By Chris Harman
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1800

Peter Hain sinks into the gutter with the scapegoaters

This article is over 20 years, 1 months old
'Muslim immigrants can be very isolationist and need to integrate more' PETER HAIN
Issue 1800

EUROPE MINISTER Peter Hain is the latest politician to claim that the way to fight the racists is to accept some of their central arguments. Hain built his reputation as an opponent of apartheid. But in interviews on TV and in the Guardian at the beginning of the week he pandered to racist ideas. He claimed, ‘It’s really, really important that we have an honest debate about immigration and asylum.’ But he then went on to repeat one of the biggest lies of the lot-that some countries are a ‘soft touch’.

‘Some southern Mediterranean countries don’t process asylum seekers in the way that we do,’ he said. Every week people fleeing from persecution or war in Iraq, southern Turkey, Afghanistan or northern Africa drown because their flimsy craft are not allowed to land in Greece, Italy or Spain.

What does Hain want? NATO troops to machine-gun them in the water? He has also joined the campaign of gutter papers like the Daily Express, Mail and Sun over the Sangatte refugee hostel near Calais. Hain has put his hope in the newly formed Tory government in France to take action.

He hopes that ‘it is going to be much more seized with doing something about this, and about time too.’ Hain claims that Le Pen, the French Nazi, ‘did very well in the Sangatte area’, and that the way to undercut him is to attack refugees. In other words, the way to get rid of racism in an area is to drive out the victims of racism!

So presumably the more the Nazis try to blame all of society’s problems on people from immigrant backgrounds, the more New Labour will persecute such people. You can never get rid of people’s prejudices by pandering to them. You have to argue against them. And the arguments in this case are simple. Immigrants and asylum seekers are a boon to any country.

They are people with skills which are desperately needed. They usually speak two or more languages fluently, and they have often displayed enormous initiative in finding their way right across Europe. It is not difficult to make people understand these things.

In the town of Calais near Sangatte Le Pen actually got fewer votes than the combined vote of left wing parties who oppose his scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers. He got 18.5 percent of the vote, as against 27.5 percent for the combined vote of the revolutionary candidates, the Greens and the Communist Party. But to win the argument you have to begin by saying you welcome immigrants and asylum seekers, not give in to the prejudices against them.

Prejudice which is really about race is often wrapped up today in talk about ‘culture’. If ethnic minorities suffer discrimination, it is supposedly because they are not prepared to ‘integrate’ into the culture around them. This is how Le Pen in France and Griffin in Britain try to disguise their racism.

But there is no such thing as an unchanging ‘national culture’. The ‘culture’ of most people in Britain today is radically different to that of a century ago. And at any one time the experience of people within supposedly the same ‘cultural group’ is sharply separated by class.

The way of life of the queen is a world away from that of the people (including the white people) who she waved at in the East End of London last week. Talk of a dominant national culture in Britain is a cover for racism against those who are deemed to have a different culture.

But the majority of people in Britain recognise that their lives have been enriched by the different kinds of food, music, festivals and entertainment now in our cities.

At the same time, the ‘cultures’ from which ethnic minorities come are usually growing like the changed ‘British’ culture. For good or for ill, the programmes shown on Asian channels like Star are very similar to those shown on other channels. They have similar soap opera storylines and programmes like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Bollywood movies are increasingly influenced by Hollywood movies. This is because people right across the world have been drawn into the capitalist market system and their old cultures transformed in similar ways as a result. Once again, however, New Labour is increasingly echoing the racist line in seeing different cultures as a threat.

This is what Blunkett has done by insisting that Asians must identify with ‘British’ values and take citizenship tests. This is what Hain does when he says, ‘Muslim immigrants can be very isolationist and need to integrate more.’

You would think that the segregation which exists in some areas of Britain is a result of Asian people deliberately living apart from everyone else. The real reason, of course, is racial discrimination in housing and jobs, and a fear of racist abuse and attacks that leads people to cling together for mutual protection.

Instead of seeing this, Hain says that ‘there is a tendency among a minority of Muslims to isolate themselves, and that leaves them open to targeting by racists and Nazis’. Disgracefully, he is blaming Asians for the fact they are attacked by the BNP and its friends. Hain says he wants an ‘honest dialogue’.

That should start by seeing that people who are insulted every day as ‘Muslim scum’ are likely to say they are proud to be Muslims-just as people of African origin talk of ‘black pride’ and gay people of ‘gay pride’. They are also likely to be contemptuous of a supposed majority ‘culture’ that tolerates such abuse.

A few will be tempted to go further and to respond with an intolerance of their own directed against people of other backgrounds, whether they be Christian, Hindu, Jewish or atheist. The answer is not to blame the victims for their isolation.

It is to show that the rest of us are prepared to fight for their rights-and against the filthy lies about culture put about by Le Pen, Griffin and the rest. Hain has chosen instead to echo some of those lies.


Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance