This article by Barnie Choudhury appeared just before Christmas and struck a chord in the hearts of many newspaper readers ...
The debate about immigration has raged intensely in recent years. Yet the fierceness of the controversy has sometimes obscured the truth that huge numbers of migrants, particularly those from South Asia, now help to make up the backbone of Middle Britain. Far from weakening the traditional fabric of British society, long-established families in the Hindu and Sikh communities want to uphold the values that made this country great. So they cherish hard work, aspiration, education and family life, while abhorring the degradation and squalor that too often have become features of our modern urban landscape.
A Social Attitudes survey published this week illustrated how much Hindus and Sikhs have become part of the British middle class. They have, for instance, higher-than-average household incomes and tend to live in leafy suburbia, the classic location of upwardly mobile Britons since the late Victorian age. It is no coincidence that, according to researchers, the town with the highest density of Middle Britain residents is Slough in Berkshire, which also has one of the country’s largest Sikh and Hindu populations.
As a Hindu, born into a family of Indian immigrants, I could be said to fit exactly into this category. My home is a semi-detached property in Leicester and my wife and I send our 14-year-old daughter to private school because we attach such importance to a good education.
Like so many South Asians, I prize diligence and, after 24 years at the BBC, I now have a variety of work, including a lecturing post at the University of Lincoln, helping to run a community radio station, writing a book and managing a media production company. All this regularly involves 14-hour days, though I love the responsibility.
Contrary to the fashionable belief in some political circles that migrants cannot be devoted to their adopted country, I am deeply patriotic towards Britain. I stand proudly for the National Anthem and often weep when a British athlete wins a gold medal at the Olympics. I love so many aspects of this unique country, from the green rolling countryside to the tradition of liberty.
I must have inherited this abiding love of Britain from my father. A high-ranking lawyer in India, he was always determined to settle here because, through his past service in the British Army, he had developed a deep affection for everything British. Proof of his admiration for Britain came when he gave up his distinguished legal career in India to take up a manual job in the late Sixties at the giant GEC telecommunications plant in Coventry. The rest of the family, including myself when I was just four years old, followed in 1969.
In material terms, I supposed it could have been viewed as a tough childhood, since we lived on a big housing estate. But in reality it was a wonderful time, and I still cherish the happy memories of the strong sense of community. I barely experienced any racism. In fact, all my white friends heroically protected me, just as our neighbours showed nothing but kindness. All this helped to give me an allegiance to Britain.
Indeed, when I left university (with a degree in chemical engineering), I tried to join the Royal Corps of Signals, though a nasty injury prevented me following that path. Instead, I joined the BBC, itself an archetypal Middle Britain institution.
But it is precisely because I love this country that I am so disturbed at what I see in modern British society. The virtues that once made Britain so attractive, like self-restraint, tolerance, modesty and gentleness, seem to be under constant threat. There is a coarseness and vulgarity about public life which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago and still shocks many Hindus and Sikhs.
I am appalled, for instance, at the ‘sexploitation’ of young girls by encouraging them to dress provocatively or move suggestively. What sort of sick society is it that peddles children’s clothing emblazoned with the slogan ‘porn star’? I am certainly no prude, but I am too embarrassed to watch The X Factor with my daughter, so ultra-sexualised are many of the dance routines and outfits. It is a travesty to call this a family show.
Britain used to be renowned for the value placed on education. This was, after all, the land of Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, Dickens and Darwin. Yet, like many Asians, I am shocked at the dismal standards in the state education system. Only this week an official report revealed that almost 1,000 primary schools are failing their pupils in the core subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic. My wife and I felt we had no alternative but to send our daughter to an independent fee-paying school. Like thousands of other middle-class families, we understood that you cannot take risks with your children’s life chances.
There are other aspects of modern Britain that cause despair, like the prevalence of binge-drinking, the lack of respect shown to elders and the high levels of family breakdown.
But for me, as an immigrant, what is perhaps most disturbing is how racially divided Britain has become recently, in a way that I would have regarded as unthinkable when I was growing up in Coventry in the Seventies. Minority ghettos have been created in our inner cities. White people are retreating from urban centres.
When I made a BBC programme about Oldham in 2001, in the wake of serious racial riots in the old Lancashire mill town, I was shocked at the level of hostility between different ethnic groups. On one occasion, I saw an Asian gang threatening a white boy. I immediately intervened in order to try to prevent the victim being assaulted. There was nothing heroic about my actions, but the incident reminded me of the racial divisions.
The advocates of political correctness like to blame social problems on racial oppression, but the truth is far more complex. There are, of course, dangerous organisations such as the BNP and the English Defence League that thrive on discord, but we also have to face up to the fact that certain migrant communities are also responsible for crime and extremism.
My heart sinks when I see news another report of stabbing, another shooting or another so-called ‘honour’ killing. Particularly reprehensible are the Islamic zealots who have not only tainted one of the world’s great religions with the vile, misogynist dogma that leads to terrorism, but have also brutally abused the tolerance they have been shown within Britain. Those who have been welcomed here should be fighting, not for a narrow vision of their cultural rights, but for a restoration of Britain’s traditional values.
And from the evidence of this week’s Social Attitudes survey, the Sikh and Hindu communities in this country appear in the main to be doing just that. Earlier this week, I attended the annual carol concert at my daughter’s school and — despite my terrible voice — sung every hymn in a lusty voice. I confess that Hark The Herald Angels Sing left me with a tear in my eye — for the chorus so brilliantly evokes the British culture that I love.
The GOS says: Nice try, Barnie, but you're hankering after something that is almost certainly out of reach now. One or two readers went so far as to suggest that it never actually existed. This may be true, but it was a fact that most of us thought it did, and led our lives accordingly.
The big difference is that Barnie and people like him arrived in this country, looked around, saw a society they admired and thought “Great! I want a piece of this!” and worked until they got it.
Sadly, all too many newer arrivals also think “Great! I want a piece of this!” but demand that it should be granted to them as a gift, without being prepared to make sacrifices to earn it. They don't put the work in, they don't surrender the traditional family and social structures they are used to, and in this they have been encouraged by left-wing and liberal politicians who only have eyes for the increased electoral majorities such supine surrender might bring.
Even more sadly, our own indigenous population has adopted the same “gimme, gimme” philosophy so that our housing estates are packed with young people who see a celebrity lifestyle with clothes, cars, foreign holidays, mobile phones and houses packed with gadgets as their birthright rather than as a reward for work and intelligent planning – see here.
So, Barnie, your emotional eloquence is appealing and we're glad to hear from you. But don't expect it to make any difference. We've moved on, and you've been left behind like the great British Empire that, in a sense, brought you here in the first place.
Personally we think the day is not so far off when we'll be left an ignorant, slothful backwater that sends its hopeful aspirants to settle in energetic societies like India and China because those will be the places that offer the rewards for hard work and ambition. Then the boot really will be, finally, on the other foot, and I'm not sure we'll have any right to complain about it.
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