Tuesday, April 26, 2011

England good at “incorporating” immigrants

The 13th volume of The Oxford English Literary History, written by Bruce King in 2004 is entitled The Internationalization of English Literature. He writes on page 1, “During the second half of the twentieth century the literature of England went through a major change . . . Unlike previous period changes this one had its basis in a large influx of peoples from elsewhere . . . if the nation seemed to be withdrawing into a little England of post-imperial dreariness and irritation, having a diminished relationship to Europe and the United States, or fragmenting into micro-nationalisms, the new immigrants made English literature international in other ways than it had been during the Empire. England was once more at the centre of significant developments, and as England became multiracial and multicultural the claim that they do things better in France no longer applied. England was much better at incorporating people than most of Europe.”

King will go on to discuss the literary achievements of these new immigrants, but before leaving page one, is England truly “better at incorporating people than most of Europe”? My impression is that Europe as a whole and without exception is not very good at this “incorporating” if King means what I usually see referred to as “assimilation.” But if England is “much better” than “most of Europe,” that is still saying something notable in this age of Islamist trouble, or is it?

I found it jarring to read the following from April 26, 2011 edition of “The Telegraph” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8472784/WikiLeaks-Guantanamo-Bay-terrorists-radicalised-in-London-to-attack-Western-targets.html ):

“Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, two preachers who lived off state benefits after claiming asylum, are identified by the American authorities as the key recruiters responsible for sending dozens of extremists from throughout the world to Pakistan and Afghanistan via London mosques.

“The leaked WikiLeaks documents, written by senior US military commanders at Guantánamo Bay, illustrate how, for two decades, Britain effectively became a crucible of terrorism, with dozens of extremists, home-grown and from abroad, radicalised here.

“Finsbury Park mosque, in north London, is described as a “haven” for extremists. United States intelligence officials concluded the mosque served as “an attack planning and propaganda production base”.

“The files will raise questions over why the Government and security services failed to take action sooner to tackle the capital’s reputation as a staging post for terrorism, which became so established that the city was termed ‘Londonistan’.

“The documents show that at least 35 detainees at Guantánamo had passed through Britain before being sent to fight against Allied forces in Afghanistan. This is thought to be more than from any other Western nation.”

I don’t normally get caught up an examination of words, but does King mean by “incorporation” the same thing an American might mean by “assimilation”. At first blush the Wikileaks report seems to contradict King’s more benign view of his native England, but “incorporation” doesn’t by definition exclude an enclave comprising a “staging post for terrorism.” As long as they are happily ensconced in Londonistan they can be defined as “incorporated.”

But over here in the U.S. we wouldn’t consider such people “assimilated,” which may or may not be of interest to King who after all will be concentrating on literature and not terrorism, but then I wondered whether these “incorporated” terrorists wrote anything that King takes an interest in. I am still struggling with his introduction so I can’t promise to find out, but I shall try.

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