What if the Home Secretary is right?

As someone who was brought up under communism in Poland, I never dreamt that Eastern Europe could change so much in such a relatively short period of time. I never thought that I would be able to travel or work freely in another European state. I never knew what diversity is. I rarely had an opportunity to talk to people from other countries or nationalities. But I remember that I always had a strong desire to meet people of other ethnic or faith origins. I remember that as a teenager back home, I participated in various events which marked the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This was a very special experience which allowed me to learn more about other churches and see that ‘unity in diversity’ is possible. Visiting the Lutheran Church made me realise that despite some dogmatic & theological differences, we all pray to the same God. This, as well as many other experiences has shaped me as a person which I only realised when I moved to Britain.

Living in Croatia for almost 4 years was also an ‘eye-opener’. It was in Croatia where I had a chance to see a mosque. It is Croatia where I had a real opportunity not only to read about individuals from other nationalities but to live side by side with people from other cultures and religions. I really felt so ‘normal’ and beautiful. 

All these experiences prepared me for Britain which in many ways can be called the ‘laboratory of diversity’. My job in the charity sector and my role as a Councillor give me plenty of opportunities to meet many wonderful people and enable me to build bridges rather than walls. It has also helped me to break down various barriers and recognise the importance of diversity. Settling in the UK, trying to be part of the local community, encouraged me to get to know other cultures and people of other faith groups. The whole experience has broadened my horizons and it made me a more tolerant and rounded person.

Why is it so important now? I do think that the polarisation of the political systems, inability to listen or talk to each other, seeing everything in ‘black & white’ colours means that diversity as well as many other things are seen in a deformed way. This means that our communities are divided and our friends and neighbours are often ‘presented’ to us a threat, invaders or burdens. This hurts many and the healing process to rebuild trust between groups and communities may take a long time. I often wonder whether media and access to social media platforms have changed our attitude towards diversity. Do we, too often, put too much emphasis on what divides rather than unites us? 

But what if the Home Secretary is right? What if multiculturalism has failed? What if, on balance; social and economic, some of the “migration trends” can’t be sustained? What if we actually failed our communities with inability to help integrate those who flee war, torture or prosecution? 

As a European migrant, who decided to come to this country more than 18 years ago, I recognise that demographically some of our neighbourhoods have changed. I am fully aware that there are significant pressures on our key national services. Having said that, I think that if it hadn’t been for “foreign workforce”, some of these institutions would not have survived. Often, not always, the economic growth is strongly connected with a diverse labour market. 

It is rather interesting that Suella Braverman is leading a department that is completely disorganised and chaotic. Surely, she should be taking some responsibility for it. It is easy to find a scapegoat, isn’t it? As a daughter of immigrants, her thinking completely lacks the human element. 

More importantly, as mentioned by Pope Francis in “Laudato Si” – encyclical on caring for our common home — planet earth; we will continue to move more, not less for a wide range of reasons: climate change, poverty or opportunity to enhance our life chances. The multiculturalism hasn’t failed. In my view, due to e.g. rapid technological development, we are now citizens of the global village. This will not change. If we build a wall, someone will build a taller ladder. In spite of the negative media and political narrative, local, national and global challenges, the ability to live in a diverse society gives us enormous opportunities to grow, advance our understanding of the world and help us build bridges between people of different cultures, ethnic and/ or religious heritage. It really is part of our DNA!

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • Matt Driver 28th Sep '23 - 8:44am

    An excellent article Michał.

  • Peter Martin 28th Sep '23 - 9:36am

    “But what if the Home Secretary is right? What if multiculturalism has failed?”

    What if she isn’t?

    The Prime minister is of Indian descent. Kwasi Kwateng, a former chancellor, is of Ghanaian descent. Suella Braverman herself is reported to be of Kenyan, Mauritian and Indian heritage. I could go on with other well known examples. The country’s rich list is headed by an Indian family with a variety of other Nationalities and ethnic groupings represented too.

    It may not be perfect but if this is a failure what does she think success would look like?

  • Well said, Matt Driver!

    And many thanks, Michal, for such a refreshing reminder of the truly Big picture , once in a while!

  • >” What if multiculturalism has failed?

    The three programme history series “The Normans” is worth watching. It looks at the different ways the Normans took over England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It provides a fascinating long view on the multiculturalism debate and the alternatives, as today the UK is living with the fall out from the Norman conquest…

    I think she is right to raise the question and open up the debate, the risk and challenge is not allowing the extremes to control the debate.

  • Martin Gray 28th Sep '23 - 2:47pm

    @Peter ….Your stating Multi Ethnicity…We need to be honest to recognise that in some towns cultures do not mix as much as we’d like to think ..We’d be naive to think that it’s all rosy…

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