Category Archives: Immigration

Where are the French Human Rights Lawyers?

Brother Ivo was listening to a Conservative MP speaking on the radio who discharged her responsibility towards holding Government to account by challenging the policy not to accept unaccompanied children from the Calais migrant camp known as ” The Jungle”.

Readers may may know that Brother Ivo has advised that such acceptances must not be based upon an arbitrary number but calibrated to the recruitment of suitable foster carers who are properly supported and resourced.

The State is notoriously a bad parent, and the ranks of the homeless, the depressed, the imprisoned, the suicidal and the parents of children taken into care, are disproportionately represented by those who were once children in the care of institutional parents.

Children from war zones who are let down by poorly managed processes will be especially vulnerable to future radicalisation. By all means be generous, but let us recognise that compassion on the cheap will not end well. If it is going to be done. let it be done with competence as well as compassion.

The lady MP  pressing her Government was very persuasive however, especially as she spoke of children being abused daily in the camps and needing to be ” sewn up ” after abuse. That was a “game changing image”.

Who could not be moved to act as the nature of the problem was thus described? Two small words, but  a horrific and unforgettable image imparted.

The Government has shifted under such advocacy: one only hopes that they will heed a Brother Ivo’s warning and do what is necessary to make the policy a long term success and not just a short term sop to the public conscience.

Yet, the description of the lady MP – whose name Brother Ivo regrettably did not catch – raises two important collateral matters.

First, it does impact on the view which ordinary people may have of the adult inhabitants of the Jungle: if this is happening on a nightly basis, why is not the adult population of that camp not taking some responsibility for the war zone young?

We are told that they are talented people who, given the chance, will be net improvers of British society.  Doubtless there will be those who are acting to protect the young, but evidently there are many whose resonse to vulnerability is to exploit it.

“Open borders” is not a policy assisted by such stories.

There is a second implication.

If this is what is so widely and blatantly occurring to the very young, what are the French authorities doing about it? If the French State is protectively absent where is the French outcry?

More specifically, where is the French Human Right lobby and it’s associated lawyers?

French jurisprudence has traditionally been very strong on ” The Rights of Man”. They may have been inspired in this by the English Thomas Paine, but we’ll let that pass.

When Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Belgium, he was immediately assisted by a lawyer there,  and when he was transferred to France, a French lawyer was promptly engaged. This tradition of leaping to the defence of the unpopular is deeply engaged in the legal/political class of France

The late french Left wing Lawyer Jacques Verges was legendary for his defence of human rights violators from terrorist “Carlos the Jackel” through ” the butcher of Lyons ” Klause Barbie, to the head of the Khmyr Rouge Khieu Samphan. Maitre Verges volunteered to represent each of them. He inspired generations of politically motivated lawyers.

Human Rights lawyers are very good at defending monsters creatively against  perceived threats to their human rights violations, real or imagined .

So where are they, in calling to account the French Government for its failure to protect these unaccompanied children? In England, Social Services would not be allowed to stand idly by such “no go zones” whilst small children are nightly abused; they consider removing children from foster carers who smoke or flirt with voting UKIP.

So what is the story in France?

Advocates of the UK remaining in the EU are currently suggesting that were we to leave, UK Human Rights jurisprudence would grind to a halt. So here is the question-

if European Human Right Jurisprudence is so superior, so activist in defence of Human Rights, so confronting of State injustice – why is it not being deployed to protect the children of “The Jungle”?

 

Migrant Children – compassion is not enough.

The plight of unaccompanied migrant children has been attracting much media attention in recent days and political capital is being made about the Government’s disinclination to set an early number on how many children  it is willing to admit, whether those accepted are best drawn from the refugee camps of Syria, and whether the proposed 3000  are within, or in addition to, the Government commitment to accept 20,000 refugees in all.

It is very easy to express anger at an apparent slowness of pace, and this is but one of many issues where “virtue signalling” becomes widespread.

Given the current net migration figure of 333,000 per annum, the number involved looks very small but anyone with experience of such matters will have begun unpacking the complexity of the task that is in prospect.

Each year the Child Protection Services of England and Wales are already charged with the task of finding new homes for some thousands of children removed from their UK birth families, by reason of either an actually or perceived risk of “significant harm”.

It is a task which they find very difficult to keep up with. The entire process of advertising  for carers, providing them with relevant information , meeting, vetting, matching  volunteers and then introducing individual children to their possible carers, is both complex and time consuming. Even after placement there is a considerable necessity to monitor and follow up; some children will have ongoing therapeutic needs given their experience of broken family.

A significant number of such placements, whether temporary foster carers or long term adopters, fail, with particularly damaging results to the child concerned.

Older children are notoriously difficult to place, not least because they tend to have longer histories of disturbance and/or rejection. Failed placements hit these young people especially hard.

In the final stages of Care Proceedings, where Placement Orders are considered. Courts are regularly reminded  – and if not , many Judges remind themselves that – “The State is a notoriously bad parent”.

Look at the statistics of young people falling into crime, substance abuse, homelessness, depression or self harm and you will find those with a history of State Care significantly over represented within that cohort.

The young girls abused by the Rotherham sex abusers were all in State Care, and as we now hear of a young Swedish volunteer murdered by a 15 year old refugee, we see that the venue of the attack was a hurriedly put together hostel to “warehouse” young people whose numbers have overwhelmed the normal assessment processes with appropriate risk management.

In the UK we already have a significant “backlog” of unplaced children numbering several thousand. Distasteful as it is to say, certain children are more “marketable” when it comes to securing stable long term homes. The new born are plainly easier to place than those with a history of psychological disturbance and multiple placement breakdown.

Every would be substitute parent has a choice, and whilst there are saints – many drawn from the Christian community – who will deliberately take in the child with restricted life span or acute disability, there are a large number of children who struggle to find suitable matching.

Again it is distasteful to record, but it is a fact, that mixed race children are over represented in the cohort of those still awaiting placement. The arrival of new children into the pool of those awaiting new families will negatively impact upon those who have already been waiting too long ,

Any consideration of the acceptance of refugee children needs to take place in the knowledge of such facts as they stand on the ground.

“Calling for” children to be admitted is easy; managing their arrival involves a huge logistical exercise for a system that was already struggling before the problem of unaccompanied refugee children presented itself.

Many of the new children will present specific problems.

They may come from multiple cultures. Do we try and match them, as was always regarded as a proper approach?

Do we try to place a Muslim child with a Muslim carer? Leaving aside Sunni/Shia complexity, many of our own Muslim families come from the Indian sub-continent. Not only is there a massive cultural and linguistic divide, but those cultures do not have a tradition of fostering and adoption – in difficult cases within such communities extended family routinely steps in.

There is no criticism behind this, simply a recognition that matching is not straightforward if one begins to apply the usual standards of finding suitable matches to maximise the prospects of success.

Are we going to place such children with gay couples? How will that play out if the young people are kept in touch with their ethnic communities in some fashion, or do we abandon any attempt at cultural sensitivity?

Many of these children will have had very traumatic experiences. Will the well meaning volunteers be up to the task that their kindness leads them towards?  The full measure of the impact of this was brought home to Brother Ivo when he recently read that since 1999 over 130,000 US War veterans have committed suicide.

Will we warn would-be carers of the full gamut of problems which they may encounter?

Some of the children will have learned a hard form of independence, having already  lost a capacity to trust, a steely self reliance and possibly a recourse to sexual manipulation, which may come as a shock to carers, as behaviour is exhibited either towards other children in the household or the carers themselves. This is especially the case where children have been rescued from traffickers.

Many of the children will have learnt to act beyond their years and be unwilling or unable to give up the self confidence that got them across Europe. Some will claim to be younger than their true age whilst, counter intuitively, others will pretend to be older to preserve a degree of self determination. Giving over your hard won self determination to complete strangers may not come easy.

All of the considerations – and more – will come into play as real desperate needs cry out to be met.

Brother Ivo’s is not a voice against meeting the needs of such vulnerable children, but if those charged with making the plan work seem slow, cautious, or bureaucratic, we must appreciate that getting a good outcome must be the first priority.

Making it up as we go along is not a good strategy.

A successfully integrated outcome of rescued children akin to those who benefitted from the Kindertransport programme of the 1930’s is one to be aspired to. Many of the dispossessed children we are now looking to take will have much greater histories of trauma than the who were sent from Nazi Germany.

If we do not meet the children’s needs in a broad, well planned individually considered, long term fashion, we shall simply produce a resentful cohort of angry, let down ,adolescents ripe for radicalisation and resentment.

It is more important to implement the right measures than simple to admit numbers to satisfy our desire to feel good about ourselves. We should get on with the task purposefully, but not without careful planning and proper resourcing.

Compassion is not enough.

Does ” Boiling Frog Syndrome” apply to the “Migrant Crisis”

How are we to think clearly about the problems presented to us by migration?

Can we be best directed by our feelings?

Our feelings might be – should be –  instinctively sympathetic for those who have been displaced, but there will be others feeling a fear of the unknown , concerned if an indeterminate number of people with different backgrounds histories and values seek refuge amongst us.

Maybe we are better to bring cold hearted logic to bear if a solution is to be reached with the necessary swiftness?

But is it is a cerebral matter only? Should we try to to work out optimal numbers, calculating our economic costs or gains?  Is that even possible in a plural democracy where there will be many views? It certainly cannot be done quickly. It thus falls to a worried Government to make a decision how to respond quickly to that dreadful picture of a drowned toddler on a beach.

Rarely will a Prime Minister have better understood Harold Macmillan’s summation of the Prime Ministerial nightmare ” Events, dear boy, events”

There will be some who will see the opportunity for political advantage, either to brand the Prime Minister an unfeeling brute or to bolster their argument against the EU. We may try to resist getting sucked too far into those areas if we are true to the mission of trying to reach a practical solution that does not affront our values, but few will succeed. Each and every decision will bleed political consequence into the body politic,

Brother Ivo ‘s abiding sense, as the various dimensions and complexities of the problem unfolds is simple, though not immediately practical. If you or I feel totally comfortable with our position in this dreadful crisis, we are probably not thinking hard enough.

It is a good discipline for us all to go to the position in the debate where we feel least comfortable and ask ourselves ” Where is there merit in this quarter of the discussion?” The more Brother Ivo has turned the issues over in his mind,  the more he has come to appreciate that this is one where most “sides” have a point. This is always the worst kind of dispute to be embroiled in; the worst civil wars occur where there is indeed a degree of merit on both sides.

So today Brother Ivo will challenge the instincts of perhaps  a majority in his Church whose instinct is dismiss fears about migration, and its consequences.

In an attempt to find a way of thinking clearly on the subject, Brother Ivo turned briefly to a rather obscure Harvard academic Wesley Newcombe Hohfeld whose work attempted to encourage a careful definition of concepts for use in legal analysis so that we do not confuse the argument with imprecision. He developed his language tools for use in civil disputes but as will be seen, they may assist in carrying our thinking when discussing immigration and the related Human Rights issues.

In a nutshell, Hohfeld identified that there are always two sides to a legal relationship which he called “correlatives” If one person has a legal right somebody else must have a  corresponding duty. He went further and identified four distinct pairs of necessary relationship,

So we have :-

Right – Duty

Privilege – No Right

Power – disability

Immunity – Liability.

To discuss a matter in Hohfeldian terms, you keep within those language rules; this is especially the case when considering “privilege” which is purely used in an analytical sense and has no class or wealth connotation. If you cannot clear your mind of other preconceptions about these words – stop reading now,

Looking at the migration issue through such a lens we begin to see more clearly where the current problems – and resentments arise.

In Hofeldian terms  British Citizenship  conferred  a “privilege”. If you were born here, nobody had any right to deny it to you. We legislated for others to petition to enjoy that “privilege” , by citizenship application or marriage; the “powers that be” had an absolute discretion to grant or withhold the privilege . Those petitioning were under disability; they might have a right to be considered, and the State might have a duty to consider the application, but it was the State alone which had the arbitrary legal “power”  to reject,  and a failed applicant was under “disability” in terms of challenging the discretion,

Within such a legal environment, the Executive, guided by the Legislature, would have enjoyed uncomplicated discretion in cases such as the present immigration crisis.

Provided the electorate approved, the Government could have been as mean or as generous as it wished with a true sense of control over the problem. The numbers who entered the country and the character thereof was a decision for the UK and above all for its peoples. Those peoples have been historically very welcoming and generous as Kenan Malik has written about here .

Yet we are not in the same age when such generosity was exercised, we are now in the world of the EU, and the Human Rights Act, and that makes a huge difference in terms of how confidently and quickly the Prime Minister feels able to act.

As Nigel Farage constantly points out – perfectly accurately – the Prime Minister is no longer in charge of the borders. The ( Hohfeldian ) “privilege” of the right of residence has been greatly extended, it has certainly been ceed to every person within the European Union – hundreds of millions of people.

Some hundreds of thousands have  already  exercised their “privilege”. We may not be accustomed to using the word in that context but it is le mot juste.

The UK is currently attractive to our EU neighbours because its language is the second language of many, its economy is thriving, it society diverse and welcoming; there is stability and residents enjoy a higher degree of welfare than many in the EU. A welfare claim is also a “legal privilege” – the Government has “no right” to withhold it from anyone within the extended class of those “privileged” in this way. There is the current irony that David Cameron has created more jobs for the French than Francois Holland.

There is currently no lawful mechanism for removing or restricting the privilege currently enjoyed by all EU residents.

Yet that “privilege” in not limited to those born or currently residing within the EU.

As Douglas Carswell  has written, anyone currently admitted by any of the member states to residence, automatically joins the numbers of those with a potential claim on the British State and economy. What he does not add is that any dependants  subsequently passported to residence, via s 8 of the Human Rights Act ” Right to Family Life”, must also be afforded the same status. If a newly arrived resident has a significant family tie. there is a duty to respect it. How many may subsequently claim that right is both unknown and unknowable, so people worry.

The class of those entitled to insist upon the privilege of residence was further extended under both the asylum and refugee conventions of the UN and Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention to anyone from a war zone,

Through those legally enforceable rights, the class of those who are “immune” from British Government control, and can make the British Government and taxpayer “liable” for their welfare is equally unknown and unknowable.

Every person who can reach the UK from a country where an oppressive Government infringes Human Rights has the “right” to claim asylum and the Government has a “duty” to grant it. Legal Aid must be afforded those whom it challenges because the right under dispute is an “absolute” one and access to the Courts must be resourced.

An “asylum seeker” has a well founded fear of his or her own Government. It encompasses persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of any political group. Sadly, the numbers of those afflicted is not in short supply,

A refugee is an asylum seeker who has fled his or her homeland through unrest civil war or natural disaster . a useful exploration of the definitions and all too frequent confusions,  by Mr Harry Mitchell QC is to be found here .

It does not take much reflection to appreciate that the class of those who are or maybe entitled to the privilege of UK residence and the ancillary rights and entitlements that go with it is vast. It certainly encompasses not only all 4 million Syrian refugees but also every gay person in Uganda, Pakistan, Iran ( to name but a few), every atheist in a Muslim State  and every woman at risk of sexual violence from Boko Haram or Islamic State. It encompasses many citizens of countries which sit on the UN Human Rights panel which only goes to prove that satire is not dead.

We may want – and choose-  to help every one who arrives; we are a generous people as the response to the single picture of the drowned Syrian child testifies. yet it is rather disingenuous to pretend that those who worry about numbers do not have a point.

That point primarily arises out of the legal context in which these crises arise which makes it different from virtually every other mass movement that preceded it.

When Huguenot, Irish and Jewish and Commonwealth migrations occurred in previous centuries, there was not the same context of enforceable “rights”,” privileges” “immunities” etc – nor indeed was there a welfare State of such attraction to the migrant choosing where to go. There was not the means by which the attractions of the UK were so graphically and instantly available.

This context matters when comparing the current situation with the past. If the Government appears to hesitate before acting, given the enormity of the problem and consequences of getting it wrong, Brother Ivo will be slow to criticise.

In the context of  the General Synod Climate Change debate, much weight was attached to “boiling frog syndrome” : we were told that “by the time you recognise the severity of the problem it is too late to do anything about it”.

One is bound to enquire whether the same principle applies, uncomfortably, in this debate.

The culture, attitudes, values, and institutions  of the United Kingdom have evolved over centuries. Despite many disagreements between us, we have a modus vivendi which many in the world find either attractive or at least convenient to enjoy. It has not proved as easy to replicate in other cultures as enlightened rationalists once assumed it would be.

Our current legal structures mean that we afford equal protection to the scarred woman fleeing an acid attack, the persecuted Christian, the gay African – and many who are in sympathy with the perpetrators of such persecution. We have amongst us those who perpetrated genocide, resisting exclusion because they might face the death penalty. We have advocates of the the values and systems that caused the crises ready to add such diversity to our public life.

We may decide that is a price worth paying, but it is hard to think that the debate about it is not worth having.

At the very least, it may be appropriate to introduce into our public considerations the notion that this current crisis might cause us to reconsider whether our legal structures are fit for the purpose of maintaining Britain as a place of welcome and refuge. Remember the frog.

 

 

 

Legal Aid is vital to avoid transience within communities

Whilst visiting a local church in one of the poorest parishes in the Diocese, Brother Ivo enjoyed a conversation over coffee with a lady who was deeply involved in outreach to her local community.

The Church ran a cafe ensuring a good affordable hot meal on a daily basis in sociable surroundings. They were very supportive of debt counselling but struggling to find enough time and advisors to meet the need. There was good work offered to children and young people. They were perhaps the last stable institution staring in an impoverished areas and they were anxious to stay, and serve the poor the lonely and the outcast.

It is the kind of church which makes one proud to be. Christian.

They had built their presence thanks to the receipt of grants, including good support from the local Diocese, and the Local Council, yet therein lies the problems. All such grants are limited in scope and time. Having built a functioning project for the benefit of the poor, it was threatened by an approaching end to funding streams.

The church remained dedicated and optimistic and were praying for support.

Should they be forced to contract their activities, the church will join a long list of sectors to have withdrawn from the community.

Once, the parish had housed the skilled workers for a large local defence establishment. Decline in the areas began when that facility had been closed, sacrificed to sustain another community in another part of the country. Shops closed, mutual associations and friendly societies were raided by carpet baggers intent on short term profit; pubs disappeared, and with them, local sports and other voluntary organisations all of which ceased to be active. Little by little, the structures of society ebbed away, until only the Church remains.

It is not only the public infrastructure which has departed, so have traditional local families.

That had always been the case in a modest form. As families “got on” they tended to move up the hill to slightly better or bigger houses, and young people moved to other parts of the country after going to university, but this natural turnover became worse and accelerated faster.

When the local economy sunk into depression,  house prices dropped and were bought up by ” buy to let ” landlords. Their client group reflected demographic change. Set in an area close to London the community experienced a squeeze from two directions; from recent European immigrants arriving from the Channel ports, and from others moving out of London as rental costs continue to rise in the capital.

With a ready supply of poorer, socially disadvantaged, often unsophisticated renters available, absentee landlords have no difficulty letting sub-standard properties.  the Local Council has other pressing priorities and are slow to enforce the law. People don’t like living there and move when they can even though the “grass is not greener” in the next property.

It is in this context, that Brother Ivo draws attention to the recently published Theos report arguing that there is a need to restore Legal Aid. You may read the story here – http://www.solicitorsjournal.com/news/legal-profession/legal-aid/legal-aid-side-angels

It is precisely because tenants can no longer enforce the law relating to housing law, because Legal Aid is not available, that the quality of the housing stock has declined. If you cannot enforce rights and standards, your only recourse is to move on – if you can. you have no pride of place, few places of common ground, and frequently no common language or culture with those about you.

It is in transient communities that drug dealing, human trafficking, and many other anti-social activities can flourish.

In the 1990’s,  New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pioneered policing methods which transformed first that city then Los Angeles, based upon the premise that dealing with the smaller problems of a local community paid huge dividends with the higher profile concerns. He famously demonstrated that by zero tolerance of petty crime, such as little , broken windows and graffiti, you established a social climate in which the murder rate markedly reduced.

Our Victorian forebears who founded such communities originally put it a different way. “Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves.’

The same principle applies with the building of community and Legal Aid has an important place which is easily overlooked in anti-lawyer rhetoric.

Stable community cannot be built out of transience, because so many other social problems flow from it.

This is not a party political issue. The savage cutting of Legal Aid happened under Labour after many years of persistent neglect. The Conservative/Liberal coalition has maintained that policy of deliberately ignoring the enforcement of the law by and on behalf of the poor.

Damage has already been done. Law firms have closed in such areas, as have Community Law Centres. The expertise which had been developed in earlier decades in specialist areas of law has already been lost.

In public finance terms, the savings are small but disproportionately harmful.

Community requires local identification because only if local people are cohesive and care for each other can they have the kind of society in which they demonstrate love for their neighbour by reporting the drug dealer, the violent partner, the neglected child or the exploited immigrant.

We need to identify transience as an important factor in righting these social problems, and whilst it is not popular to speak of the need for Legal Aid we probably cannot address many of the issues driving social exclusion adequately without it.

Who is Mohammed? (and who can answer?)

” Who is Mohammed?”

This was the rather arresting headline on the front page of Brother Ivo’s free local newspaper. With such an attention grabbing front page it thereby avoided being cast aside unread, and partial answers were seen to be offered in the words of George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Carlisle and others, all offering respectful opinions telling us how unique, compassionate and utterly admirable he was.

How much these alleged character witnesses knew of the man is not entirely clear, yet their high opinion of the Muslim prophet was plainly advanced to whet our appetites.

If the present tense of the headline had not alerted him, the offer at the foot of the page gave the game away, with a website offering to take the reader to the Qu’ran online and a telephone number to call to obtain a free copy.

This was paid advertising.

It was all very enterprising.

Who this man Mohammed was, is indeed an interesting and important question in the modern world, so putting the question into the public domain is superficially to be welcomed, and yet, it brings with it, a necessary corresponding question. Can any alternative view be safely advanced examined and published?

Can it be said in a local newspaper that , for example , Mohammed was a trader whose travels around the Arabian peninsular brought him into contact with the Gnostic Christian heresies which fled and established themselves there after being rejected by orthodox Christianity at the Council of Nicea?

Could one advertise, or respond through the letters page that his reporting of Christian historic belief and doctrine was/is demonstratively false and misleading – something which God is not likely have got wrong had the Qu’ranic revelation truly been a Godly revelation?

Might anyone say that Mohammed became a warlord capable of generosity and mercy, yet also according to Islamic sources, responsible for the murder of prisoners, a whole tribe of Jews,  the poisoning of critics and the sexual abuse of his 9 year old child bride?

Will anyone explore the circularity of his truth claims?  Mohammed is God’s final prophet, so says the Qu’aran, brought to you exclusively by Mohammed who is to be believed because he is God’s prophet etc..etc

Would the paid advertisers allow others to engage with the question by pointing out that if Mohammed lived today, the principle question raised by the modern secularists would be whether he should appear first before the Central Criminal Court, the International Court at The Hague for modern day war crimes, , or the Child Protection Court?

It may be unduly sceptical, but Brother Ivo will not be looking at the letters pages over the next few weeks in expectation of vigorous theological jousting, neither will he encourage others to offer paid advertising of a contrary opinion to those encouraging us to embrace Mohammed and his reported revelations.

It is much to be welcomed that Muslims have taken the trouble and paid the costs of putting the question “out there”. The problem is that a full engagement will not occur because the newspaper will censor serious critical engagement with the chosen question, not least, lest some of Brother Ivo’s identified issues be raised.

None of them are new, yet all are legitimate questions.

Nobody is similarly inhibited over questioning Christianity.

If Brother Ivo declared” Jesus is Lord”another can, and doubtless will riposte “Oh no he isn’t”, and Brother Ivo accepts that as a price worth paying for the freedom to speak the truth as he sees it. That is the Faustian bargain that believers and non believers have struck in order to create the largely tolerant free flow of ideas within our society and this is precisely what differentiates it from the intolerant regimes that many have fled, together with the violence and strife that follows soon after.

It is not that we have avoided intolerance; rather we have learnt to live with challenges to our values as the least worst option.

Even if the newspaper were to be willing to put its editor and staff at risk, many in the community will have taken note of what has happened in Paris and Copenhagen to those bold enough to apply criticism to the object of Islamist veneration. Many will avoid engaging with the question posed – and that too is a betrayal  of our most valued contribution to peaceful society – the honest and peaceful acceptance of difference of opinion.

When historian Tom Holland wrote and presented a critically acute historical examination of a Islam for Channel 4, ” Islam The Untold Story”, it did not make it to a public screening: such were the sensitivities of Mohammed’s admirers which the broadcasters were at excessive pains to protect. Most people know this and act accordingly, censoring criticism rather than risk controversy. That is how religious freedom dies, not with a bang but a whimper.

All this presents a Brother Ivo with another of his many paradoxes.

He wants to welcome the decision of some Muslims to ask their question, but can only do so provisionally. Engaging in public religious discourse in a pluralistic society carries responsibilities as well as rights. If one asks open questions about one’s faith, all involved have to expect and accept an uncensored and potentially offensive subsequent debate.

So do we have it – or do we walk away?

Toxic Transience

When Brother Ivo was elected to serve on General Synod, he resolved to worship with other parishes from time to time. He has tried to vary the churchmanship beyond familiarity, and has prioritised those in the poorer areas. Yesterday, he joined a congregation which is drawn from the poorest parish in the Diocese.

It was well attended, welcoming and instructive.

The Diocese has supported it well and it is well used in various guises, throughout the week. Debt counselling, a lunch club, silver surfers, youth activities, are but some of the activities which comprise their weekly offering to the community, and yet they are worried.

Because of their deprived area, they have attracted grants over the years, from European, Diocesan and Local Government sources but these were for capital projects, so far so good, but they are now entering the next phase, running on hope and prayer.

When asked directly what they would say to General Synod, given the chance, worshippers answered  Brother Ivo in similar vein, –  essentially “Don’t forget the poor”.

They like what they hear about Archbishop Justin, and when pressed, acknowledge that the institutional church has been supportive up to now, but they feel especially insecure. They are a church on the margins, they are not self supporting, and what they rightly suspect, though most probably do not know, is that the Anglican Church is about to embark on a major review (General Synod paper GS 1978) of how we should be “Resourcing the future of the Church of England”.

If there is any comfort to them and churches like them, it has been conveniently highlighted for them.
“We believe that equal weight should be given to the purposes of a) the support and development of mission work in the most deprived communities and b) proactive investment in new opportunities for growth across the country”.

It is hard to think the Church will not endorse that strategy, but it will come at a price.

If the Angican church puts its financial priorities into the inner city/ deprived town centres inevitably there will be smaller, perhaps equally faithful and prayerful congregations which will find their churches amalgamated or closed. Ancient buildings may be abandoned like eroded coastlines left to crumble.

Having voted in the last session to allow rural churchyards to be grazed by sheep, the resting places of past forebears may well be given over to benign neglect.

Synod may decide “So be it”.

Talking to those struggling to sustain mission in hard pressed urban areas one interesting feature emerged. “Transience” is a major problem. WE all talk of poverty and “lack of resources” but “transience” is an under-discussed factor>

Brother Ivo heard how the community has changed in and around the church where he worshipped. Once the surrounding streets would have housed workers for s single large blue collar employing facility. The houses would have been owner occupied, and the shops, pubs voluntary organisations, sports clubs, and churches would have made up the community.

Now, the principal employer having gone. Those in work began commuting elsewhere and with higher income moved to “better areas”.

Local business has declined, housing stock has been bought by absentee, often neglectful, landlords. The police are not seen, crime has risen and with it drug addiction and anti-social behaviour. The resilience of the local community has been sapped not least by disillusion. But also because the local families- the social glue – are much in decline. People are not marrying and separation which is higher amongst those living together – especially in poverty – compounds the transience.Those who move away from extended are more isolated and often more transient.

London Boroughs have re-located people to these communities, the rentals are on short hold tenancies, into sue standard housing where nobody wishes to remain. THere are no legal aid housing lawyers to fight their cases as Government has all but killed the sector. Many of the newcomers happen to be Eastern European who do not speak English, and thus community is further undermined.  Where it exists it is not in touch with the indigenous poor and suspicion arises, even from the Churchgoers. THere is suspicion of undetected criminality and people trafficking. These areas may be ” multi-cultural” . What is less in evidence is “community”.

It is this scarce ” asset ” which the Church can and does supply, and why “transience” is a factor we need to bring specifically into account more frequently, when discussing the problem.

What will help such communities?

Two frequent answers are “resources” and “education”.

What is particularly striking about Brother Ivo’s visit is that he learnt that the local school is failing.

That may not seem surprising until one hears that not 400 yards from the church in question, massive investment has been made in a school which Brother Ivo visited at its re-opening in 2010. It is a fine and well resourced building. There were more IMacs in a single classroom than in the nearby Bluewater Apple Superstore.

“Resources” cannot be the answer there. Results are the third worst in the country.

” Transience ” may be part of that problem, not least in the school leadership: they are on their third Headteacher since the re-build. Children come and go. Middle class parents who do remain in the catchment area do not want their children at a failing school. THe school fails partly because of the poor results imported with every newly disrupted transient child. That is a diagnosis not a criticism.

How one addresses “transience” may be complex. Labour mobility may be a good thing in certain circumstances, but plainly in the poorest communities it is also potentially toxic.

One cannot halt community decline unless and until one can give the very poor some semblance of stability from which we can build strategies to set them back on a path to integration into mainstream society.

Whether that strategy be one of debt management, language tuition, skills training or whatever, the halting of transience appears to be an early priority. The support of  local Churches with their community mission as part of spreading the Gospel must surely be an early part of the bringing of much needed stability and re-generation.

When the police, housing office, scout troops, and business community have moved out, our Churches are frequently the only foundation stone left . We surely don’t need too much discussion to decide what Christ would have us do.

Is our diversity only skin deep?

The choice of Lennie Henry to guest edit the flagship BBC radio programme Today inevitably brought the question of diversity into the public mind.

He is a much loved figure, amiable, “just like us”, and an excellent ambassador for “the Black Country” in both senses of the word.

You can’t not like Lennie.

If you looked for an example of an integrated person, in some ways different but in most ways not, it is hard to think of anyone better to choose.

Nevertheless, given a full , open choice of issues to explore, this very English man of colour felt it appropriate to go back to issues of diversity and exclusion. That was his right and his choice, but it is interesting that he felt obliged to look primarily  in that direction rather than others; he identified with exclusion even though he has been as well embraced as anyone you might care to name.

Brother Ivo has lived long enough to have seen much change in this regard.

His own mother spoke of her fear of seeing the first black man in herstreet in the North of England, the children fleeing,  lest he take them back to wherever he might have come from.

She was not initially comfortable around such strangers. She was troubled when the teenage Brother Ivo and a friend brought home a very pretty girl of Indian origin, yet to her credit she later  learnt her own similarity with people of difference by badinage, whilst buying dress making materials from an Indian young man in the local market. Shared interests bridged  cultural gaps

When she saw the fervour of dislike amongst some parts of the community with the early rise of the National Front,  she confronted her own discomfort and by an act of will put it aside, for which Brother Ivo always admired her.

If you have never felt difficulty with difference, you have no claim to virtue in espousing tolerance.

Listening to Lennie Henry exploring issues such as the numerical disparity of BME managers in professional football, the problems of securing more ethnic minority MPs and black authors breaking out of their traditionally niche subject areas, Brother Ivo began thinking about another side of the  diversity coin.

We regard ourselves as tolerant towards a diverse society because most of our major towns and cities have a variety of cultures in situ and  readily visible, with Dreadlocks, Turbans, and Hijabs abounding, but does that really tell us much?

Happily we have relatively little racial tension and no “rivers of blood” yet if we drill down looking for hard data,  how is the mutuality of acceptance really playing out?

Brother Ivo would have found it very interesting to hear not from those who have been motivated to integrate but rather to hear from those who have not yet done so.

Diane Abbott, Sajid Javid, Amjad Basir MEP and Chris Hughton had important and interesting stories to tell, and yet they are all people who have moved towards the values of the “indigenous community”: the story of those communities which are more inward looking is less explored. and it is a shame that Lennie did not go there.

That surely is the story that truly needs to be explored.

Brother Ivo was moved to explore this thought when he recalled a discussion he recently had with a colleague from another Church who sought his help in locating somebody willing and able to facilitate conversations within his own Church which had a number of people from a specific African region.

The colleague had made a mistake and did not want to compound it. He also had a problem, which he explained.

When he found people from the same country gravitating to his church he thought it was  a good idea to promptly introduce the newcomers to each other and expected that alone to be a successful strategy.

He had not appreciated the tribal dimension.

He soon learnt that there were plainly issues that he did not know and yet they were issues which his congregation did not feel comfortable discussing with him. They feared he might disapprove of their reservations and so, he was effectively excluded from a dimension of his own ministry. He may have been all for diversity and yet found that he needed needed  informed specialist help to penetrate the cultural issues that were holding back fellowship. Brother Ivo was able to suggest a source of such assistance.

There was another problem.

His new congregation members were very supportive of the Church. If he wanted simple things done his requests were met with enthusiasm yet those tasks embraced  tended to be of a more menial capacity. Recruiting people to join the PCC, to become Treasurers or Church Wardens had never been successful. He was concerned by this.

He did not want outsiders to speculate about racial glass ceilings. He was genuinely bothered that he was unable to extend his opportunities with this new generation of worshipers. There may be to be a very prosaic answer. The new immigrants may be young, have working long hours, have family commitments in other towns; in that they may be no different from other young people with too much to do, yet he cannot be sure.

It is these conversations that need to be had. It does take two to tango.

Brother Ivo shall be seeing him again in a couple of months and will be interested to see see how he is getting on with the support suggested.

The story from this local Church is the kind that does not reach the media.

There are many new cultures and communities now in the UK. Some are still not wholly comfortable with the language and the culture. With 4 million newcomers in the last decade, it would be highly unlikely that all the potential issues of integration will have even  yet been identified, let alone solved.

We should, as a larger community be keen to ensure that ours in not an exclusionary culture; In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free male or female. Yet the British have tended to be a pragmatic people relying on evolutionary practice rather than grand schemes of intellectual design. THis is both a blessing and a curse.

Seeing diversity on the street it may look ordinary enough, yet until we know and understand the various communities – and not least how they inter-react one with another – any declaration of diversity having been easily achieved is premature.

It may be too early to “celebrate diversity” not because we should not aspire to it, but simply because our success is greeted prematurely. Integrating  two  communities is of a different order of magnitude than integrating forty or a hundred. in many ways we have not yet begun.

Lennie Henry did a good job, but he skimmed the real depth of the problem

It will take time for so much diversity to bed down: the problems are exponentially complex and not exclusively caused by the “indigenous majority” – howsoever one defines it.

We can, however take a degree of comfort that the vast majority of folk do want to see this happen peacefully and naturally.

We in the Churches have an important role in facilitating acceptance on all sides, but we will help nobody if we allow the problem to be defined in the one dimension of indigenous intolerance only.

 

 

The immigration debate is as much about the complexity of community, as race.

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The issue of immigration continues to hold a high place in the news narratives whether directly or indirectly.

The year may have begun with consideration of the response of Rumanians and Bulgarians to their improved rights of migration and continued with the political prospects for UKIP but the immigration debate was not limited to the most obvious forms of consideration of such issues.

The Inquest result into the shooting of Mark Duggen remains in the news agenda largely because he came from a section of society that is easily regarded as “other’, and perceives itself as disadvantaged because of its immigrant origins.

When we speak of the minimum wage or providing work for the unemployed we are often drawn into an appraisal of the effects of newcomers willing to work for lower wages than the indigenous workforce will accept.

When we talk of school standards in our inner cities, or the provision of any other aspect of any services provided by the State, it will never be long before the question of multiple languages comes into consideration

Before Christmas, the patriotism of Ed Milliband’s father drifted between being doubted because of his Marxism and also his non British origins.

Often such controversies serve as surrogate disputes over the underlying problems of immigration and the challenges it poses to the stability of communities when they have to cope with rapid change.

We shall have to get used to this routine intrusion of immigration factors into many of our discussions whether we choose to or not, yet does this seemingly persistent consciousness of immigration mean that we are intolerant or “racist”? Brother Ivo thinks not.

The issue has been with us for half a century.

Brother Ivo recalls his mother speaking of running in fear when she first saw a black man in the street; it was as striking an even to her as when Aboriginal peoples first encountering Captain Cook, yet Brother Ivo was later brought up in an area where an incoming population gradually settled, and became largely invisible to his eye, such is the effect of habituation and the establishment of the new “normal”.

As this was happening, Brother Ivo watched the news reels of the 1960’s and adopted Martin Luther King as his hero, thrilling to his words that a man should be judged by the content of his character and not by the colour of his skin.

It was in many ways, an easy ethical standard for Dr King to assert.

 He was the son and grandson of Ministers of Religion. He was steeped in the Exodus narrative and its message of patience and hope. He was well educated and keenly aware of the promise of America as enshrined in its Constitution. 

Dr King was not in dispute with the principles upon which his nation was founded, but rather intent upon claiming its promises for all, and especially for those in his own African American community who had been excluded from “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ by slavery and the segregation years that followed.

He never used the phrase later popularised by Bill Clinton that there was “nothing wrong with America that could not be set right by what is right with America”, but that sentiment encapsulated the way he went about agitating for his people to share in the Founding Father’s vision of Justice through equal rights and opportunity.

He wanted a fair shot, not a guaranteed outcome. His father “Daddy King” had taught him that the three steps to success were to get a Vote, a job, and a mortgage, and so there was no element of confrontation with his country’s values involved in either’s teachings.

If you had asked him “How shall we judge a Man?” he would have done so by the ideals   of mainstream America. America may not have been living up t those ideals but Dr King wanted what it “said on the tin”.

However estranged from the American dream his people might have been, he sought to lead them by Christian forbearance and Ghandian non-violence, towards the same objectives hopes and aspirations as every other American citizen.

Although the path was a difficult one, and although he never lived to lead his people into that promised land, Dr King’s task was in many ways easier than that currently facing anyone who seeks to build community in the UK’s present circumstances.

Today we not only have a significant arrival of newcomers, but the British people are in many ways unclear what is the character of the community into which such people are to be inducted. Many hold to a traditional vision of the UK and seek to maintain it as it was defended in two world wars, some want to see it integrated into a European super State to rival the USA, some seek to fracture that unity with independence for parts of the Kingdom whilst others deny that there ever was such an identity as “Englishness”.

We seem to be simultaneously urged  to welcome others into the “community” whilst being utterly at odds as to what that community might comprise. No wonder we end up confused.

Meanwhile there is a breakdown of trust in institutions whether political parties BBC or the police, and with it all the faith of the past is marginalised by attitude and legislation alike.

We need to resolve what is the nature of the community into which we shall confidently welcome the newcomer.

We may wish to battle intolerance yet “If the trumpet sound an uncertain note who shall prepare himself for battle”?

We have made great strides in the past 50 years. Overt racial prejudice is no longer an acceptable feature of our common life. Not only do we not see signs in lodging houses declaring “No Blacks-No Irish” but if we removed the legal sanction, there is a high probability that they would not appear. We are a different society already.

There is no element of shock in seeing someone of a different culture which once would have driven fear and suspicion. We are therefore probably over the first hurdle of unknowing prejudice against all who might be unlike us, but that is not to say that we have resolved all our problems – far from it.

We now find ourselves in a far more complex phase, for whatever the laws and the cultural messages may be, many of the problems we face are not rooted in the issue of overt hatred or discrimination. Our problems are those of managing complexity.

Dr King’s goal was to open the door to a common life. What that common life comprised was not in issue.

The problem that we in the UK are constantly running up against is what that common life might comprise. In Christian terms we will surely  speak in terms of “community”, yet ours is no longer a nation that accepts that vision uncritically, we are just part of the mix now.

Those of us who have lived long  with a large immigrant community within a locality will have had the opportunity over time to identify common values, common interests, and common life – all the things that make for community feeling. 

Thus in Brother Ivo’s case, the local Sikh community quickly established itself as one that ran shops, building companies etc. They appeared in the Banks and Hospitals and even frequented the local pubs supporting India at the cricket – but England at football. Their soccer teams played in the local league, and many indigenous families gradually gained experience of the newcomers as being good neighbours . 

The identification of commonality enabled community to grow, but herein lies the problem.

Dr King sought to join the culture of mainstream America; many of his people joined him but many did not. They developed an “alternative” culture, one which continues to live uneasily with the dominant values that formed the nation.

Many parts of our new immigrant cultures saw themselves through the prism of Britishness, but within each,  there was an element that did not, thereby laying down and adding layer of complexity to the development of community life.

Because of our past we, are terribly sensitive to the charge of racism, and we often hear those who are uneasy with what is happening in their areas insisting they are not racist; many probably do have friends from other cultures, but that does not of itself ensure that community harmony occurs.

Brother Ivo suggests that the biggest problem we have is not inherent racism, but rather the complexity of dealing with rapid and often un-comprehended change. Having simultaneously lost the certainty of past community structures, pub, church, youth club, High Street, makes the problem significantly worse

Complexity is a complex matter. Integrating four different cultures is probably more that twice as complex as integrating two, and so it multiplies.

Yet now we live in the world where people can and do migrate quicker than at any other time. They arrive with very different cultural mindsets. Some prioritise the opportunity to work every hour that God sends, some need to pray five times a day. Some arrive rejoicing that gay people can live openly within this society, others are anxious to establish areas of Sharia Law in our major cities.

Once Dr King’s test was easily applied, Americans broadly agreed on the “content of character”, but in a very diverse “community”, where are the common values by which that “character” may be judged? Should the newcomer necessarily accept feminism, gay rights, democracy? What if the newcomers will not? He is told he has a has a right to individuality, and may resent imposition of alien standards within a culture that in many ways prioritises individual choice. His choice may not be that of 21st century liberalism.

In cities where new cultures are still arriving the very idea of “community” may be premature.

It is for this reason that Brother Ivo is slow to write off every complainant of multi-culturalism as intolerant or “racist”. He has met only a handful of people in his life who could warrant such  description.

He does however sense a more widespread and substantial anxiety at the loss of community, and that is a much more sympathetic complaint.

It is hard to love you neighbour if you do not know her and cannot communicate with her. It is even harder if you are not allowed to know her. The less you and your neighbour have in common, the harder it is for anyone to develop common feeling and when some communities arrive with a declared suspicion of western society, its values and its culture, one cannot help but become a tad gloomy.

Yet we are where we are, and we shall have to invent our way through the minefield of competing values and aspirations. If some suggest slowing the pace of change that might simply be based upon weary pragmatism rather than inherent nastiness. Whether the slowing of the pace of change is possible is itself uncertain.

What Brother Ivo is sure of is that we shall not resolve these matters unless and until we allow ourselves to explore the problems with openess and honesty, and as such the closing of the discourse by too ready an accusation of racist intolerance will not serve us well.

There is much generosity  amongst the poor towards the newcomers in their midst who seemingly threaten what is available to them. What is surprising is not how much ill will is expressed by such peoples towards the newcomer but how little, given that immigration so often directly impacts those at the poorer end of the spectrum more sharply than the rich.

Brother Ivo builds on that humanity of feeling and trusts human kindness.

He prefers to regard many of the concerns of ordinary people over immigration as impulses to defend the cohesion of community rather than to be nasty to the stranger when he calls.

Immigration – Fact and Fiction

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Brother Ivo recalls the very opening episodes of Coronation Street which began with unpromising critical reviews but is now the longest running television series in the world.

Its grainy black and white images captured post-war Britain perfectly, from the trio of old ladies nursing their milk stouts in the “snug” of the Rovers Return, to the character working all hours running a back street motor repair shop. The adoption of the local dialect was ground breaking in a broadcasting world where news readers had only comparatively recently put aside the donning of evening dress before reading the bulletins. It was both strikingly original and authentic as it depicted northern life in Salford thinly disguised as “Weatherfield”.

Although the culture it depicted was new to the television screens,  it was an all white affair, but then, why wouldn’t it have been?

The early Coronation Street was very recognisable to anyone with experience of Northern working class life of the time. Brother Ivo’s grandparents lived in just such a community and one could have identified real people on whom the fictional characters might easily have been based. The original programme could have been called Correlation Street in those early days.

Since then, Salford has become the home to the thoroughly un-working class BBC whose late contribution to the genre ” Eastenders” is also set on the fringes of a major city, and purports to similarly reflect the lives of the urban working class. It is now multi-cultural, but in a very sanitised fashion.

Brother Ivo has been contemplating how that fictional community might develop in the next few months. Shall we be seeing homeless Roma characters setting up camp in the gardens at the centre of Albert Square?

Might they vie for GP services with ladies of indeterminate age and character who  are hidden under head to toe Middle Eastern dress? Might the Queen Vic be transformed from the hub of the community to a Gastro pub because its original business model of purveying beer to the masses is unsustainable thanks to Excise duties and parking restrictions?

It seems unlikely.

One can imagine the responses of the television editors and producers if, as part of the negotiations for the next BBC settlement, they were asked to produce a community narrative more closely mirroring the modern East End. We might add to their woes by asking them to introduce some Sharia Law campaigners, and a few crowded households of Polish builders who work every hour that God sends and send the money home.  We might add a requirement that they grapple with story lines that explore the difficulties of the local school trying to meet a National Curriculum within classrooms filled with a hundred different languages.

Forced to adapt their programme rapidly to such a pace of change, one might readily imagine the producers rebelling against the impossibility of the task.

Yet theirs is an imaginary community: the course of the outcome is theirs to invent. It is a universe in which a happy outcome may be guaranteed.

In considering the complexities of fashioning a credible fictional community out of such disparate elements, one begins to understand why there might be genuine concern at the addition of additional cultures into the complex mix that is now this world city. Those who live there may not view the changes negotiated by Governments in the high principled fashion or in quite the same disinterested light as the politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats who are accelerating the changes at this time.

Every new element adds to the problem exponentially.

The Roma must not only accommodate with the English neighbour, but also  the Polish tradesman, the Pakistani shopkeeper, the Nigerian teacher, the Iraqi doctor and the Afro-Caribean nurse. Trying to imagine the cultural institutions and contexts in which community will build is not easy; it is not impossible, but it is certainly not going to be problem free or quick. Whilst that is developing, the scope for fear, suspicion, and resentment will increase with every newcomer, and with each added inter-cultural complexity.

Christians are obliged to find ways of overcoming such problems as His Grace Archbishop Cranmer has already ”explained”. Yet those responsible for creating such problems rarely find themselves in close proximity to the consequences of their actions. One wonders how many of the new arrivals will find their way to live in Chipping Norton, Primrose Hill or Notting Hill. How will their lives be impacted in any meaningful way?

Herein lies a social and democratic deficit.

Abraham Lincoln famously observed that “Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Brother Ivo wonders whether the same principle should be applied to politicians and all who uncritically embrace open door immigration policies. 

This is not a call to be in any way uncharitable towards those who arrive from conditions of privation with hope in their hearts. It is easy to empathise with them. It is higher up the chain of responsibility that Brother Ivo becomes a little more critical.

One might legitimately be less charitable towards those who impose un-comprehended change upon others without adequate preparation, resource or regard for what might be necessary to ease their worries and difficulties. Those anxieties are very far from fictional.

One might similarly wish that those in the “creative industries” be more sympathetic towards those who grapple in real life with that which the artistic community shies from, in the world of their imagination. If it can’t be made to work in Walford or Weatherfield, one should begin to worry for Walthamstowe or Whalley Range.