The death of immigrationnisme
Hamas, Rotherham and the impolitics of immigration
It’s to Britain’s eternal detriment that our politics looks across the Atlantic, rather than the channel. Our common language and America’s power bedevils our politics; Westminster likes to think of itself as Washington-on-Thames, and regards events on the continent as little more than an opportunity to providence evidence of your pre-existing ideas. That’s why we have the idea of ‘Based Poland,’ for instance.
That’s despite British political trends being much more reflective of trends on the continent than the States. Our politicians would gain far more by studying the events of similarly sized nations with similar sized economies facing similar problems than a continental superpower with a vast wealth of natural resources. There is more of Britain in a page of Houellebecq than a series of The West Wing.
I came across one of those useful terms our politics has managed to studiously avoid reading Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. As Caldwell pulls apart the poor and dishonest ways in which immigration is discussed, he references Pierre-André Taguieff’s term ‘immigrationnisme’.
Immigrationnisme describes ‘the self-righteous thesis on immigration, the central thesis’ that dominates French discussions around immigration; that it is ‘both inevitable and positive.’
Taguieff goes on to describe that, since immigrationnisme holds immigration is both good an inevitable, a process of ‘definitively silencing the objectors and the recalcitrants, of preventing even discordant murmurs’ must occur. This is naturally a coercive process, and one recognisable to those familiar with the immigration debate in the UK:
The intimidation effect is maximum here. The imperative places the potential culprit in a dilemma: “You love immigration and accept it, or you are racist and treated as such.” The Westerner suspected of "racism", terrified just by the vague perception of the social death that threatens him, will give assurances to his accusers by presenting himself as a strong supporter of providential immigration. This is the great blackmail of the right-thinking. Its main effect is to transform politics into impolitics, and, in doing so, to disarm democratic nations in the face of new threats.
Just a few months ago, for instance, immigrationnisme was in full effect as Suella Braverman was admonished from all the usual suspects for suggesting that ‘multiculturalism has failed.’ She was called variously a racist, authoritarian and intolerant and (a personal favourite) a ‘pilot fish’.
And it is not a stand-alone example. Conservative politicians are constantly having their language around immigration policed with what Mark Fisher called ‘an academic-pedant's desire to be seen to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake’. As Eliot Wilson wrote when Braverman was accused of using unacceptable language for talking about ‘stopping the invasion on our southern coast’;
This is just one high-profile instance of seemingly ordinary words assuming a significance beyond their common usage. David Cameron was pulled up in 2015 on a visit to Calais when he talked about “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”, the objection being that “swarm” was both dehumanising and implied a sense of ill intent or menace. The same year, Philip Hammond, then foreign secretary, spoke of the need for the UK to protect itself against “marauding” migrants and said the government’s “number one priority” would be to send would-be immigrants back to their countries of origin.
Immigrationnisme has been a dominant feature of our immigration ‘debate’ since mass migration started. It has been fully twenty years, and the Home Secretary is still being attacked for discussing problems caused by immigration - only now for rhetoric that wouldn’t seem out of place in the later Cabinets of Tony Blair. Yet the sheer scale (and confidence) of the protests in support of Hamas on Britain’s streets have caused many to contend with the fact that Braverman’s ‘civic argument’ was right, and that multiculturalism has failed.
However, if we are ever to reckon fully with the ever-increasing costs of our laissez-faire immigration policy we will have to start challenging immigrationnisme, because the idea that immigration is both good and inevitable underpins our whole political approach to immigration.
Taguieff writes that the main effect of immigrationnisme is ‘to transform politics into impolitics’. Impolitics is ‘the radical impotence of political power’, the absence of substantive politics that is the natural result of believing immigration is both good and inevitable;
Political leaders have nothing left to do but contemplate and comment on the irresistible process. Disappearance of political action, erasure of political will, cancellation of the freedom to make choices: the advent of impolitics.
The resulting problem is starkly laid out by Nick Timothy; ‘nothing will change until we tell ourselves the truth – and start to act accordingly.’ And something has to change, because the impolitics of immigrationnisme has huge costs.
Right now, it is impolitics that sees Jews told to hide signs of their faith for fear of violence. It is iimpolitics that sees calls for jihad on the streets of the UK dismissed as a misunderstanding by the Met whilst commentators denounce Braverman’s language instead.
It is impolitics that sees Hamas terrorists given social housing. It is impolitics that sees us debate whether it was right that Shamima Begum, a woman who left this country to join a caliphate founded by a death cult that existed specifically to expunge our way of life, had her citizenship removed.
It is impolitics that saw Rotherham Council and police ignore nearly 1,500 victims of sexual exploitation between 1997-2013 for fear of being seen as racist. It is impolitics that saw the Knowsley riots, ‘sparked by a video circulated on social media appearing to show a refugee aggressively propositioning a local 15 year old girl for sex’, characterised as a far-right reaction. It is impolitics that sees us continue to ignore the overrepresentation of Asian men in child sex exploitation cases.
Impolitics was behind Batley, behind Wakefield and behind our politician’s desire to talk about the Online Safety Bill in response to the murder of Sir David Amess by an Islamist. All are characterised by Taguieff‘s ‘disappearance of political action, erasure of political will, cancellation of the freedom to make choices.’ There is nothing we can do.
There is a wider democratic danger to immigrationnisme – that of not allowing a citizen body to engage in a conversation about its’ own direction. The policing of the immigration debate has had further decreased social cohesion because, as Christopher Caldwell writes;
Democracy cannot long tolerate a system that makes an advanced degree in sociology or a high government position a prerequisite for expressing the slightest worry about the way ones country is going.
Immigrationnisme has left those without university education and with lower social status - those who largely bear the costs of immigration - completely disempowered. They are unable to take part in debates around immigration unless they are prepared to be labelled racist, whilst elites defend immigration with what Hans Magnus Enzensberger described as ‘a moralising flourish and a maximum of self righteousness.’
The outpouring of support for Hamas and against Jews (and it is Jews, not Israel) has mainstreamed the conundrum Taguieff closes on;
after the opening, how can we integrate new arrivals, when the “plural society” that is coming offers the spectacle of conflictual fragmentation? The ethics of conviction, especially if it is forced, is not policy.
Now that conflictual fragmentation is upon us, many are waking up to the fact that immigrationnisme has not served us well, and wondering whether things had to end up like this. They didn’t; ‘the ultimate hidden truth of the world’, as David Graeber notes, ‘is that it is something that we make and could just as easily make differently.’ Nothing is written.
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