I welcome and support British Sea Power's endorsement of a campaign launched as a reaction to the success of Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party in the recent local government elections. The plan is to try and get the band's pro-immigration anthem 'Waving Flags' into the hit parade in response to UKIP's populist anti-immigration rhetoric. (The Facebook campaign is here). However, I have serious misgivings over the language that is used on this side of the argument.
BSP's Jan Scott Wilkinson writes: "It seems that over the last year or two especially there has been a rise in anti-immigration sloganeering and propaganda. For several reasons this seems rather stupid, and what is more disappointing is the way that so many people in politics and the media who should know better have largely not challenged this view. Obviously times are hard and the economy is not going well, and it seems the old story of 'blame the last ones in' rather than looking towards real solutions has become popular. It's a kind of superstitious nonsense akin to witch burning. Instead of hearing about the NHS being staffed and kept going by conscientious hard workers from other parts of the world, we're told that it's groaning under the strain of newcomers. It seems obvious that immigration is being used as a scapegoat for all the problems caused by greed, ignorance, bad luck and a lack of planning.
"It would be easy to get angry at all the fools and the sanitised racism, but i would prefer myself to stick to the attitude of 'Waving Flags'. This is a positive song of pro-immigration, an embracing of different cultures and a welcoming of tolerance, a quality lacking these days and one which we could do with a lot more of in the UK. “ (from http://thequietus.com/articles/12203-sea-power-endorse-anti-ukip-campaign)
I welcome this move, and pretty much all of what Wilkinson says is correct, but promoting the language of tolerance is the wrong move; it sends out the wrong signal. This is why: tolerance encourages people to indulge a kind of sensitivity towards something they instinctively disapprove of. Toleration means putting up with something you don't like; it means realising that you have to let something slide even though you personally disapprove of it. Many people disapprove of homosexuality but they tolerate it because they value the principle of individual freedom above the fact that they find homosexuality repulsive.
Tolerance implies disagreement with the thing being tolerated, thus we shouldn't be encouraging tolerance. We want people to agree with immigration, not put up with it. People who have a problem with immigrants are not going to be won over by people preaching tolerance, because that just seems to them like a bunch of overly-sensitive, hand-wringing liberals failing to engage with what they see as a genuine problem.
What we should instead be furthering is the notion that immigration should be welcomed, not tolerated. It must be spelled out why immigration and cultural diversity is good for society and good for the economy. This is an argument that needs to be won; it cannot be resolved by sympathy alone.
When there is division between different cultural and religious groups, rather than promoting tolerance, we should be promoting the recognition of what these groups have in common. White British people should not be told to tolerate Romanians, Bulgarians or Muslim Somalians, people who they perceive as different to them – they should instead be encouraged to see what they have in common. They go to the same football matches, they go to the same shops, they share the same sense of humour, they watch the same TV shows, they have they same fears and hopes for their children's futures. They need to be encouraged to see that their similarities are greater than their differences.
Tolerance should only be preached when there is irreconcilable differences between two groups; tolerance is a last resort. The problem with immigration is that the native groups do not see how much they have in common with the immigrant group – and they do have a lot in common. This message of commonality is what should be promoted – not tolerance. You tolerate things you dislike but have to go along with; this is emphatically not the message we want to send out about immigration.
So while I support British Sea Power's campaign wholeheartedly, I strongly urge that we pay close attention to the language we use and the message we send out. Tolerance is not the issue.