Monday, 3 August 2009

Citizenship, not censorship

People should be welcomed to this country, rather than be put through some ridiculous finishing school to test their worth, but that's exactly what the government have in mind for testing immigrants' rights to UK citizenship.

In plans revealed by Immigration Minister Phil Woolas, immigrants seeking citizenship will have to earn points to become a fully fledged citizen of these fair isles. Those who have been in the country for five years or longer will have to apply for citizenship, rather than earn it automatically.

People who contribute to the "democratic life of the country" will be rewarded with points, a bit like a neo-Nectar card I assume, but be docked points for getting ideas and dissing the government.

Applicants will also have to undergo a period of probation before being wholly accepted into our warm embrace, I guess, to make sure they're the 'right sort'.

Yes, I really did just write that.

First of all, the idea that immigrants could lose points for 'bad behaviour', which could include protesting against government policy, such as demonstrating at the homecomings of soldiers from Afghanistan, is morally abhorrent.

This borders on - actually, no, it is - thought crime. The state is already encroaching on our civil liberties, now they're set to go a little bit further. Phil Woolas said: "If someone is applying to be a citizen to our country we do think that you should not only obey the law but show you are committed to our country."

First of all, the government is not the country; they are separate entities. There is a difference between being committed to your government and being committed to your country*. Protesting against government policy does not mean you are not committed to your country. But how dare people rail against the government! I guess Woolas would also like all new UK citizens to join the Labour party too? Dissent is part of the "democratic life of the country", you twerp.

Secondly, how are they to police such a law? Is the surveillance of protesters to be stepped up a gear, cataloguing every attendee and cross-referencing this information with some database of people who are and aren't citizens, stripping points away from the outspoken? I thought we were talking about citizenship, not censorship.

Moving on, the probationary period will be reduced by way of 'civic activism', which may involve "contributing to the democratic life of the country through trade union activities or canvassing for a political party". On the face of it, there's nothing wrong with such activities, but as Heather Noller pointed out, making people do it purely to gain citizenship kind of misses the point. People shouldn't be doing it to gain points but to improve their local community.

And, further, how does it fit in with not demonstrating against the government? Is this not civic activism? Where do the government draw the line on what constitutes civic activism? Some people may not believe in the mainstream parties, they may be anarchists, or they may be die-hard capitalists who'd rather destroy the unions than participate in them. How do you attribute points accordingly? How do you quantify something like this?

I'd just like to make the point that the initiative to combat brain drain in immigrants' countries of origin by rewarding them for temporarily returning to share their skills is commendable, in its spirit. However, it's still playing the numbers game and forcing people to live up to expectations, undermining the whole concept of doing good for its own sake rather than for personal gain, which is all too prevalent in our society. Is that the kind of British character we want to instill in people? {Update - if indeed we should be 'instilling' character in people}

Equally disgusting is the notion itself of being a 'probationary citizen'. What the hell is that, some kind of half-way citizen? Is it like being a probationary person? "You fail at being a human being, you don't quite pass as a citizen yet, go away and try harder."

It's plain insulting and has the whiff of Nazi Germany about it. I'm currently reading The Book Thief, in which one of the main characters struggles to find work in war time Germany because he isn't a member of the Nazi Party. This citizenship lark isn't far off being the same; you'll struggle to be accepted if you don't conform to the state's idea of a model citizen.

I'm also reading Brave New World (I'm polyamorous when it comes to books...) and the caste system in that literary work also springs to mind, though it's a tenuous link if truth be told.

On the face of it, this looks a bit like an effort to steal ground from the far right who bemoan the incoming hordes, rather than a well thought out attempt at addressing the 'problem' of immigration. I don't think there is a problem with immigration, but a lot of people do and have been saying as much for a long time, as the BNP have exploited so well to their advantage. However, there's been a lot of unwillingness from Labour and much of the media to engage seriously in this debate. Is this Act an effort to appease those who think we're a 'soft touch'?

The most obvious contradiction in this sorry affair though is the fact that most natural-born UK citizens would fail the test.

How many people are politically active? How many get involved in their trade unions? How many contribute something of worth to their community? There are an awful lot who do, but in such an apathetic society as exists today there are also many who don't. Should we strip them of their citizenship? Many British people don't know much about this nation's history. I'm ashamed to say (or am I, is it really my fault?) that I failed the online citizenship test. I also disagree with most of the government's policies and show an "active disregard for UK [plc] values".

So, what you gonna do boys, take me away and cart me off back to Yorkshire?

*As an aside, patriotism is a fool's game. Blind love for your country is what leads to outrageous policies being implemented at home and abroad. People who are committed to their country reject themselves and their brothers and sisters around the world. "Patriots always talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country." (Bertrand Russell)

1 comment:

  1. UK should be welcome to own country, If you want settle permanently you need to pass British citizenship test. Online practice for Life in the UK test ->