The problem with crafting a new and dynamic immigration policy is that by definition it cannot be one-dimensional in that it impacts on the internal security of the nation, crime, national culture, public language, religion, taxation, financial system and the other broad areas of public policy and social cohesion.
It is also, again by definition, one of the most – if not the most – challenging policy to face any government in that it is not a decision meant to deal with a contemporary problem, but rather one that will shape the future social, political and cultural landscape of the nation for ever.
There are any number of examples that should guide us: Europeans to Australia two hundred years ago; Indians to Fiji; Europeans and Africans in the New World, Europeans to the US at the turn of the last century, Hispanics to the US during the 1960s and 70s, etc.
All of which raise serious questions of cultural sustainability and security of the host nation. For example, how do we carry out a comprehensive vetting of a non-national, someone who has been naturalised or have resident status, if they came originally from a semi-medieval society such as the wild Frontier parts of Pakistan?
Not even the US military and NATO, with their technological advantages and connections to local Clan leaders can get to the bottom of these secretive, inward-looking, deeply religious and suspicious societies.
The big question, therefore, is if this generation has the moral authority to impose on future generations of traditional Barbadians the kind of society that those generations may despise, a development which may even lead to social tension or violent conflict, can such change be reversed?
The other great issue, of course, is our obligations under Caricom’s freedom of movement policies, framed to allow professional people freedom of movement in a regionally restrictive jobs market, while at the same time preserving the natural rights of nationals. This may be an ideal opportunity to re-visit the Caricom legislation and put right all those wrongs embedded in the original proposals.
While implicit in the Caricom policy may be the principle of regional unity and cohesion, which are laudable aims, the political reality is that it is also divisive in that it gives professionally trained and qualified people a privilege that the non-skilled do not have.
This means that the concept of citizenship has a tiered meaning – one for professionals and one for the poorly educated and unskilled.
It also has another dimension in that Barbados legislation allows for free movement for graduates of the University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana.
This short-sighted view is exposed when one considers the number of Caribbean people who have first degrees from outside the Caribbean, the US, UK and Canada being the main countries, which, coincidentally, are the countries in which the majority of the top universities in the world are located.
To pretend, for political reasons, that the University of Guyana, little more than an advanced sixth form college, is the equal of Harvard, is beyond comprehension.
Yet, this is the obvious implication when graduates of the UWI and UoG are given freedom of movement advantages that Ivy League universities are not given.
Had the legislation been democratic, it would have allowed for freedom of movement for all citizens with degrees from approved universities; even better, it should allow for the freedom of movement for all citizens, regardless of the threat to economic stability. Caricom citizenship must mean something or it means nothing.
However, we should resist rushing to a conclusion on this sensitive matter, but in so doing it is important to remember that Barbadians are the great travellers, with large communities through the West Indies – St Lucia, St Kitts, Bermuda, Bahamas, and others.
As geo-politics reshape the global landscape, Barbados cannot shield itself from the dark clouds of religious, ethnic and nationalistic terrorism sweeping the world in reaction to economic and cultural globalisation.
As Europe, North America and the other developed countries close their doors to the mass of invading refugees and as the world population looks set to grow by 50 per cent by 2050, middle nations such as Barbados will become an even more attractive proposition for the educated and professionally-trained of those impoverished nations, as Europe and North America close their doors.
The reality is that large-scale immigration will transform our national identity, making of us a nation that we are not and destroying the things we love dear.
We already have glimpses of it with the Guyanese, on average more highly trained in the more popular professions than the locals, being increasingly encountered as doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professionals and top-end craftspeople. They also form the new self-employed entrepreneurs and small shopkeepers.
In time this will express itself in other forms, such as the assumption that to be of Guyanese extraction is to be somehow extra-ordinarily talented, gifted, skilled, even ‘superior’ to the locals.
We have seen this of people of Jewish, Japanese, Korean and Indian extraction in Europe and North America and we are now seeing glimpses of this with Chinese and Singaporeans.
At Christmas 2009, the Nation newspaper published a couple of stories about how Guyanese spend Christmas, including a recipe for Pepperpot, the national dish. It did not do so for the St Lucians, Vincentians, Dominicans who have been living our country since time immemorial.
Those of us who have live in a racialised nation such as the UK for a number of years have lived through much similar form of self-definitions, then exceptionalism, then an assumption of educational, cultural and business superiority. Communities flex their muscle when they believe they have strength in numbers.
In many ways, those from the Caribbean now living or have lived in parts of London such as Southall, East London, Streatham and in cities such as Birmingham, Bradford, Burnley and Manchester, or those Caribbean people who live in districts such as Crown Heights in New York, know fully what this form of ‘entryism’ could mean in the long term.
But geographical clustering is not the only long-term problem. A far more serious one is the issue of demographic change.
Allowing people with ethnic and religious differences to form substantial minority clusters within a small society such as Barbados will be building up irreparable social problems for future generations, such as social isolation.
We have seen the secularisation of our public space, or more accurately the removal of Christian symbols to be replaced by those of other faiths; we have seen the tolerance of illegal activity under the guise of religious practice: such as the undermining of the banking system, an alternative court system sitting in judgement on serious criminal offences; savage, racist, feudalistic murders under the guise of ‘honour’ killings.
We may safely assume that if the small, but noticeable Muslim population in Barbados are committed to their faith, then a number of religious institutions are already in operation below the parapet.
We may assume Sharia law is in operation, not only in the settlement of disputes, but in such things as arranged marriages; there may well be a system of Sukuk financial intermediation, of marriages which the dominant society may legally describe as incestuous.
To assume that these things – all or in part – are not at present taking place is to assume that local Muslims are religiously different to others or that they are theologically different to other Muslims. This is what Anthony Giddens, the British social theorist, calls the institutionalisation of doubt.
Equally, Christian fundamentalists may question any such doctrinal compromise with other religions which they may consider false.
But there is a more fundamental discourse involved, which is largely rooted in the global impact of Muslims, regardless of Sect, and of their brand of militancy and unique form of proselytising and theology.
This is not to suggest that Islam has any more internal faults than Christianity, as anyone who has witnessed the tribal warring in Northern Ireland for the last thirty years would attest.
Black American Christians from the Deep South have long lived with the Ku Klux Klan, most of whom were of Irish/Scottish protestant stock.
However, fundamentalist Muslims are not the only villains. We must also remember that in the 1960s the Church of England turned its back on West Indians in Britain and only a couple years ago militant Sikhs closed the Birmingham Repertory theatre after it put on a play with a black man kissing a Sikh woman.
The perceived dishonour of a black man kissing a Sikh woman in a work of fiction brought the riot police on the streets of Britain’s Second City.
We have also had similar problems with militant Hindus and other religious groups. So, we cannot presume that in the cultural and religious baggage that new comers bring to Barbados would not be the prejudices and medieval practices of their home countries.
Fundamental to the opening up of our society must be a sense of shared values, a cultural synergy and a desire to become Barbadian. Failing this we are in serious irreversible trouble.
We have got numerous examples of the failure to build multi-religious, multi-ethnic societies in other jurisdictions to draw: Fiji, Mauritius, Seychelles, Cyprus, pre-partition India, Malaya, Guyana, Trinidad, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, the US, Canada, Switzerland – the list is endless. The single lesson from all these developments is to proceed with caution.
Modern history is full of internal conflicts – based on race, religion, ethnicity – that have been simmering for hundreds of years.
The Balkans, Turks and Kurds, Iraqi and Turks, Northern Ireland, Guyana, Sri Lanka, white Australians and Aboriginals, white Kiwis and Maoris, the Irish/Scots and blacks in the US Deep South, the list is endless.
For political leaders in Barbados, to deliberately, as a matter of policy, to set out to turn a society which already had its social tensions between the two historic groups, Africans and Europeans, in to a multi-ethnic, multi-religious mix would be bordering on the irresponsible, even suicidal.
It is part of post-Enlightenment modernity to profess a tolerance of every group and behaviour pattern imaginable, on the basis of being open-minded, a moral and cultural relativism that now dominate public discourse.
But, given the failure of this social experiment to work anywhere in the world, to impose it on a little island at the risk of the social tension, even violence, this could lead to borders on insanity.
Of course, on an individual level, such a cross ethnic, cross cultural social mix can work; but it has yet to prove itself at a wider societal level. Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, are good examples.
This does not mean that in Barbados we should not go ahead and experiment, if this is the common wish, but the rules must be sturdy and strict.
First, the collective good must take priority over individual or religious demands, which mean that the public space must be uncompromisingly secularised, but a ban on crosses, burqas, hijabs, robes, and other forms of religious symbolism may increase tensions, not alleviate them. In any case, any such ban must also apply to priests, muftis, imams, clergymen, gurus, nuns, and other religious leaders.
We must also look at the other cultural baggage people bring with them when they move to Barbados. Syrian/Lebanese bring with them a history of violence and criminality, as we know from Sydney in Australia and London.
In fact Beirut is the name given to most inner city violent communities all over the world. Look at Jamaicans at home and abroad for evidence of cultural mobility. Italians at home and abroad are the most racist people in Europe, and often are proud of it. Look at the religious riots in Northern Ireland, as already mentioned, between Protestants and Catholics; or the differences between the different sects in Islam, Shia and Sunnis, but also the other minority sects.
Don’t forget the slaughter that goes on every day in Africa, from the north to the south east to west, based on tribal loyalties and other artificial differences. Nigeria is a good example.
These deep-seated cultural hate-filled differences do not change simply because two different ethnic or religious peoples settle in Barbados.
Is our little society prepared or equipped for such medieval practices as the amputations of limbs for theft; forced arranged marriages with blood relatives, caste discrimination, genital mutilation, blood sacrifices?
Are we prepared for rigging of electoral registers, of a Mr Big instructing members of a specific community who to vote for? As awful as this may seem it is the reality – just go to Birmingham or Slough in Britain.
In a world where human rights are primary we cannot allow in people of different cultures and religions and then deny them opportunities to practice their culture.
In January, Israel erected two massive fences along the nation’s southern border with Egypt in order to keep out African asylum seekers – mainly Sudanese and Eritreans.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time that the asylum seekers were threatening the nation’s Jewish character
He was reported as saying: “We are talking about a strategic decision to guarantee the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel”, while promising that the country would be open to genuine asylum seekers.
The UK/US Experience:
When Enoch Powell made his notorious Rivers of Blood speech in early 1968, it threw the relatively small West Indian community in Britain in a state of confusion. Mr Powell’s attacks on ‘immigrants’ was widely misunderstood. A few weeks after a heated debate took place at the West Indian Student Centre, then based at number one Collingham Gardens in Earls Court, in which many young students – mainly law – who late went on to make a name for themselves in the Caribbean took part. It was an interesting debate.
The president at the time, Antigua-born Garry Burton, who later became one of my closest friends, chaired the discussion. And it was perplexing to hear intelligent West Indians arguing about whether or not Enoch Powell was referring to students when he said ‘immigrants’.
As evil and divisive as his speech was intended, in terms of numbers, history has proved Enoch Powell right.
How to Proceed – A Conclusion:
Whichever direction we take, the one issue that cannot be compromised is the integrity of Barbadian cultural heritage and its social peace and security.
Any other social development must fit in around those fundamentals, including our unswerving commitment to wider Caribbean unity and identity.
Further, a public shift towards interdenominational collaboration would be by definition a move towards the secularisation of public space.
Initially, this may express itself in joint campaigns on moral issues, such as drug abuse, public drunkenness, prostitution and gambling.
But the outcome is that it pushes believers towards greater social engagement, the recognition of a form of religious pluralism and tolerance and, in the process, undermines the certainties of fundamentalism.
If government and the wider society commit themselves to this secularised public culture, then certain obligations must be imposed on all New Barbadians, those of non-Christian faiths and none.
They should be compelled to pass a residency test within six months of settling on the island by proving they understand and speak English; that their first loyalty is to Barbados; passing a probity test and full medical history.
Further, as we know from the British experience, immigration is not just a test of residency or nationality, it goes far deeper, including the use of language in public space.
In conclusion it is important to state that little is known about the causal power of social structures. But from the evidence, of European-Jewish immigration to the US at the turnoff the 20th century, Polish and Asian immigration to Canada following the handover of Hong Kong to China, and immigrants from the Asian sub-continent and East Africa to Britain post-1970, we do know that social structures are capable of producing powerful social forces which can corner social power far in excess of its numbers in society.
South Africa is an extreme example with a population of 49 million, made up of 79 per cent African, 9.6 per cent whites, 8.9 per cent coloureds and 2.5 per cent Indians. This however does not reflect the distribution of power.
As a small island state, Barbados cannot reasonably be expected to open its doors to all-comers. We must be selective in accepting people, even if they are our fellow Caricom/CSME citizens.
The best model at present that the nation should adopt is that of the Australians – allowing in those who would add value to the nation’s development, and then not even permanently.
An organising political dynamic rooted in individualism and the nation state can be deceiving. Constitutional independence should have drawn a line in the sand, re-determined the terms on which we will deal with the region and the rest of the world.
I have a suspicion that when Barbadians complain about immigration and being ‘flooded’ they are really complaining about the ethnic make-up of the new Barbadians. If that is the case let us describe pears as pears.
In the final analysis, I think this issue calls for a referendum, which has no expressed place in the Barbados constitution, which should be remedied as soon as possible.
Although there is no real fear of strangers, it is a decision that must be made with future generations in mind – which makes it beyond the narrow authority of parliament.
The notion of Barbados being a services-driven economy is gaining traction among a number of public intellectuals who ought to know better.
Apart from the fact that the word ‘services’ is a portmanteau term, which includes every thing from legal services to waiters and waitresses, it implicitly suggests that we should outsource many of our domestic and national needs and pay for them with the surplus from the services we provide. This is dangerous.
The first obligation of a nation is to provide security for its citizens and this is not just in terms of military defence, but also in areas such as food, the provision of life-saving medicines and the continuity of government in a crisis. Haiti reminds us of the importance of this in a crisis.
A national economy must be diverse: services, crafts, skills, etc so that the economy functions in a rational way.