pass the cucumber sandwiches, Mustapha

August 29, 2006

At a time when there is much talk of integration, cohesion and inclusion it is worth returning to the question of what we want our ethnic communities to integrate with. Inayat Bunglawala, from the Muslim Council of Britain, put it very well: “It is perfectly possible to be integrated in a wider British society while also holding onto your faith and values …,” he said. “For example, it may be part of the wider way of life to get drunk on a Friday night but this is not something our faith encourages.” Touché, Mr. Bung, however, I would point out that many non Muslims, myself included, disapprove of getting drunk on a Friday or any other night. And I don’t seek to condone this behaviour by saying it is a reaction to the excessive teetotalitarian policies of Muslim countries. Actually, nobody seems to be able to define ‘Britishness’ and British values. People often come up with things like ‘fairness, respect for others, reserve, pride’ which apparently get the Scots and the Welsh (not to mention the Irish) hopping up and down in rage. The British Council clearly don’t have a clue and simply list what a number of celebrities have said (mostly wheeling out the same old stereotypes about queuing, eccentricity, the English countryside etc). The alternative, if not very helpful, view is that of Malcolm McLaren: “It’s about singing Karaoke in bars, eating Chinese noodles and Japanese sushi, drinking French wine, wearing Prada and Nike, dancing to Italian house music, listening to Cher, using an Apple Mac, holidaying in Florida and Ibiza and buying a house in Spain. Shepherd’s pie and going on holiday to Hastings went out about 50 years ago and the only people you’ll see wearing a Union Jack are French movie stars or Kate Moss.”
Some interesting research done for the Council for Racial Equality lists as typically British values, amongst others ‘upholding human rights and freedoms, respect for the rule of law, tolerance, a strong work ethic, community spirit, mutual help, stoicism and compassion, and drunkenness, hooliganism and yobbishness’. So unless our yobs are full of compassion we have at least two Britains there. The same research also mentions consuming food and drink such as ‘fish and chips’, ‘English breakfast’, ‘Yorkshire pudding’, ‘cream teas’, ‘cucumber sandwiches’, ‘roast beef ‘Sunday lunch’, ‘curries’ and ‘beer’, which, again, reflect some very different Britains.
Attempts to define what is quintessentially British usually come to grief, as was shown by the howls of derision which greeted the infamous Test of Britishness. Knowing a set of facts about Britain that could have come straight from a GCSE syllabus on subjects like ‘What are the roles and powers of the main institutions of Europe? or ‘How is European law organised?’ seems to me a pathetic way of finding out if someone is ‘integrated’. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether immigrants know the laws of cricket and what a quango is as long as they behave themselves. And I don’t see what is wrong with letting the Chinese do their lion dances and Muslims recite the Koran as long as they do it quietly and it doesn’t interfere with the Test series.
On reflection, that Britishness test could be a very good test, it just needs a slight tweak to the marking system. The pass/fail criteria should be made very simple: anyone who bursts out laughing within 30 seconds or says ‘what a load of bollocks’, passes. The rest fail.

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2 Responses to “pass the cucumber sandwiches, Mustapha”

  1. britgirl Says:

    Britishness… hmmm. Being a Brit myself and one who has immigrated to Canada every time I think of what Briishness means it morphs into something else.

    As for integration, as long as people are at least trying to be part of their host country rather than insisting on having a “little whichever country they hail from” within the host country and staying completley separate I’m fine. Otherwise you get countries within countries, or cultures within cultures which can lead to trouble – as we can now see.When in Rome…do as the Romans.

  2. Edinkent Says:

    I agree with britgirl. These days you simply cannot afford to have people cutting themselves off from the mainstream. Anyone can make fun of the test of Britishness but at least it’s a step in the right direction.


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