WDIE Masthead

Year 2005 No. 125, November 2, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

A Very Dangerous Mixture of Banality and Backwardness

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A Very Dangerous Mixture of Banality and Backwardness

Government Launches "Citizenship" Tests

Europeans Pledge to Defend Civil Liberties and Democracy

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A Very Dangerous Mixture of Banality and Backwardness

It almost beggars belief that anything so unenlightened as the "Life in the UK" test should be introduced with any seriousness. As much as anything, it demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of the present government which can assemble and approve this very dangerous mixture of banality and backwardness.

The test actually exposes the depth of the reactionary character of the thinking of the ruling circles, as analysed in the accompanying article, as well as the sickeningly patronising outlook of the government and the authorities towards the human beings who are applying for British citizenship.

The state of citizenship is not something which can be "tested" in the way that knowledge of the rules and practice of driving can be tested by the highway code. To the government, citizenship is a privilege that is can be bestowed upon those it favours. There is no objective nature or principle behind the citizenship test that it is introducing. It is consistent with the thesis that "the rules of the game are changing" and that the government can arbitrarily decide those rules; it is consistent with the pragmatism that "the end justifies the means". In this case some arbitrary and chauvinistic issues with no consistent content are chosen as the means which will justify the granting or not of citizenship, and the test, as part of a whole outlook, aims to exclude from civic society any person who does not measure up against these issues. In this, it is a manifestation of the government’s wish to exclude from civil society whole sections of the people it considers undesirable and deprive them of rights as not being a living human person.

That this is so can be seen from the fact that "Life in the UK" hardly even depicts a "way of life", more a "Britishness" that only exists as a caricature, and is being endlessly lampooned as such. It is part of a "justification" for a racist treatment in the context of a glorified "host" community, a "justification" which is a path which ends up in the gas chambers as the "final solution". Residence and citizenship are on the path of being made dependent on learning the "host" community language and "integrating" into its way of life, a way of life which the authorities are seeking to impose as much on the "host" community as on the immigrants. It is already made compulsory that if granted citizenship, immigrants have to attend an official ceremony and swear allegiance to the Queen as "subjects". Arbitrary and draconian legislation, in effect tearing up the rule of law because the laws are not based on settled principle, are brought in on a wave of and as part of a psychosis of fear. This is another reason the "Life in the UK" scenario is a repugnant charade, presenting an apology for arbitrariness and backwardness that no serious-minded person would defend.

This is not an issue only for those seeking citizenship. The working class and people must take a stand and reject this racist and anti-human programme. The test for citizenship must be withdrawn and the rights of all respected. Not In Our Name!

Article Index

Government Launches "Citizenship" Tests

New tests, part of what is to provide the basis on which official British citizenship is to be granted, were launched on November 1.

The "Life in the UK" tests cost £34 and consist of 24 questions on British life and culture, institutions and governance and officially defined history and traditions. Applicants must answer 75% of the questions correctly to pass, and are allowed to retake the test until they obtain this mark. There will be 90 centres around Britain in which to take the test.

Applicants to which citizenship is granted will then have to take part in a formal citizenship ceremony, at which they will swear allegiance to the Queen. Apart from figuratively swearing allegiance to the British establishment, the idea is to mark the granting of citizenship with a sense of occasion. "Becoming a British citizen is an important event in your life and is something that you can feel proud of," says the "Life in the UK" website.

Despite government claims that it is "not a test of someone's ability to be British or a test of their Britishness", as said by Immigration Minister Tony McNulty, it is nonetheless, as the last main piece in implementing the 2002 government white paper "Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with diversity in modern Britain" (see WDIE 2002 Nos. 27 and 29), part of the programme to define citizenship on the grounds of the extent to which people "integrate" and "share in British values", along with further entrenching that language be a consideration in obtaining officially recognised citizenship.

This further muddies the waters in the state-organised confusion between nationality and citizenship, a policy that has been openly implemented by successive governments since the British Nationality Act of 1981. The media is complicit in this confusion. For example, the BBC stated that the test will be taken by people seeking to "become British".

Mr McNulty said: "The measures we are introducing ... will help new citizens to gain a greater appreciation of the civic and political dimension of British citizenship and, in particular, to understanding the rights and responsibilities that come with the acquisition of British citizenship. This will enable new citizens to play a full part in their wider community and will benefit both our society and economy."

This is a clear reference to the Blairite value of "civic duty", where the working citizen is part of a social partnership with the employer, a person patriotic to the state and to the cause of British-based monopolies taking control of world markets. It is also part of the block on people's thinking, attempting to prevent people from seeking alternatives and creating a movement for democratic renewal.

The content of the tests is based on the Home Office pamphlet "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship", a book that has already been condemned by many for its re-writing of the history of British colonialism, amongst other issues. A direct quote from this book, which clearly exposes the racist outlook of the official circles underlying its content, is:

"For many indigenous peoples in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and elsewhere, the British Empire often brought more regular, acceptable and impartial systems of law and order than many had experienced under their own rulers, or under alien rulers other than Europeans. The spread of the English language helped unite disparate tribal areas that gradually came to see themselves as nations. Public health, peace, and access to education can mean more to ordinary people than precisely who are their rulers. One legacy of empire was that when nationalism grew most of those who first claimed self-government did so in terms resting heavily on European, on specifically British, ideas of liberty and representative government."

Danny Firth of the Independent Race and Refugee News Network has pointed out that "The handbook is the culmination of two years research by the United Kingdom Advisory Group that was set up by the former home secretary, David Blunkett, following the so-called 'race riots' in several northern towns in the summer of 2001. In the immediate aftermath, British Asian communities were not only held responsible for the violence, but they were portrayed as being insular and inward looking...

"And the history of Britain's Black communities is also made more palatable. It is confined to a summary of migration since 1945, where a shortage of labour ensured 'for about twenty five years people from the West Indies, India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh, travelled to work and settle in Britain.' There is no mention of the racism that greeted them or the struggles for equality that ensued. And of course there is no reference to the more recent disturbances in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, where the government’s citizenship recommendations originated. Britain's ‘official’ history has been 'white washed'." (Danny Firth, "The re-imagining of Britain", http://www.irr.org.uk

It is significant that the violence recently seen in Birmingham, caused by the government's policy of division, which is in turn motivated by the racist ideology underlying that policy, occurred just one week before the introduction of these "citizenship tests". Many commentators have also pointed out that a significant portion of the present population of Britain would likely fail the test. Moreover, the issue has created such controversy that many people would call into question the official "correct" answers, along with their questions. This attack on the principles of citizenship is therefore both an attempt to sow further divisions and an attack on the right to conscience of all residents of Britain, whether officially considered "citizens", "nationals" or otherwise.

Article Index

Europeans Pledge to Defend Civil Liberties and Democracy

By D. L. Mondelo, Political Correspondent for Europe, Bulatlat

"We are living at a moment in history when civil liberties and democracy are under attack as never before and the need for a collective response to counter these threats has never been greater."

Thus stated the launching statement of the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN), a progressive network of organisations and individuals committed to defend civil liberties and democracy and to confront the "war on terror" that is engulfing Europe. ECLN was launched October 19 at the International Press Centre in Brussels.

Tony Bunyan, ECLN joint coordinator and Director of UK-based Statewatch, said the launching of the ECLN is urgently needed to counter unprecedented attacks on democratic freedoms as a consequence of the "war on terror".

In a separate statement, Ben Hayes, also a joint coordinator of ECLN, also said, "We want the people of Europe to understand and question what is being decided and done in their name."

"With policies on the surveillance of all telecommunications, the wholesale surveillance and restriction of movement, mandatory population registers and security files, the European Union is starting to display some of the worst excesses of the Cold War era," Hayes said.

During the launching press conference, UK-based black lawyer Courtenay Griffith of the Garden Court Chambers, a supporting organisation of the ECLN, said that the war on terrorism has become a war against immigrants and people of colour. Citing the case of the recent London bombings, Griffith said the ideologues of the so-called war on terror are trying to push the line that the suicide bombers were an "alien infection", to drive a wedge between whites and non-whites. He said the London bombers who were non-white British were bred by the "racism that has made them aliens in their own country".

Several measures and laws being implemented on the European Union and national levels, Griffith said, have nothing to do with terrorism, but are meant to control and discipline the population in the face of the disintegration of the welfare system, pension and wage cuts, massive unemployment and the economic and political crises of European Union states.

Time for solidarity

This is not a time to be despondent, he said however, but a time to show solidarity, to educate and to ensure that information filters down to the people.

"Once anti-terrorism legislation is used, it will be used against the general population," he stressed.

Aidan White, secretary-general of the European Federation of Journalists, noted the rise in the level of intolerance and racism in many European countries as a result of the anti-terrorism campaign. White also opposed an EU proposal to impose a code of conduct among journalists that, he revealed, is a veiled plan to ban the transmission of statements from extremist groups.

Representing the American Civil Liberties Union at the press conference, Jay Stanley expressed solidarity with his European counterparts for defending civil liberties and democracy threatened by the US’ war on terror. Stanley mentioned the cruelty of racial profiling and the listing of individuals supposedly threatening the security of the United States. He cited the "no fly list" in the US that has victimised no less than Democratic Sen Ted Kennedy (brother of US President John F. Kennedy), who was not allowed to board his flight because his name was erroneously included in the list.

During the discussions after the press conference, an EU insider also told those present that many EU ministers and policy-makers are probably praying for another bombing in Europe so that they could move ahead with their so-called anti-terrorist legislations.

Sison case

A representative from the Committee DEFEND, a Netherlands-based committee to defend civil and democratic rights, who attended the launching, called attention to the case of Prof. Jose Ma. Sison who was unjustly included in the EU’s list of so-called terrorists.

Reacting to the Sison case, Hayes lamented that the EU does not observe due process in including 47 individuals and 47 groups in its list of "terrorists". He also said that there is no mechanism for those accused to challenge their inclusion in the list.

Among the founding groups of the ECLN are: Statewatch (founded in 1990); European Race Audit; Institute of Race Relations (founded 1956); CILIP which covers civil liberties and policing and is based at the Free University of Berlin (founded in 1975); Mugak which deals with immigration, racism and xenophobia; Komitee gegen Schnueffelstaat, Bern, Switzerland which works on democracy and civil liberties; Hellenic League for Human Rights, Greece (founded in 1953); Access to Information Programme in Sofia launched in 1996 by journalists, lawyers and academics working on human rights; VD AMOK, Netherlands which is anti-militarist and a conscientious objectors organisation; and the Komitee fur Grundrechte und Demokratie (Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy), Germany.

Founding individuals include: Thomas Mathiesen, Professor Sociology of Law, Oslo, Norway; Liz Fekete, IRR European Race Audit; Mads Pedersen, co-editor "Salt", Copenhagen; Aidan White, Secretary-General European Federation of Journalists, Brussels; Professor Wolf Dieter-Narr, Berlin; Gareth Pierce, lawyer, London; Heiner Busch, CILIP, Berlin; Lorenzo Trucco, Italy; Deirdre Curtin, Professor and Chair of School of Governance, University of Utrecht, Netherlands; Tony Bunyan, director Statewatch; Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex, UK: Ann Singelton, University of Bristol, UK; Gus Hosein, Privacy International; A. Sivanandan, Director of the Institute of Race Relations; Helmut Dietrich, Forschungsgesellscahft Flucht und Migration, Berlin, Germany and Paddy Hillyard, Professor, Queens University, Belfast, Norther Ireland.

In their mission statement, the founding organisations and individuals put forward their principle:

"We share common objectives of seeking to create a European society based on freedom and equality, of fundamental civil liberties and personal and political freedoms, of free movement and freedom of information, and equal rights for minorities. This entails defending, extending and deepening the democratic culture – a concept not limited to political parties and elections but embracing wider values of pluralism, diversity and tolerance. And we share too a common opposition to racism, fascism, sexism and homophobia."

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