Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Wednesday ? - British values of tolerance

A quick introduction into the Wednesday ?

I propose using the Wednesday ? on a trial basis over the next few weeks. The purpose of it, unlike Questioning The Headlines (which I will do again shortly), is to look at specific words and/or phrases that are used, mainly by those in power, as a means of short-cutting any criticism or independent thought.

I want to highlight these words and phrases, and promote public debate. This is where you come in. It would be fantastic if you could post your own thoughts to add to the discourse. By doing so, hopefully, we can build on a cultural understanding of these terms, and de-construct some of the (inherent?) assumptions contained within them.

British values of tolerance”

The Telegraph reported yesterday that the coalition government would be publishing their new integration strategy for immigrants coming to make the UK their home. The article continued:
The integration strategy will state: “We believe in certain values and will actively promote them: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; democracy and the rule of law. Long-standing British values of tolerance are the bedrock of our society. We will champion a united British identity, across class, colour and creed.”
I could have added the term “long-standing”, but this will be discussed as part of my critique. Equally, I could have covered “British values” as a stand-alone subject, but I want to keep this post shorter than my other analyses, and I would like you to stay awake.

Assumptions of the “British values of tolerance”

In terms of what is being promoted, I would hazard a guess that this phrase is being used to summon up that fuzzy feeling of “being proud to be British”; we are a civilised people, who have welcomed peoples of different race, creed, and religion to the UK. It assumes that we do not just “put up with” people from different backgrounds, but that we were the first nation to promote a “tolerance” that advocates equal rights.

The idea that it is traditionally British, embeds these values with being white, middle/upper class, able-bodied, and more than likely, male.

The world in 1897 - British possessions coloured red
British values of tolerance”?

Beyond the rampant theft of resources in Africa and Asia as the British Empire extended its power, another part of its expansion was evangelical, which saw us trying to “civilise” other nations. This was not a tolerance, this was an imposition of our behaviour onto those who lived in different parts of the world.

Since the turn of the 20th Century, whilst the British have allowed peoples from other cultures to settle in the UK, it has come with ever increasing legislation and consternation.

The Aliens Act of 1905 was the first act to introduce immigration controls for the UK; it was designed to stop an increasing number of Jewish immigrants entering the UK. Ever since, the British have legislated for other people to join them as a means to fill gaps in the labour market (British Nationalist Act 1948), and then have passed acts to stop them entering the UK (Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962) as a result of a public backlash.

Racially motivated riots over the last 60 years or so do not indicate that we live/have lived in a society that has promoted tolerance in the way that the phrase indicates. Clearly, we welcome people into the UK when it fulfils British economic needs, but that we “put up” with them living here. The notion that this British value of tolerance is “long-standing” is faulty.

Although the term implies an equality of residential rights in the UK, it rests on the idea that immigrants are/were “lucky” to have come here. It does not take into account whether people were well-educated in their country of birth, nor that they took menial work and wage in the UK, let alone whether they have been driven out of their homes because of war. Including those that Britain engages in.

There is also a denial of other nation's values of tolerance in this term. Societies around parts of Asia and Africa regularly welcome foreigners, and strangers, into their homes, and treat them as family members or long-standing friends. Why is their value of tolerance supposedly not as good as ours?

Supposedly, this integration strategy also promotes ideas of tolerance to hate groups in the UK. My fear is that this strategy only promotes the kind of toleration discussed above, and that we are pandering to an outdated idea.

After a century of official multi-cultural living in the UK, it would be interesting to know what today's “British values of tolerance” mean now. Over to you.

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