culture. It looks like some of those questions are now being asked.
Isama Saeed Bhutta, the Scottish spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Great Britain, said that Ms Blears’s idea was not very constructive.
“What we already know from research into this is that Asians in Scotland are more likely to call themselves Scots than the Scots themselves,” he said. “I think that is because they come from parts of the world such as Kashmir where there is or has been a strong identification with nationalist movements. In any case they identify themselves first and foremost in terms of their religion. So they are Muslims, for example, before they are Asian.
“I just do not see what use this suggestion would be. The term ‘British’ for many people who come to this country has too many connotations with colonialism and imperialism, while the terms ‘Scottish’ does not.” (Times Online)
The Campaign for an English Parliament blog has spotted an article by Fraser Nelson which sums the problem up perfectly.
In recent years, Tony Blair has realised the problems of his failure to integrate British Muslims – the warning signal came in the Bradford race riots of 2001. Ever since then, he has been tentatively trying to project Britishness.
The result: British citizenship ceremonies, where immigrants pledge loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors. Yet opinion polls say that only 45% of Britons want the monarchy to outlive the Queen.
In American citizenship ceremonies, it is not unusual to see tears of joy – or to see the new citizen spontaneously kiss the ground. In Britain, it’s viewed – not without justification – as a bureaucratic formality.
The agony which many of the MSPs found in swearing allegiance to the monarch raises the question of whether they would pass the citizenship test. But if a better mark of Britishness is needed, where do we look? (Scotsman)