Migrant Colonialism

Further to my recent post on ‘Immigration’ – https://bernardjporter.com/2018/10/15/immigration/ – another important distinction to draw in this context rests on whether the immigrants intend to merge into the societies they come in to, or whether – to put no finer point on it – they come as colonizers. (My special academic area, of course.)

Colonizers migrate in order to set up societies of their own abroad, as for example most British and other European emigrants did in the Americas, Africa and Australasia in modern times. Others come to rule or exploit the indigènes of the lands they move into, in which case it’s called imperialism. Not many recent immigrants into Britain (or the US) fall into that last category, whatever the more extreme Islamophobes may claim. Most of them simply settle, and manage to culturally adapt, at least to an extent that the natives find comfortable with, and after the first generation or two.

The danger may come when they set up settlements of their own which are deliberately cut off from the communities around them, as so many emigrants in the age of European expansion did. It’s not only foreign immigrants that do this, incidentally; my own personal experience of the upper classes (at Cambridge University) taught me how ‘cut off’ they are; although of course they aren’t strictly ‘foreigners’. (Unless we’re going back to 1066.) In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was mainly us  doing the migrating – Brits, Irish and other Europeans – to the detriment, in the main, of the native Americans, the aborigines of Australia, Maoris, and others. But today it’s south Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants into Europe that this pattern is generally associated with; as exemplified by this two-year-old newspaper article, sent to me by RR, about ‘ghettoes’ of immigrants in certain northern British towns: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3899540/Go-away-shouldn-t-Don-t-come-corner-Yorkshire-no-white-residents.html.

Now, I don’t think we should take this at face value. It’s from the Daily Mail, after all, and reads as if it comes from Enoch Powell’s time. (Powell’s gross stories of immigrants shoving excrement through whites’ letter boxes, for example, were soon revealed as urban myths.) Nonetheless, I don’t doubt that the Daily Mail story reflects some of the reality of these places – I’ve witnessed it myself in Bradford and elsewhere – and that it can be problematical. The tenacity of Moslem culture among many of these recent immigrants may be one barrier to their – even partial – integration, though it doesn’t seem to have had this effect on the present Mayor of London and Home Secretary. Personally, I take the customary liberal view of this: we should try to make the immigrants welcome, and encourage their integration. Naïve? I hope not.

But I don’t want to pursue this question now. It has little bearing, for example, on the current burning issue of how many we should let in. The only point I want to make here, and to add to today’s debate on migration, is that this sort of immigration should, strictly speaking, be regarded as another form of colonialism, which we on the Left have always been taught to disapprove of historically. So, should we reject this form of settler-immigration for the same reasons?

To tell the truth, I’m not sure what we can infer from this new classification of (some of) our incomers. But as someone concerned about semantic accuracy, and in order to refine the argument, I believe that ‘colonialism’ should always be called out for what it is. – That’s all.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to Migrant Colonialism

  1. Phil says:

    You’re the specialist here, but I don’t think the distinction you draw between colonialism and imperialism is tenable. You characterise imperialism in terms of indigenous people being ruled or exploited by the settlers. On one hand, this omits what seems to me an essential component of imperialism – the imperium, the metropolitan power for whose benefit the resources of the colonised territory (including its people) are being exploited. On the other, it omits one of the key negative interactions between indigenous people and colonists (including colonists who have cut themselves loose of the metropolitan mothership): the claiming of land for the colonists’ exclusive occupation, leading to the forcible displacement or extermination of the indigenous people.

    You then contrast this model of imperialism with a less malign process in which colonists migrate in order to set up societies of their own abroad, implicitly bearing the indigenous people no ill will (and certainly not setting out to exploit, rule or destroy them). To this I would simply ask, when did this happen? I’m having trouble thinking of any colonial enterprise in modern times that didn’t involve either imperial exploitation or what we’d now call ethnic cleansing. Utopian communities in the Americas, perhaps; perhaps even that utopian community that landed at Plymouth Rock, at least in its early days. Other than that I’m not sure Liberia would qualify, or even the Yishuv – certainly not the post-1948 state of Israel.

    So I question whether ‘colonialism’ is a word we can use in this context, or not without altogether irrelevant and unhelpful connotations. Whether you’ve identified a pattern of settlement and exclusive cultural continuity is a separate question & more empirical; even there, I fear you’ve put two (patterns of religious devotion) and two (links to the ‘old country’) together and made five, much as Victorian critics of Irish slum-dwellers might have done.

    Liked by 1 person

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