February 11, 2005


'You feel alienated in your own backyard': Today's concern about immigration seems to be less a story about them, than a story about us. (Josie Appleton, 2/11/05, Spiked)

The immigration issue seems to strike a popular chord like no other today. A recent YouGov poll found that two thirds of voters think that there are too many migrants coming into the UK, and three quarters think that migrants are putting strain on public services. [...]

This doesn't seem to be about racism. It's not really about defending the interests and identity of white British communities against black, Asian or Jewish foreigners. A survey released in December 2004 found an increase in concern about immigrants since 1995, but no increase in racial prejudice (2). A survey carried out for the think-tank Migrationwatch UK found that while 75 per cent were concerned about immigrants, over 50 per cent said that they were happy to live in a multicultural society.

It is the unknown quantity of immigrants that causes most unease. The concern is that you don't know who they are and can't get a handle on them, rather than that they are from a specific ethnic group. [...]

The immigration debate is less a story about them, than a story about us. It seems that people's sense of alienation from public life - from their neighbours, from public institutions, from government - is being projected on to the immigrant incomer.

We've seen the erosion of many of the social bonds that bound us together, and to public institutions. 'You feel alienated in your own backyard', says James Bryce Smith, a 31-year-old marketing manager. When we feel that we are strangers to one other, perhaps we pin these worries on to the unknown figure of the immigrant. When we don't feel much connection to government, or ownership of public institutions, we imagine that this is because they are serving the interests of others. The sense of not having much stake in Britain is projected on to those who come to Britain from elsewhere.

That's especially insightful--Britain (along with the rest of Europe) faces an existential crisis because of the combination of secularization, statism, transnationalism, demographic decline, and immigration. Geoffrey Hill captured the situation poetically in DARK-LAND:
Wherein Wesley stood
up from his father's grave,
summoned familiar dust
for strange salvation:

whereto England rous'd,
ignorant, her inane
Midas-like hunger: smoke
engrossed, cloud-encumbered,

a spectral people
raking among the ash;
its freedom a lost haul
of entailed riches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2005 1:36 PM
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