Are We Losing Ourselves in ‘The Other’?

miliband migration

There are so many people you hear lamenting the “loss of our jobs” to immigrants, who are often just seeking a better life for their selves and their families. Sensationalist headlines, suggesting British cultural traditions are being drowned out by ‘foreign’ celebrations. Word of mouth even, when people are asked, “why did you choose to vote UKIP?”, it will often be down to the want to keep our borders closed, and the ‘Other’ out.

But why? Why is there this fear, or rejection at least, or external cultures? What are people seeking to defend?

There’s a really funny Vice News article on what it is to be British. It’s so accurate of the Inbetweeners generation, and also proves that the patriotism here is often limited to extreme levels, seen in jest, or with concern. Our culture is not a ‘one size fits all’ culture. It’s an amalgamation of various influences; a melting pot of culture. British way of life is one which is built upon immigration. From Notting Hill Carnival to going for a curry and a pint, we are a country built upon the influence of immigration. Since the arrival of the Windrush in 1948, when the first large wave of Caribbean migrants arrived, Britain has been lucky enough to welcome migrants to our shores consistently, and grow from it.

Why should we allow people to come to Britain to seek asylum? This British culture that is feared to be lost or trampled upon by these overbearing cultures… What exactly is it? I can’t think of one British cultural tradition which runs deeply throughout the nation; especially one which is disappearing. I cannot think of one uniting understanding that holds together the British peoples.

Except one. Tolerance. We are a country of tolerance and pluralism. You could argue: ‘But this blog post suggests otherwise!’. This is not what I want to convey. I want to argue that we, Brits, are a lucky group of people, who are free and should be thankful we live in a place that people run to to be free. Our British culture is that of tolerance; we do not suppress women, with laws stopping them from driving, or forcing them to wear certain clothes. We do not prevent people from worshipping their god of choice. We do not restrict what language is spoken. We do not prevent families from having more than one child. We have a free press. We can travel the world. We are not at risk of state-enforced violence, or martial law. We have the freedom of movement throughout Europe. We have the freedom to vote who we wish to vote for. The list is extensive.

So I would like to argue – no. We are not losing ourselves in ‘The Other’. This may sound preach-y, but I fear sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture and the global perspective is overshadowed by Daily Mail-esque scaremongering. We are instead growing, learning and adapting to live together. We are tolerant and respectful of individual rights. What we reject, is the loss of this freedom and plurality; not ‘foreign’ beliefs. Instead of rejecting ‘The Other’, we should encourage the understanding and tolerance that this country has begun to develop, since decolonising in the 1950-60s onwards. There obviously is still an awful lot more to be done; the West in general needs to enhance its understanding of other cultures, and that West isn’t Best. But in terms of the UK?

We can’t militantly argue that we are losing our Britishness, when really, it is a collective identity, formed by international movement and heritage. What is our own, and what should be defended, however, is our freedom and tolerance; we should be proud to be a place of asylum for those suffering elsewhere. We should embrace it and we should protect those who come to be safe. We are made up of ‘The Other’. There is no longer a binary argument surrounding this. Our overarching and sweeping culture is liberating and understanding.

We are not losing ourselves; we are gaining.

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Intervention vs. Interference

Peace making. Peace building. Providing a helping hand. On a ‘totally amazing gap yahh’. However you look at it, Western involvement in other areas of the world is increasing. Intentions are good for the most part. At an individual level, when people sign up to go to an African country and build infrastructures, or irrigation systems, or work in a school, they do so because they want to provide any relief they can to a community that has little in the way of resources. At a much larger level, often, Western political forces get involved in conflict zones as a part of their own political agenda.

Liberal peacebuilding is a concept that is being highly contested by scholars as I type. Can liberalism exist alongside a notion of intervention? Debatable. The main foundations of liberalism denote that individual rights and cultures are fundamental creating a harmonious society. Whether or not intervention can even nod towards acknowledging existing traditions and individual rights is a tough one to answer. Creating a democratic environment in which people can flourish individually would be the argument that this is not, in fact, a contradiction of terms. However, I see the paradox as being that the concepts of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberalism’ are highly Westernised in how they are conceived. Why should local people in less powerful states be indoctrinated by Western values? Is democracy really what is the most effective method of building peace?

Imposing values which are alien to the local people can only cause friction. Often, there is a development of resentment towards those who are intervening, as there is little local understanding of what is important in the society. A rejection of the help is seen in West Africa now, as the Ebola crisis unfolds. Local people who are in small villages are having strangers in white biosuits turn up, with unknown accents, taking away their sick children away, and coming back with their lifeless bodies. Then, to add insult to this injury, the medical professionals are not allowing the grieving family to bury their loved ones in the traditional way that they are used to. Obviously, there is valid reasons for this, as the containment of Ebola needs to be prioritised. However, education is what is important. In order to meet in the middle, the Western intervening forces cannot solely provide a solution with a legitimate local understanding; local people need to have some kind of education in matters such as this, and local understanding should also be utilised. So, in this case, there is a ‘meet in the middle’ solution.

However, whether the notion of liberal peacebuilding is ideal or not is the main issue here. If women are second-class citizens in a village in Nepal, why is democracy considered to be the best solution for that village? Westernising the world is not the be all and end all for the world’s problems. Often as well, Western intervention is done with a hidden agenda of gaining a foothold in a place where potential interests lie. Again, with the Ebola crisis, there was no Western action until the fear of it hitting Europe was close to becoming a reality. Shouldn’t we see the world as a population of human beings, and if someone is in need, that is when to step in and give a helping hand? Although this is unrealistic, it is an attitude that could provide a less politically fuelled plan of action.

The overarching issue I have with the intervention vs. interference debate is the Western, mainly white superiority complex that is felt throughout the main actions that are taken. Why does it seem like a white person will step in to a project in, for example, Kenya, and bring a new hope to the community? Is it purely a selfish act of do-good-feel-good? Or is it genuine delusion that these short-term actions will make a real difference? The fact that there is a market for these sort of projects says a lot. Selling places on a volunteering project for white teenagers to go over and construct a poorly-built school that the villagers will only knock down and re-build with their own skills is evidence of the Western pedestal that we place ourselves on.

We do not know better; we know differently. The sooner we acknowledge this, the greater the improvements will be in our intervention at every level of scale. It is about communication, education and compromise. We cannot force one set of ideals upon an existing society. It simply will not work, and it does not work.

This is something to be continued, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.