The government’s paper Creating the conditions for integration has been published last week presenting a new strategy on this important issue.
In a nutshell, its approach on integration is based on creating conditions for civil society and local communities to deal with the problem themselves – “instead of large-scale, centrally led and funded programmes, we want to inspire and enable civil society and local areas to take action on integration issues that are important to them.” Hence, the five key factors as defined by government are: common ground, responsibility, participation, social mobility and tackling extremism. While this is an overly ambitious task for local areas and civil society, as shall be discussed later, what struck me first was the government’s rhetoric.
According to the government “the first question asked must always be: how can people contribute to building an integrated Britain?”, whereas later in the paper is states that we will cut the red tape, we will act only exceptionally and that the government does not have all the answers. While honestly admitting that it has no overarching solution to integration issue, it seems as if the government is shifting its responsibility onto local areas and civil society precisely because it doesn’t know how to solve it itself. In that sense, the localism strategy it advocates sounds more like a professional rebranding for no strategy at all. Still, at the end of the day, the government will be here to cut the red tape – that is, if everyone else does one job for them.
[h4]It’s localism, stupid![/h4]
The government says that integration is a local issue and requires a local response. First question that has to be addressed here is if integration genuinely is a local issue. Oxford Dictionaries define the verb to integrate as bring into equal participation in or membership of a social group or institution. In the context of British society, the term social group can only refer to the society as a whole. Otherwise, there could be many well-functioning communities whose members feel integrated, but with no sense of integration among those communities themselves, leading to development of parallel societies. Therefore, claiming that integration is a local issue is an over-simplifying approach that only benefits the government, as it cannot be held accountable for failed integration – local areas are to blame. This strategy suggests that migrants’ place in politics is only at the local level and almost shuns their participation in national debates. Still, the consequences of a failed integration will affect the entire society.
Secondly, the government suggests that the local areas should promote economic regeneration, challenge extremist narrative, tackle promotion of division and prejudice and protect vulnerable individuals. Even if integration was a local issue, has the government considered whether the local areas and civil society have the knowledge and the resources to do all that? Some of these questions have been examined in a recent research project AMICALL. What happens if visions and missions of different local areas collide? Also, it is too ambitious to expect local areas and civil societies to deliver all those different services by themselves. The government did not propose any solutions to these potential problems, nonetheless it did generously promise “small amount of funding necessary to kick-start action”. Surely, British NGOs will be happy to hear this.
[h4]No place for atheist immigrants[/h4]
Furthermore, several other things got me confused while reading the paper. I do not understand why there is so much emphasis on religion. How can holding prayers at the beginning of the formal meeting help integration of different segments of society, and also what is the purpose of volunteering on days which coincide with religious festivals? While I respect others’ right to practice religion, I would also like the government to respect my right not to be involved in any religious events. I see how the government wants religious migrants to integrate, but how should a non-religious migrant like myself do that? Nevertheless, my rejection of religion is by no means rejection of integration as such, unless someone puts the equation sign between those two.
At the same time, while the emphasis was put on religion, media got no attention at all – the term itself was mentioned only two times in the entire text. The government either doesn’t understand or it simply neglects the importance media has in creating public opinion and therefore effecting people’s behaviour. Every journalism student knows that bad news is good news and this applies to integration as well. Has anyone in the government thought about the way immigrants are represented in British media, or has anybody considered why no positive and affirmative stories on integration can be found in daily newspapers? If not, see our recent submission to the Leveson Inquiry about media bias and refugees.
Finally, I do not understand why talking about discrimination of homosexuals and disabled persons in the paper on integration, unless the authors thought that mentioning discrimination of other vulnerable groups might relativize problems immigrants face. The icing on the cake was the statement that white people in Britain today feel disempowered compared to people from ethnic minority groups, while two paragraphs lower disappointing statistics can be found: a third of Muslims have suffered abuse or hostility after July 7 bombings. While one group might feel disempowered, it is another group that actually faces discrimination and violence.
To sum up, the government believes that the integration problem can be solved with a couple of brooms and a bit of locals’ good will, just like the mess after August riots was. Creating the conditions for integration is an optimistically written paper using many professional terms and complex expressions, but what can be found underneath all those words is simply – a lame integration policy.