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Artillery Row

Contra Braverman’s critics

Liberals and leftists wring their hands while avoiding the real issues

Now the dust has settled following Suella Braverman’s multiculturalism-critical speech to the American Enterprise Institute in the United States, it’s worth looking at some of the claims of her critics. Such is their tone of moral opprobrium and intellectual haughtiness that they must have torn the Home Secretary limb from rhetorical limb — no?

We can skip over the likes of Mehdi Hasan, who can’t get their heads around the fact that a child of immigrants might be critical of immigration. I thought it was us villainous right-wingers who were meant to believe that individuals should be defined solely by their ethnic heritage, but apparently it’s nice progressives. Ah well. You live and learn.

Easily the dumbest responses come from people who deny that there are problems at all. “What is the basis for the claim that many arrivals live a separate existence in a parallel society?” Gavin Barwell chirrups. “I live in one of the most diverse parts of the country. You’re talking about my friends and neighbours. It is untrue and deeply offensive to suggest they’re not part of our society.”

Barwell is either dim or disingenuous in attempting to refute a claim about many arrivals with reference to some of his acquaintances. Lord Barwell, if I say that many people have brown hair that doesn’t mean that others are not blonde. 

Still, what is more offensive about Barwell’s huffing is its blatant obscurantism. The claim that he expostulates about is undeniable. Let’s run through some evidence from the past couple of years. There was the jihadi stabbing of Sir David Amess. There was the pursuit of a Yorkshire teacher into hiding for showing his students a drawing of Muhammad. There was the attempted bombing of a hospital in Liverpool. There were clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester. There was the intimidation of Yorkshire schoolboys for scuffing a Quran. There were anti-Asian, ethnic separatist protests in Peckham. The existence of Lord Barwell’s friends and neighbours — fine people though I’m absolutely sure they are — does not mean that none of this is happening.

At least Barwell tried to deal with the substance of Mrs Braverman’s claims rather than just wringing his hands about her language. Matthew D’Ancona is appalled that Braverman described uncontrolled migration to Europe as an “existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West”. “This is way beyond the normal language of border management,” he gasps. 

That might sound “shocking”, as Mr D’Ancona writes, but it is what it is

Much as I appreciate that Mr D’Ancona wants to spend his career writing very normal op-eds about very normal things, the fact remains that thousands upon thousands of migrants travelling from a much bigger, much poorer continent to Europe, without any end in sight, is not a normal situation, and fuels the potential for the sort of rapid and unmanageable change that could threaten the legitimacy and functionality of political and cultural institutions. That might sound “shocking”, as Mr D’Ancona writes, but it is what it is.

Some of the more subtle reactions have emanated from people who want to resurrect old arguments about multiculturalism versus assimilation. Should we engage new migrants in the terms of their own heritage, seeking to form a harmonious cultural patchwork, or attempt to inspire their embrace of our own?

An interesting debate. Leftists are not wholly wrong about the right-wing critique of that form of multiculturalism which, in Braverman’s words, “makes no demands of the incomer to integrate”. To be sure, we should resist the diminution of our rights in the name of appeasing hot sensitivities, and the empowerment of self-appointed “community leaders”, but it would be folly to pretend that this would be a panacea. French laïceté — which has made the state more hostile to public displays of Islam, for example — has not prevented more sensational acts of terrorism and minority unrest than even Britain has experienced.

The plain fact is that there are no smoothly effective means of integrating immigrants on the scale that they have entered Western European nations — and, contra Braverman, one cannot draw a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration here. Combine a lot of different ingredients together in one dish, in great quantities, and your cooking methods become less than wholly relevant. This is not to denigrate immigration, still less immigrants (full disclosure: I am one). It is a question of numbers, and our chin-stroking, forehead-rubbing discourse in the normal language of border management is not up to the job. Braverman at least appreciates the nature of the problem — even if, after decades of Conservative promises, words sound a lot cheaper than they should.

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