Don’t mention the war!

Indian students with their awards for education excellence.

It was John Cleese who made the above comment famous in regard to German guests in the 1960s television show, Faulty Towers. The theme; attempting to keep silent about guests whose behaviour or history you think deplorable is universal, which is what made the show so brilliant.

Shane Jones, with his characteristically colourful and  controversial comments about the Indian community has reminded us just how true the Basil Faulty predicament is. What Mr Jones said in essence was this: If you don’t like our laws go home, and, Indian students are ruining our universities. The outpouring of condemnation from Asian community leaders, the Prime Minister and everyone else who’s been asked to comment mimic  Basil.

I don’t mind Jones’ comments being called offensive, racist and politically calculating. What I mind is that of all the media comments I have seen deploring his comments none has asked him to elaborate on his evidence.

The academic, media and political consensus appears to be that to discuss immigration and cultural conflict would provoke offence and disharmony, and validate racism. And a  ‘don’t mention the war’ approach doesn’t help.

Jones has stated that with the rapid growth of the Indian student population, fraud in our education system has become endemic. He has further stated that there is a perilously high rate of migrant abuse from the migrant community upon their own. Interviewed by MediaWorks earlier this month about his views on immigration Jones said: “We should debate it and there should be a mandate, rather than opening up the options, unfettered, and everyone comes here from New Delhi.” And when questioned on that comment he said, “I think that the number of students that have come from India have ruined many of those institutions, I think it’s a backdoor to citizenship”.

Surely the accuracy or otherwise of those statement deserves discussion rather than how awful Shane Jones was to utter them.  What we  don’t see or hear,  is  any independent confirmation – or otherwise- of the  issues he  raised.

Yes, we all know that most Indians, immigrants in general and education and work migrants are good people, an asset, and that diversity is a wonderful thing.  But if educated people close down a legitimate discussion about immigrants, cultural conflict and population growth, the gap in communication will become tainted by  prejudice.

Immigration from India, and Asia generally, has increased markedly over the past decade and that has highlighted cultural differences such as attitudes to women and attitudes to corruption. If the current scale of immigration continues these cultural differences will almost certainly lead to resentment and disharmony, if they have not done so already. Relegating the subject  to a no-go area,  which is what happened in the UK,  is misguided.

Liberal immigration policy in England brought tension over resources and fear of foreign cultural and religious dominance, which in some communities became a fact of life. This of course led to the simmering sense of dispossession, a situation familiar to Maori under Pakeha domination.

No one should now be  surprised that  an unsustainable immigration policy has fuelled the growth of racism, but not in leafy suburbs where affluent politicians and party officials live. What made it easy  in the UK for them to boost immigrant numbers (as well as

EU regulations) was that they didn’t compete for jobs or houses with the immigrants; they didn’t send their children to schools where teachers were struggling to teach migrant children; they didn’t shop in those areas either, because they chose to live far from the melting pot they  had created.

New Zealand does not share all the conditions that have bedevilled England, but it is significant that both major political parties here and the business sector consider an unemployment rate of 4% too low to keep the economy growing without large scale immigration.

The Greens have not had any impact on this economic mind-set which includes ensuring that high level investment in dwellings is maintained to ensure houses for the less affluent are unaffordable. To use one of the responses to Shane Jones’ comments; ‘If that’s not racism I don’t know what is,’ I say if our economic, immigration and population policies are not a recipe for racism, then I don’t know what is’.

Finally, yes, we have a responsibility to refrain from words that encourage intolerance but equally we should encourage, not discourage discussion about topics that make us uneasy. It would have been helpful if Jones had used his oratorical skills to lead sensible discussion.

However, even his clumsy, politically opportunistic foray has given us an opportunity to debate publicly about  this delicate issue. But no, there seems little enthusiasm from academics, politicians or the media to grasp the implications of  mass migration.



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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.