‘Only by trying to understand each other’s culture and traditions can we dispel mistrust.’
Extract from The Myth of UK Integration
By Kailash Puri with Bob Whittington
Published by Whittles
Kailash Puri spent her lifetime building bridges, restoring broken relationships, and her gentle but timely book continues this work in the same understated style. Drawing on her personal experience of more than half a century of giving advice to successive generations as well as different nationalities in India, Africa, the USA and for most of her life in the UK, she calls our attention to sadly one of the most divisive features of British society – our unwillingness to appreciate the richness of our diversity and as a result our apparent refusal to mix.
The Myth of UK Integration focuses on immigrants who over the last half century have settled in Britain and who, in large part, have been successful in all walks of life. The primary focus is those of Indian extraction, but it could just as easily be Pakistani, Chinese, Arab, Polish, Bulgarian, Turk, Kurd or indeed any of the other ethnic groups who have come to the United Kingdom in search of a better life. It is said that now in London more than 300 different languages are spoken.
Migration between countries has been part of the world’s development for centuries and Britain is by no means the only place where people from other countries have settled. Equally the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh have travelled to other lands in search of a new life – and the British have settled in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, various European countries and also in India, Burma, Africa and other more ‘foreign’ destinations.
After World War II and the Independence and Partition of India, Indians and Pakistanis came to Britain where they worked in the factories and foundries. Life was hard. These early years were devoted to work and then the worm turned and it was the Asian population who, through diligence and intelligence, became the new wealthy, but despite these riches there is a very noticeable chip on some shoulders. Often beneath the surface of affluence or even just comfortable middle class living the tensions are high; there is cultural conflict, alienation and isolation. There may be confusion about identity with some groups economically deprived.
Pious words from political and spiritual leaders about embracing a multicultural world of interfaith and integration remain just that, wishful thinking and wonderful ideas. Ideas without people will always be just ideas. If by integration we mean a complete mixture of races, colours and creeds living together in one neighbourhood, conducting business together, socialising together and even inter-marrying, then sadly to a great extent we are dreaming. Integration at best will be living parallel lives in adjoining neighbourhoods in relatively peaceful harmony. But even that is a dream which cannot become reality unless all peoples make the enormous leap of putting others first in their lives.
Isolation does not work. It does not work for nations and it does not work for people but it is happening in the UK today. Immigrants tend to congregate in their own neighbourhoods which can sometimes become a no-go area for white English. No attempt is made to integrate with the host nation and its people, or to learn the local language and therefore the isolation becomes more pronounced. Local authorities actually encourage this failure to integrate with signs in public places in a multitude of different languages or by providing interpreters in the courts and council offices for those who cannot be bothered to learn English. It is noticeable that in places like Dubai with a large Asian population signs are in Arabic and English only and the Asians all cope by learning one or the other language fluently.
One might have expected that the wonders of modern technology would have opened peoples’ eyes to the world around them, but incredibly the reverse seems to be the case. Today we do not have to look up from our laptops or turn off our smart phones as we move about – in short we do not need to, and seemingly do not want to, communicate with each other in person. Another reason for such insularity is the mistaken agenda of the politically correct world in which we live; an innocent smile can be interpreted as sexual harassment or worse still if directed towards a laughing child or gurgling baby in a passing pram. Better therefore to get on with your own life, try not to upset anyone until you are safely back at home watching TV, broadcast in your own native tongue, surrounded by people who ‘understand’ you.
This book examines the tensions of everyday life in multi-cultural Britain at an intensely personal level, seeking to understand and clarify some of the conflicts and misunderstandings which exist between the white English and their fellow citizens of Asian origin. Only by trying to understand each other’s culture and traditions can we dispel the mistrust which exists between these two communities but understand we must because it is from these apparently benign seeds of disquiet and anxiety that eventually anger and resentment grow.
The Asians, who by nature are hospitable, believe it is lucky to invite guests to their homes. The British have invited not just Indians but many other races to their shores, so if Britain is to enjoy good fortune everyone, host and guest alike, must begin by trying to comprehend the sometimes mysterious ways of our new neighbours.
The Myth of UK Integration by Kailash Puri, with Bob Whittington, is out now published by Whittles priced £12.99.
‘David Wojnarowicz ’s eyeball-blistering howl of rage will be found to be part of the answer too.’