THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
If I had a hammer
Citizenship 'is a privilege not a right'

A disappointed idealist

The young Misses Paine say that I am not a cynic, but a disappointed idealist. As I think to reach middle age without cynicism is the mark of a fool, I am not sure that's the compliment I hope they intend.

I was reminded of this last week when chatting to an Indian friend about the divided loyalties of those British citizens fighting in the Syrian civil war or, worse, against British forces in Afghanistan. 

I mentioned administering the oath of allegiance to immigrants, as I did on quite a few occasions as a young lawyer in Nottingham. I commented that it was touching for me how happy they were at reaching the end of the naturalisation process. I always made a point of shaking their hands and welcoming them to citizenship. If anything, I was rather flattered that they had chosen to be British, as well as amused that they accomplished it by swearing an oath I was not sure - as a republican - I could take myself.

I mentioned two friends from Russian immigrant families who are far more stereotypically English than I am, having embraced their new nationality with vigour. If anything, they rather overdo it - resembling PG Wodehouse characters in their speech and demeanour.

I told the story of a Jewish friend whose grandfather had brought his family to London before the war as refugees from Nazism. He had almost missed his chance because he was such a patriot; a frontkämpfer in the First World War and holder of the Iron Cross. When the Nazis were elected he told his family "Germany is the most civilised nation on Earth and these clowns won't last for long". When he realised his mistake he fled in the nick of time and - in gratitude to the country that gave his family refuge - became just as patriotic an Englishman.

I also mentioned an American lady I had chatted to long ago in a London bar. I recognised her name as Polish (I was living in Warsaw at the time) and spoke a few words to her in that language. She responded, testily;

I assume that was Polish but I don't speak it. My father forbade us to learn it when we were young because he said we had chosen to become Americans and should not be half-hearted about it.

I said I was surprised at the time but that, on reflection, I thought her father was right. Any problems we had with some immigrants' divided loyalties were - I argued - our own fault for not expecting as much. 

Finally, I mentioned that a Russian friend had suggested - after I had lived in his country for some years - that I should apply for citizenship. He offered to support my application. He was patriotic so it was really quite a compliment but I concluded fairly quickly that (economically attractive though the idea was) I was not fluent enough in Russian to pursue it. I felt I could not be a citizen in a country where I was unable to play my full part. Also, although Russians don't play cricket, I would have had to pass Norman Tebbit's test in my own mind. Much though I like Russia, I didn't think I could. For example, there were many things about life there that did not concern me because they simply did not feel like my business, whereas I was still profoundly engaged in British affairs.

My friend thought the Tebbit test "ridiculous" and said I expected too much of people changing citizenship. In terms that might have made a BNP member blush, she said she thought our immigrants are facultative Brits at best. They had moved here to improve their economic circumstances but not otherwise to change who they are. She did not even think that was possible; being unable to imagine that anyone - despite the examples I had given - would willingly turn their back on their family and culture.

This is the logic of multiculturalism; legally British but not in any way expected to change. Rather the host culture is to consider itself enriched by its new additions. I asked if those ex-Indians and ex-Pakistanis I had welcomed in my youth would have laughed at me behind my back. She some of them would have been touched by my naiveté, but none would have understood the decision they had made in the terms I imagined.

I am all for open borders in principle. A libertarian state would have no welfare programmes, so our only immigrants would be those looking to add value. American was carried from backwardness to economic leadership by wave upon wave of people who chose to be Americans - and not to be half-hearted about it. Multiculturalism may be a mistake but I have always been inclined to welcome immigrants who want to be British, regardless of their origins.

Is this one more way in which I must now move from idealist to cynic?


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