Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The debate over whether the UK should remain in the European Union is heating up as the date of the "Brexit" referendum approaches (June 23). The other day at work I heard a couple of colleagues, both British, discussing it in the hallway. Arguing about it, even.
And when Dave and I went to the Chelsea Flower Show on Saturday we ran into a contingent of "Leave" campaigners outside the gates, handing out fliers. That was interesting because so far, at least in London, the "Remain" group has seemed more visible to me. I picked up a brochure and read their arguments for leaving -- basically, as I said earlier, although they're couched in concern for the future of the NHS and national security, they mainly come down to immigration. "Imagine if Turkey joins this broken system?" the brochure warned, in italics.
As I've said before, being an immigrant and non-citizen myself, I can't vote in the Brexit referendum. But the "Leave" arguments remind me so much of the pro-Trump position in the United States. There's worry that public services are being swamped, that the culture is being corrupted, with a healthy dose of fear of brown-skinned people thrown in for good measure.
Accompanying this debate is a rising tide of right-wing and nationalist politics all across Europe. Anyone who knows anything about history ought to be worried about that phenomenon.
I just think you can't turn back the clock. A lot of people -- and I say this about both the UK and the United States -- want that "Leave It To Beaver" ideal, when everyone on television was white and women wore pearls to do the dishes and many of the world's disadvantaged had the good sense to stay in their own disadvantaged countries. But putting up walls doesn't work. Isolationism isn't the way to go. It never has been.
Is integrating immigrants into our societies difficult? Of course. Does it strain our resources? Yes. But then we need to invest more in those resources. We need a fairer distribution of economic gains so our own middle classes don't feel excluded. We need to engage more with other countries to educate women and stabilize population growth and political unrest, so that refugees and potential immigrants have reasons to stay home. After all, didn't the western world gain a lot of its wealth by plundering the rest of the globe? We didn't get where we are by growing potatoes.
If the machinery in Brussels and Strasbourg is broken, then we need to fix it. Reform isn't impossible.
In the end I think the best example we can provide -- in both the UK and the United States -- comes from being free, tolerant, open societies. Turning ourselves into gated communities is not the answer. It's sometimes uncomfortable to live that example. But it's also right.
(Photo: West Hampstead, yesterday.)