the concept of democracy and its relationship to ‘civilised’ behaviour
recently, Tony Blair, in an interview about the impending elections in
Zimbabwe, declared that there were no half measures in democracy. This
soundbite denies the different forms of democracy that do or can exist. It
is not particularly democratic that a privileged group of unelected,
titled and unrepresentative elderly (mostly) men should be able to make
and amend our laws.5 Democracy might be defined as paying heed
to the will of the majority, but this does not necessarily imply that the
majority view is either sensible or just.6 To complicate
matters further, democratic models used in Europe vary considerably - even
as they do within the British Isles. The elections to the Scottish and
Welsh Assemblies were not conducted in the same manner that we elect our
parliamentary representatives in England. Ironically these structures and
systems were put in place by Mr. Blair’s government which does not think
them appropriate for the English. The debacle over the election of George
W. Bush reflects poorly on that nation’s claim to be a democratic
country. In Britain too, we have in recent years, been faced with a
political party coming to power as the legitimate government despite
having either less than 50% of the electorate’s support, or having fewer
votes nationally than the opposition party.
notion of civilised is subjective
and extremely difficult to define objectively. The literature on
philosophy contains a great deal about civilised and civilisation. It is
also worth pointing out that the US in particular, but more generally,
Europeans claim their concept of civilisation and democracy originated in
ancient Greece. The Greeks practiced slavery, denied women rights and
engaged in occasional human sacrifice. Besides that, modern Europeans have
attempted to deny the influence of Black peoples’ idea on Greek thought
despite the fact that the Greeks themselves were quite forthright about
the influences upon their ways thinking. 7
I have set out some of the questions I posed about the concept of
‘civilised’ during my recent input to the Black Perspectives module at
DMU. In answering the questions below, the reader ought to consider
whether major oppressions were operating against women, Black people, gays
or the peasantry (as in feudalism) and whether such groups were able to
participate in democratic decision making. The reader might wish to
consider whether civilisation is characterised only
by art and music – or technology, for that matter. If art, music and
technology are the only hallmarks of civilisation then it is difficult to
sustain the notion that some human societies are uncivilised. If a society
is to be deemed civilised, we need to identify what qualifies it to be
categorised in that manner. (An understanding of history of the periods
mentioned below would assist considerably in answering the questions.)
Were the ancient Greeks
Were the English civilised during
the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1?
Were the Americans or any European
nation civilised during the 18th Century?
Were the British civilised during
the period of the Raj?
Were Germans during the Third
Was the dictator Franco’s Spain
At what stage did European nations
(including the US) become civilised?
Can a nation be considered
civilised while its population is itself not considered civilised in its
Is there any correlation between a
nation being civilised and its political organisation or democracy?
is another aspect that needs to be considered in this analysis - that is
the relationship between the so-called civilised West and non-democratic
and allegedly uncivilised nations. Despite their stated values and
principles the US and Britain have consistently supported, consorted and
traded with non-democratic oppressive regimes, ranging from South Vietnam
(before America’s undeclared war against North Vietnam,), the military
Junta in Greece during the 1970s, to Indonesia, Philippines and Latin
America during the same period.8 Despite the Carter and Reagan
administrations’ alleged championing of human rights abroad, the reality
was quite different. As the literature shows, those and other US
administrations helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in
Latin America, provided fascist governments with the training and hardware
to oppress their populations and turned a blind eye to the invasion of
sovereign territories. (See references to Pilger & Zinn’s writings.)
The only consistency demonstrated by the US and Britain in its pursuance
of human rights and attitude towards undemocratic and ‘uncivilised’
nations has been the pursuit of profit.
Essentially that has been the primary motive in most of the US and
Britain’s dealings with the rest of the world. I end this section by
posing the question whether an alleged civilised society can be considered
civilised if it aids and consorts with allegedly ‘uncivilised’
Diversity & Equality
Mr. Blunkett’s pronouncements about the uprisings in Oldham and
Bradford,9 he has been provocative and offensive in his
statements about citizenship and the cultural values of sections of the
Black community. Blunkett is an unreconstructed assimilationist and has set back the
debate about our plural society.10 Perhaps Blunkett can
tells us the relevance of the language issue to the Asian youths who
retaliated against racist provocation and underemployment. The Home
Secretary’s comments about arranged marriages plays to the White
public’s ignorance about the distinction between arranged and forced
marriages. No community believes in forced marriages and as for arranged
ones, they vary considerably in the extent to which they are arranged and
the room the prospective bride and groom have to manoevre. Arranged
marriages have in racist discourse become identified with Asian
communities, thereby denying the extent of parental control and approval
operating in European styles of marriage. The degree of approval and
control exercised by the upper classes is even greater than in the general
populace and at its most extreme among royalty. (The monarch cannot be
Catholic and hence potential heirs are discouraged from marrying a
Catholic - even though Catholics and Protestants are sects of the same
religion!) The Home Secretary’s unwelcome advice about Asians finding
partners in Britain instead of finding them in the subcontinent is
motivated by concerns about Black immigration to this country.11 The laws as they
already exist, permit the removal of a divorced woman whose marriage to a
British citizen fails. Interestingly, a man
married to a British citizen would not be removed in the event of the
marriage breaking down because the man is considered to be the breadwinner
and head of the household! Both racism and sexism has become
institutionalised within our immigration laws.
reasons for some British Asians choosing partners from the subcontinent
needs to be understood in terms of a reaffirmation
of the values of Indian society. These values are important to Asian
communities as evidenced in the fact that Asian communities, despite being
aware of the bureaucratic delays and harassment suffered at the hands of
the immigration service, continue to seek partners from the subcontinent.
The effect of racism on minority cultures is to make them inward looking,
less adventurous and to push them towards ossification. One of the more
readily available remedies to this is an injection of fresh people and
ideas into the minority communities from closely related communities that
are less constrained culturally.
majority of White Britons may not consider religion an important aspect of
their lives but to Asian communities it forms the backbone of their
respective cultural communities. Not surprisingly, such communities wish
marriage partners drawn from the same faith communities. It is naïve and
pious hope that has White liberals argue that in matters of marriage
religion should not matter. To date, devout or practising Christians have
rarely married outside their own faith community.
should the choice of partners be limited for Asian
communities living in Britain? (The term ‘Asian’ disguises a
considerable amount of heterogeneity in terms of regional and national
cultures.) The government preaches ‘choice’ yet it seeks to restrict
the choice of potential partners to people living in this country without
providing any rationale for its behaviour. The reality is that marriages
between different ethnic groups are increasing in frequency, particularly
among professional classes in the Asian community. My own marriage is an
example. I as a Pakistani Punjabi Muslim living in Britain chose to marry
an Indian Gujerati Muslim living in Britain. When I first decided to
marry, I had not intended marrying outside my own ethnic group because I
did not wish the issue of language and culture to add to the difficulties
of making a marriage successful. One of the important factors in my
decision to marry my Gujerati partner was that she was a fluent Urdu
speaker ( - the official language of Pakistan). The language of
communication in our household is a mixture of Urdu and English since my
facility with Gujerati is still poor, as is my partner’s facility with
Punjabi. It is important to recognise that languages are about more than
simply speaking differently. Languages are intimately linked to ways of
thinking. Some concepts in one language may be absent or considered alien
in other languages. There also exist subtleties to concepts in some
languages that are absent in other languages – the Inuit Indians having
numerous words for snow that distinguish between the different
types/properties of the snow. In the context of differences in languages,
the issue of rearing children becomes complex. Consideration needs to be
given to which language and culture ought to be transmitted to children.
(This is an issue that is probably irrelevant to the majority of White
monolinguals in Britain.) These are important considerations if one
believes in cultural continuity. This matter cannot be ignored because of
some naïve, confused, liberal notion of ‘love conquering all’.
Pluralism does not involve the unspoken assumption that respect for
different cultures is temporary – that is, an expectation that in time
minority cultures will be assimilated. Yet that has been the true agenda
of British governments, as the published literature about ‘race’
policies and the enactment of the Town & Planning Act 1966 (section 11
is quite forthright about wanting Asian communities to change their
cultural practices - without any consideration of the consequences.
Britain has never had any government that has asked for changes in the
cultural practices of the White Britons to accommodate Black Britons. What
cultural practices might White Britons be prepared to forgo to integrate
with minority communities? British society could give up the practice
where all social activities revolve around the consumption of alcohol.12
It is interesting that even in multi-ethnic workforces across Britain it
is common for staff social activities to be organised in such a manner as
to permit the consumption of alcohol. Many White Britons who profess to
believe in multiculturalism or claim to respect diversity, when it comes
to the crunch, are not prepared to forego alcohol even for one evening.
legitimate to question why one ought to swear allegiance to the monarch
when she is not democratically elected. It would not be unreasonable to
expect the majority population
to also swear allegiance to
the queen. If one does not believe in the monarchy it would be
hypocritical to swear allegiance to the queen. There is a need for
clarification of the relationship between allegiance to a nation (and its
symbols), and the right to dissent and challenge the actions of its
talk of tests of functional literacy leaves unanswered whether children can be considered citizen in Blunkett’s Britain.
Furthermore, given the level of adult illiteracy, one might expect all
adults in this country to undertake a test of reading and writing ability.
To do otherwise would be to further institutionalise discrimination. When
Blunkett expects people to learn about British culture, perhaps he can
tell the population what constitutes British cultural customs, practices
and norms. Specialist consultant in the field of racial equality have
found that White Britons have great difficulty defining what it means to
be British or English. White Britons need to at least debate the issue and
come to a decision about what they think it means to be British/English.
This should happen before governments dictate what minorities need to learn about
British customs and ways of life.
The idea of citizenship has for
a long time been associated with the right to hold a British passport.
Past governments have manipulated the (patriality) rules to deny Black
people citizenship and right of entry into this country. Governments have
even gone to the length of creating different categories of British
citizenship, some of which deny citizens the right of entry to this
country. James Callaghan’s Labour government rushed legislation through
parliament within 48 hours to prevent British passport holders from East
Africa, being expelled by a tyrannical regime, from exercising their right
of entry to Britain. (Many of these British passport holders from East
Africa were dumped on the Indian government as if they were the
responsibility of the Indian government.) Although citizenship remains
within the gift of government to grant, one might still reasonably expect
the government to ensure that all its citizens are given equal rights and
treatment. Yet governments have permitted inequality to flourish and
through their policies even encouraged inequality and discrimination. (The
literature about discrimination upon the basis of ‘race’, gender,
disability and age is extensive.) The present Labour government has
already set the precedent of ‘internal’ exile for certain individuals
of Irish extraction. This is a fundamental denial of the right of freedom
of movement. The Labour government has proposals to abolish the right of
defendants to a trial by jury. But even here, such proposal will impact
differentially upon Black communities, as Sivanandan, the director the
Institute of Race Relations has pointed out. It seems the current
government wishes to perpetuate the behaviour of previous administrations
in maintaining the situation where some citizens are treated less equally
is little likelihood of Black citizens being afforded equality when women
in this country are already systematically discriminated against,. Those
who point to the Race Relations Act and the recent strengthening of the
statutory duties of local authorities to ensure equal opportunities and
the elimination of discrimination, need to inquire what mechanism have
been set in place to ensure that such duties are carried out. Furthermore,
why does such legislation not apply to the government
and ministers of the crown? There are no systematic inspections of
local authorities with regard to racial (or gender) equality and social
justice? Through its various agencies, the government inspects schools,
prisons and more recently, hospitals – why not local authorities? One
has to wonder, why a government obsessed with setting tough targets for
schools, LEAs, hospitals and police, should be shy of setting targets for
racial or gender equality. What we have is the pretence of equal
opportunities and equal rights, but little real change. The government
continues to talk about the duties
of citizens, but little about their rights.13 Citizenship is of
little consequence unless it guarantees rights.
In any serious debate
about citizenship the questions below also need to be considered.
members of a nation automatically citizens? Who are considered
automatically to be citizens? If so, why?
privileges/rights are associated with citizenship? Do all members of a
nation not deserve such rights/privileges?
basis would such rights/privileges be denied to some members of society?
citizenship be withdrawn? Who is likely to have their citizenship
withdrawn and under what circumstances?
notion of citizenship of any value unless it can be withdrawn from all
individuals deemed unworthy?
citizenship is withdrawn will such individuals receive differential
rights? If so, for how long?
What if any
is the connection between citizenship, rights and civilised behaviour?
well aware that there are many other aspects or ramifications flowing from
any analyses about ‘civilised’ behaviour and citizenship, but there is
insufficient space to discuss these. However, the issues I have raised are
important to include in any debates that the government might sponsor.
Community/Youth workers might find the questions raised in this article
suitable to use during group work with their respective client groups.
With a view to that, I have included further reading materials that will
assist discussion about these sorts of issues.