By Dr Salman Al-Azami
If I am asked about my identity, I would say that I am a British Bangladeshi Muslim. Do these three contradict? Well, to me and many other individuals, religion is the most important identity which plays a fundamental role in the way we lead our lives. It is the national identity and our loyalty towards it that sometimes creates confusion and, to some extent, problems in a diasporic situation. I will give two examples from the perspectives of supporting English sports teams. This is an issue that puts an immigrant in a great dilemma.
I was watching a football match on TV between England and France during the European Championship of 2004. A family friend was supporting France in such a way that it felt awkward to everyone, particularly the younger generation who were passionately supporting England. I couldn’t resist asking him why he was supporting France. What he said was most surprising: he would support any team that played against England. His logic was that he is British, not English, so he doesn’t have to support England. I asked him whether he was Scottish, Welsh or Irish – he didn’t have an answer.
The second scenario was more baffling to me. England was playing India in a Twenty20 World Cup cricket match at Lords in 2009. Unsurprisingly, Indian fans largely outnumbered English fans at the ground. The most bizarre thing for me was the moment when the crowd booed the England team. I was absolutely flabbergasted! I can understand the logic of supporting India. When you have dual nationalities, your country of origin would generally get first preference. I also support Bangladesh when they play against England. What was shocking was the booing of the home team. You live in this country, enjoy all the benefits, use its passport to travel around the world – but just because your local team is playing against your country of origin, you boo them. Is that acceptable?
This type of behaviour will only vindicate the sceptics of multiculturalism. Ethnic minorities are often criticised for not integrating into mainstream society and for creating ghettoes of their own. They have decided to become citizens of this country voluntarily. Therefore, they have some responsibilities to contribute to the society they live in. If their body is here and yet their souls remain in their country of origin, then they will never be accomplished citizens of this country. A good thing that this country can be applauded for is their integrationist approach, as opposed to the call for assimilation like in France. This allows us to remain loyal to our country of origin, but at the same time be worthy citizens of our adopted country.
To me patriotism is not the monopoly of one country; if someone is a citizen of two countries, they can love both. I was born and brought up in Bangladesh. I love my home country and would love to contribute to the success of my land of birth. At the same time I love this country too. I have made a conscious decision to become its citizen. Although culturally and religiously I don’t lead the same lifestyle as an indigenous citizen would, I adhere to many core values of this country – democracy, human rights and social security among others. Why should I, then, only take the benefits it offers, but be reluctant to show my loyalty towards it?
Life is no bed of roses anywhere in the world. Of course this country has many problems. Britain’s colonial past is something many Britons are not proud of. I am strongly against most of our foreign policy decisions. I do not support quite a few policies of the current government. Does that mean this country is not mine? Does that mean I will only criticise the negative things and keep myself away from the larger community? There are many positive things to learn from this society. At the same time we can also offer a lot to the majority community. What are we going to achieve by creating small ghettoes of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh in the UK? Are we not playing into the hands of the likes of the BNP, The English Defense League or other racist organisations?
Many things are being said about immigration nowadays. Our Prime Minister is leading this debate and is often coming out with controversial views. Whether one likes it or not, immigration is now a reality. The government may want to control it, but that is for the future. Those of us who are here need to move on and become an integral part of this country. There are people who have done this very successfully, but a large number of people are far from being integrated. It is time that we embrace this country as our own.
Dr Salman Al-Azami holds a PhD in Linguistics and is a Lecturer in English Language at Liverpool Hope University. His research interests include bilingualism, language in education, religious discourse & media and language of advertising.
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