In the wake of new legislation that has told private Islamic schools in the UK to promote British values, and the upsurge of tourists currently standing on the wrong side of tube escalators all over London due to the Olympics – the question arises: should immigrants be expected to adapt to their host country?
The difficulty in ascertaining what exactly a British identity is. Is there even a defined British identity to which immigrants must assimilate? Aside from the fact that we are reportedly six times more likely to be of mixed heritage than our parents are, the fact that Britain was, for so long, a colonialist country, arguably in itself muddies the British identity, which has become more and more mixed.
This is aside from the fact that in a world where transportation links have become increasingly more accessible and travel has become commonplace, what is stopping people going out in search of a better life for themselves and their families? Whereas in the past people would travel from the countryside to the city in search of better work and better opportunities, today’s equivalent of country dwellers can hop on a train, or a boat, or a plane, to take them to wherever they perceive there to be better opportunities for themselves. Should this move mean they have to adapt to the norms of their new surroundings?
This question is particularly important as, often, these new additions bring with them their experiences, their skills and their views on life – factors that arguably could, and often do, prove beneficial to the host country. The UK wouldn’t be the country it is if not for the mass contributions of its immigrant populations.
Arguably the most basic and fundamental aspect of adapting to a culture is learning the language, but recent research suggests that even many second or third generation immigrants speak or understand hardly any English. Perhaps it is unfair to assume that everyone should speak English, but to move to a country where that is the predominant language and not at least attempt to make the words familiar to your ears or your tongue could arguably be supremacist in itself.
The importance in at least attempting to adapt is evident in much of France’s societal problems, which can, at least in part be attributed to the fact that their immigrants are so wholly unassimilated into the society and live in ‘banlieues’ at the edge of the city.
These banlieues house hundreds of thousands of French citizens who originate mostly from North African descent – ones who partially due to feeling completely uninvolved from the society they live in have contributed to mass civil unrest, most notably that of Autumn 2005 where much of the banlieues youth took part in a series of riots.
Therefore assuming that feeling like part of the society is important both for the countries and the immigrant’s well being, the question remains, whose responsibility is it to ensure that this is the case?
Arguably, the immigrants. Just as you wouldn’t go into someone else’s house and expect to abide by your own rules, it could be said that you shouldn’t expect to go into another country and bring all your baggage with you. Especially as in as much as the UK is a free country, the demands it makes on its citizens are not really too hard to abide by. France and its ban of the veil, for example, is arguably much more forceful in its need for its immigrants to adapt to the status quo of the country.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia can also be said to impose their views on the expats and the visitors that frequent their countries, raising the question of why should the UK with its arguably much more lax requirements be expected to adapt to the culture of each and every resident that finds sanctuary on its land? Would it not be easier if those who have made the decision to seek it there, trim their edges in order to live a more harmonious life?
In saying that, at the end of the day we are all human beings and the differences between us, despite coming from different cultures or different religions are not entirely and wholly that different. It is possible to adapt without being a hypocrite to your beliefs.
As one London resident of Pakistani heritage put it: “the idea is integration. Not wholly giving up one thing for another but rather remembering who you are and where you come from and where you currently live and finding a balance between all three. “
For as much as the argument of a free speech and a free country remains, and aside from the fact that some immigrants are uprooted due to factors out of their control, why move to another country if you are unwilling to give or take, anything? Just as love and growth and any relationship require compromise, so does a life outside our own minds.
Words by Alya Mooro
Edited by Natalia