BBC’s popular TV series, ‘Citizen Khan’, has completed its sixth year. It’s the first comedy series on the Asian immigrants in that country; the title inspired by the popular Hollywood thriller ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941).
In the series, Mr. Khan is a Pakistani immigrant to Britain who lives with his family at Sparkhill, East Birmingham, which, according to him is the ‘Capital of British Pakistan’. In one episode, Mr. Khan or Citizen Khan expresses his fierce dissatisfaction over the arrival of East European immigrants in Britain, as they, according to Mr. Khan, are putting British Pakistanis to hard competition in the job-market. However, his family members are surprised at his comment; his daughter reminds him that he is also an immigrant in Britain. Citizen Khan refuses to accept this; he has a clear argument that he has been a resident of Britain for 30 long years.
Not only Citizen Khan, the white-skinned Britons are also scared of immigrants. However, Britain will have to pay the price for establishing worldwide colonies in the form of immigrants like Citizen Khan for the next few centuries, at least. In addition, immigrants from Eastern European countries like Poland, Lithuania have now flooded Britain. These people carry out off-colour jobs; workers in the apple gardens arrive even before 5 a.m. during the cold winter. The average Briton would not do such hard work; still the overwhelming majority is fiercely against them. And the world observed their outburst of anger in the Brexit poll.
Back in 1979, a group of Indian immigrants organized ‘Ramleela’ in Southall, Greater London, which was a significant event in Britain’s immigration history. The idea of Ravana in that ‘Ramleela’ was unique; each head portrayed a symbol related to immigrant-life in Britain, be it a Conservative politician, a symbol of racism, or a British policeman during a riot. Thus, clearly, the agony of the immigrant lifestyle is not quite new.
In the southern part of Europe, cities of Spain are flooded with illegal African immigrants. One of my Spaniard friends admitted that it is difficult to get rid of them; they undertake many off-colour jobs. Sanitation and water supply of the cities like Madrid or Barcelona will be in deep trouble without these people, most of the small shops will be closed. Meanwhile, allegedly there has been a rise in minor social crimes along with these floods of African and East European immigrants in countries like Spain or Italy. It seems inevitable – once the French ruled a huge part of Africa, and as an inheritance of that colonial legacy, today about two-third of the world champion ‘Les Bleus’ are immigrants. So are the English cricket and football teams. History has a knack of taking revenge in a strange way, indeed.
In 2015, the French writer Michel Houellebecq penned the political satire ‘Soumission’ (‘Submission’ in English). In this novel, in the 2022 French presidential election, the ‘Socialist Party’ allies with the newly formed ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ Party to resist the ‘National Front’ leader Marine Le Pen. Subsequently, during the regime of the new president Mohammed Ben-Abbes of Muslim Brotherhood, polygamy is encouraged, women’s rights are hampered and even university professors have to convert to Islam to save their jobs. In fact, this novel illustrates that white-skinned Europeans are extremely scared of these immigrants in their traditional society – they are afraid of social insecurity, and afraid to deviate from Christian Europe.
Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course from Syria, are threatening to change the social balance of the countries of Europe. Syria alone has the potential to change the demography of Europe within next half a century. For example, the culture, demography, language, and religion of Germany might change within decades to come. And Angela Merkel already had to feel the heat in last year’s election, the rise of the far-right ‘Alternative Fuer Deutschland’ party in Germany is partly attributed to the refugee policy of Merkel. A similar rise of Le Pen’s ‘National Front’ happened in France, this is again a far-right party which is critical of immigration in that country.
Across the Atlantic, the stories are written in a different way. I heard the almost-real story of a 24-year-old Sudanese boy, say Kariem, who somehow managed an American visa to visit his cousin Kamal, a University of Chicago student. Kariem’s ‘official’ plan was to visit USA as a tourist, but in reality he had no intention of going back. Maria, 72, got married 17 times, which is a kind of profession of hers. When an American girl marries a foreign man, that man would get US citizenship after some time. That is the rule. Maria’s gain is a few thousand dollars, and subsequently a formal divorce would end the story.
Kariem could find some such Maria and get married. After some time, Kariem met Nadia, also from Sudan, and they planned to marry – a ‘real’ marriage this time. However, the situation would become complicated if Maria now asks for some more money to relieve Kariem. While we let Kariem and Maria settle the issue between them, I’m sure Donald Trump knows such stories well, as did Barack Obama. Thus, preventing immigrants is not all that easy, the problem is rooted deeply within the laws and constitution of the country. Interestingly, Sudan was one of the seven countries that Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on immediately after entering the White House.
Suman is an excellent researcher of international repute and teaches Biochemistry in a top US university. He told me about a time, a decade and a half ago, when in George Bush’s America, Indian IT personnel were spread all over Silicon Valley. Americans were angry with the immigrants even then, sometimes instigated by their politicians also. One day the gardener at Suman’s house was cutting grass wearing an angry face. Suman asked, ‘What happened, Peter?’ Peter, with a grave face, replied, ‘You are eating up all our jobs.’ Suman was unable to understand how a renowned biochemistry professor could be a threat to the job of a gardener! Still, Peter’s anger is real, and one cannot ignore that. It is also true that that the country did not have experts like Suman among their citizens, so they desperately needed him. So, it’s possibly Trump’s obligation to have persons like Suman in his country.
Back to Europe. Over the years, the French football team is dominated by stars like Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappe – an endless dominance of African immigrants would possibly continue, the colonial legacy is carried forward relentlessly. But, the biggest surprise would be if the in near future, people like ‘Citizen Khan’ decide whether Polish immigrants should stay in Britain or not. This seems inevitable. It’s again the carry-over effect of the colonial legacy – they’ll have to pay for the Kohinoor or the Rosetta Stone in some way or the other. And the UK, we know, has the interesting habit of settling important foreign policy by public referendum.
The writer is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute.