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A Home From Home: From Immigrant Boy to English Man Paperback – 5 Jul 2007
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Courageous, controversial, compassionate (DAILY MAIL)
Part memoir, part political treatise . . . As a migrant twice over, Alagiah is better placed than most to discuss important arguments about what being British means (GUARDIAN)
Alagiah's experiences give him a unique overview of the entire argument. He urges wider tolerance, on both sides of the cultural divide. His argument is solidly supported by facts and interviews, and is very persuasive (Kate Saunders, SUNDAY TIMES)
As a migrant twice over, Alagiah is better placed than most to discuss important arguments about what being British means (GUARDIAN)
* George Alagiah's moving autobiography of his own immigrant life, and a wider examination of the immigrant experience in the UKSee all Product description
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As a highly-integrated, successful 'British Muslim' [as someone would apparently call me now] who still maintains links with his culture, I concur with his feelings that there is no point in living parallel lives as an immigrant. Immersion does not mean loss of one's identity, but in fact a new and fresh interpretation of that identity.
Education and economics no doubt play a big role - as can be seen by the success of the Gujaratis compared to my own Sylheti-Bengali culture, but policies need to encourage more integration, not segregation - especially as people will continue to cross borders as long as our world remains grossly unequal. UK tax-payers should not be paying for Bengali lessons - if I want my kids to learn Bengali, I'll teach them myself or get private classes. Their main language will be in English.
Mr Alagiah does not shy away from talking about institutional reasons for such segregration. Can you blame the rise of ghettos after years of racism, racist housing policies, lack of opportunities..And let's not forget how bad the English are at 'integrating' themselves on the Costa de Sol..
Ultimately immigration will continue to exist whilst the 'first world' continues to rape the 'third world'. Whilst it does, we'd better think of better ways of dealing with it. The first thing may be to see similarities in each other, not differences.
While this is not George's autobiography, there is plenty about his life here that he might wish to reproduce in his autobiography if he decides to write it. He discusses his time at boarding school in Portsmouth and at university in Durham, pointing out that he found acceptance by whites easy because of his novelty value, but contrasts this with situations that other immigrants have found themselves in. In this, he confirms what I'd tended to assume based on my own observations. If a society is composed almost entirely of one racial group of whatever color, the small minority have no choice but to conform because they don't have anybody else to befriend. When the size of the minority increases to the point where they form a significant group, that's when the potential trouble arises. Ultimately, it is for politicians at local and national level to find solutions. As George points out, those solutions, however well intentioned, don't usually work.
George goes back in time to describe how Britain became a multi-cultural society and how the process accelerated in the second half of the twentieth century. He discusses the legislation passed by various British governments, beginning with the Aliens Act of 1905 and how, with one exception, that act and all subsequent immigration acts have tightened the rules, especially aimed (it seems) at keeping out non-whites. He also discusses the 1948 act (the one exception) and how it seemed like an open invitation to Jamaicans, Indians and Pakistanis. They gleefully accepted although that was apparently not the British government's intention.
Much of George's book contains stories of ordinary people who have lived in multi-cultural Britain. Most are from the immigrant communities themselves, but George also includes white people who are in a minority in their own local area; one white boy only knows one other white boy. George illustrates how policies intended to make outsiders feel welcome may have made it easier for them to stick with their own kind, making no attempt to mix with others. This means mixing with other immigrant communities as well as with whites. Some inter-racial violence has been between rival immigrant groups although most trouble involves whites against immigrant communities. Some of Britain's cities contain different communities segregated along ethnic lines, with some areas almost exclusively white while others are almost exclusively black or Asian, sometimes further segregated by nationality or religion. In my experience, some cities are more segregated than others. During my time in Birmingham in the nineties, I was impressed by finding that people of all races lived in all parts of the city, though even this didn't prevent inter-racial problems occurring occasionally. Some areas had a higher proportion of black or Asian people than others, but I didn't see any area of Birmingham that I would call segregated like I'd earlier seen in West Yorkshire (specifically Leeds, Bradford and Keighley), where it seemed that segregation was the norm. It did not surprise me that the July 7 (2005) bombers mainly came from Leeds. I now live in Leicester, another multi-racial city, which appears to be less segregated than West Yorkshire, but less mixed than Birmingham. Nevertheless, things seem to mostly work quite well in Leicester.
George discusses arranged marriages, explaining how the system operates within the Pakistani community in particular. Apparently, other communities don't arrange marriages in the same way. I note that George was allowed to marry a white English woman of his own choosing, but although he doesn't say, it seems that nobody tried to arrange a marriage for him. He must have chosen well because his marriage has been successful, but he avoids debating whether arranged marriages are better or worse than other marriages. His view seems to be that sometimes they are better, sometimes not.
George knows that there is no easy answer to the perennial race issue. Any policy that emphasizes either integration or assimilation (both very emotive words) is likely to be controversial, but allowing each ethnic group to ignore all others (an unintended consequence of multiculturalism) creates its own problems. While the terrorist attacks in recent years illustrate the alienation felt by some British citizens who don't feel British, they may serve as a wake-up call to the vast majority of people of whatever race, religion or nationality.
George highlights the issues but even he cannot provide clear solutions. He doesn't like the way in which ethnic communities and whites increasingly tend to stick with their own kind but he doesn't know how to overcome the problem. Creating a future in which everybody feels welcome depends on all of us. Start by reading George's book. Wherever you live in the world, it will make you think. The problems in Britain are reflected, with variations, in America, mainland Europe and elsewhere.
I particularly enjoyed the way George Alagiah relayed his personal experiences with the current immigrant situation in the UK. George's book taught me a lot about the British challenge as well as his innermost insights.