Mike Fields Fracture 2

This essay, on whether the failure to integrate is responsible for social fracturing in European societies, was my Observer column this week. (The column included also a short piece on the Roger Scruton debate.) It was published on 28 April 2019, under the headline ‘Talk of integration is a sideshow in a society where many feel unheard’.

Uncontrolled migrant flows have made many in Europe more hostile to immigration. The failure of migrants to integrate has helped create more fractured societies and exacerbated fears. The combination of the two has driven support for the far right.

These are almost uncontested views these days. The latest warning came from Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change, which insists in a new report that ‘a credible policy agenda on integration is a crucial task for social democratic parties… necessary to combat the electoral success of rightwing populism’.

There is little question that Europe-wide there are popular anxieties about migration. But are such worries driven by uncontrolled flows and a failure of migrants to integrate?

Two sociologists, Vera Messing and Bence Ságvári, have been tracking long-term trends in public attitudes to immigration using the European Social Survey (ESS), a biannual survey of attitudes across the continent conducted since 2002.

Their first substantial study was published two years ago. Now they have released an updated report that includes data from ESS surveys conducted after the 2015 migration crisis. Both make fascinating reading.

There is, Messing and Ságvári observed in their original study, ‘a strong correlation’ between migrant levels in a country and attitudes towards them, but not the obvious one: ‘Countries with a negligible share of migrants are the most hostile, while in countries where migrants’ presence in the society is large are actually the most tolerant.’

What shapes hostility is not the presence of migrants but perceptions of trust and cohesion. People in countries ‘with a high level of general and institutional trust’, the authors note, ‘fear migration the least’. Where people are more disengaged from social institutions, and feel that such institutions ignore their needs, they are also more hostile to migrants.

Messing and Ságvári’s latest study confirms these findings. It uses ESS survey data from 2016 and 2017 – that is, after the 2015 migration crisis, when the arrival in Europe of more than a million undocumented migrants created panic and hardened anti-migrant rhetoric among politicians and policymakers. But what effect did the crisis have on public attitudes? The conclusions may surprise some.

Overall, Messing and Ságvári suggest, the 2015 rise in migration had little impact on attitudes in Europe. Britain has become less hostile towards immigrants, as have Ireland and Portugal. Hungary has become significantly more hostile. But overall the change has been minimal. Other studies have confirmed these findings. Europeans today appear more favourable towards immigration – though also more polarised – than they were at the beginning of the noughties.

Anxieties about migration are not driven by migration itself. Rather, migration has become symbolic of broader social fears. Whether such social anxieties express themselves in anti-migrant sentiment, and the extent to which they do so, depends, the authors suggest, on how the debate about immigration is conducted within a particular country and the role played by governments, politicians and the media.

Politicians often talk of the failure of integration as a key factor in the erosion of the social fabric. Yet the real social fracturing with which they are grappling today comes not from the inability of migrants to integrate but from the disengagement of many sections of the electorate from mainstream politics and institutions and from their disenchantment with traditional political parties and leaders. That’s the background for the rise of populism and the far right.

Polls have constantly shown that minority groups in Britain feel more attached to the idea of ‘Britishness’ than do white Britons. When a study on social attitudes in France described the nation as ‘fractured’ and ‘tribal’, it was referring not to immigrant groups but to the majority populations. And yet the problem continues to be seen primarily as one of minorities failing to integrate.

The problem we face is not one of integration, as it is commonly perceived. It is the fraying of relationships between individuals, communities and society. Those relationships have unravelled in recent years because social and economic policies have made societies more atomised, polarised and unequal and made many feel abandoned and unheard. This has led to growing distrust between sections of the populations and traditional political institutions. It has also led to growing distance between some minority communities and wider society.

So long as we frame the problem in such a way that immigrants are viewed as a problem to be solved, and integration is viewed as the solution to that problem, then the real questions of social fracturing will remain unaddressed.



The image is ‘Fracture’ by the sculptor Mike Fields.


  1. damon

    “What shapes hostility is not the presence of migrants but perceptions of trust and cohesion.”

    I’ve read Kenan’s article a couple of times now and I find it hard to take it all in.
    Particularly the reports from Vera Messing and Bence Ságvári.
    Maybe it’s just too academic for me and not the way that I usually understand these things.
    I tend to be skeptical of this kind of work, as it gets too involved with minutiae and data and can ignore a wider picture or people looking at things from a different way.
    And I wonder how many people who read this in the Guardian yesterday, spent time reading and digesting all the graphs and data and coming to the conclusion that the report was really good and incisive. Bucause you have to do all that first, before you can move on and make sense of their stance and Kenan’s opinion on top of that.

    Yes, we’ve gotten a lot less racist in most western societies and much of that is due to the experience of living with some diversity. But those same people who answer that they have no problem having neighbours and friends from different racial groups or geographical origins, might also “fail the anti-racism test” for other more nuanced reasons. The same white people who are pretty relaxed about a certain amount of immigration and living in a diverse culture, could also have some limits to how “liberal” they actually are.

    So on the one hand, probably a majority of the country were really cheering for all of our British team at the 2012 London Olympics – where several BME athletes were passionately supported by pretty much everyone – it doesn’t mean that some of those same people might not think that there was “too much” immigration into the U.K. in the last thirty years.

    Also, people are cowed and defeated in knowing how to talk about the issue.
    At least for the last few decades, I’ve been aware how the conversations that might take place have been controlled by “Gate keepers” working for the media companies. Yes of course there has been the right wing tabloid press that has done their own irresponsible thing, but any conversations that you might have heard on broadcast media have been strictly controlled. They simply won’t allow a conversation to wander outside the parameters set by their station editors and controllers.

    A good example of this was just the other day on GMTV where a UKIP member was grilled about another UKIP candidate for the upcoming EU elections apparently having used all of the “banned words” about race, gender and disability on his Youtube channel over the past five years.
    The show’s presenters wanted to know why this guy standing in the election wasn’t thrown out of the party.
    And they wouldn’t let the chap they were asking the questions of, answer properly. They interrupted him constantly. These “Gate keepers” on TV and radio have been doing that for as long as I can remember.
    Views that are contrary to the accepted ones of “openness and tolerance” have been expunged from the airwaves, so most people are too wary to speak openly about what they actually think any more.

    • A lot of what is called “racism” is no such thing – merely unhappy people fighting turf wars and quarrelling over scarce resources.

      Resources that will remain permanently scarce – globalisation and Western decline making that inevitable.

      Much of the ill-feeling in today’s politics is due to the Self-Righteous Classes (the Posh, the Educated, the liberal) pouring lofty moral disdain over the poor blighters at the sharp end of society.

  2. damon

    This is where I’d start in trying to get to what people’s real attitudes might be.
    Get them to watch this documentary about some negative aspects of diversity and immigration in East London.

    That’s showing how badly things can go wrong with diversity and multiculturalism.
    There’s obviously a lot of younger black men in places like London – all over London – who are having great difficulty finding that they have a place to fit in to regular society. Because they are black and a minority.
    Just watch the documentary and it couldn’t be plainer.

    A lot of people who are nominally against racism, may have a seriously big issue about wanting to live in those kinds of neighbourhoods. One of the troublesome men in the video even says where he’s from – Becton, in Newham east London. How many people across the country are going to want to live in the same streets as those guys? And it’s not just the criminal ones. That African style church also leaves a lot to be desired in many ways too. It’s one of those huckster churches like they have in Nigeria.
    I’m also aware that there is a sizeable Eastern European community in Newham and I do wonder how much their experience of living in diverse London, affects their attitudes to potential large scale immigration into their home countries. I’m sure it’s played some part. Anecdotally, I’ve been told as much when I’ve been working with Eastern European people.

    Do those reports that Kenan linked too also take in such perspectives and ways of looking at things?
    You might have a whole heap of white football supporters for example, who are far less racist than their parent’s generation were when they went to football in the 60s and 70s. Modern fans will cheer and support black players. They’d have no problem having a black manager or more black supporters sitting with them at the stadium. They think racist chanting etc is really out of order …. but at the same time, if you asked them what they thought of the very striking diversity around the football stadium in places like Tottenham or West Ham’s old ground, it’s more than possible that those same people might say that the area became a bit of a dump and a ghetto.
    And that there was a lot of “white flight” for that very reason.
    So those same people, on the one hand are not racist, but would probably still be called racists by others.

    • “White flight” is rarely racist, merely a desire to take refuge from an increasingly unpleasant, characterless (and often, dangerous) inner city environment.

      Which liberals denouncing White Flight are even more careful to avoid !

  3. Weiss-Nix

    But immigration is worsening social fracturing.
    The more heterogeneity in society, the weaker democracy might become because it becomes more difficult to maintain solidarity (as foundation of our social systems), to create majorities and to mobilize a critical mass of people required to defend our interests, rights & freedoms and way of living.

    • In this respect, it is sad that social democrats – whose politics are the most dependent on social cohesion – have so carefully (though unintentionally) abolished social democracy by siding enthusiastically with the Capitalist doctrines of unrestricted freedom of movement of people and the supposed Splendour of cosmopolitan economies and societies.

      • Weiss-Nix

        No, the decision to open the borders was made by the conservatives (CDU) and not by the social democrats (SPD) and left-wing parties.
        The conservatives & neoliberal parties take advantage of the decreasing social cohesion. Representing the interests of global corporations (that refuse to reinvest profits in domestically, undermine workers & citizen rights and evade fair tax paying) it is an opportunity for the conservatives & The Money to import cheap labor, to get financial aids for integration into the workforce (financed with tax money) and reduce salaries of locals further …etc. The rising cost for welfare/social support due to the influx of migrants will enable the conservatives to reduce public services (like free quality education and healthcare, social insurances etc.) abusing the migrants as scapegoats.
        The more devided the society is, the easier it can be manipulated, kept down and silenced.
        If people are in debt. sick, uneducated and emotional instead of informed, smart, cool & target-oriented, they become victims, corporate slaves & consumption idiots easily.

        • The government which opened the boarders in 2015 in Germany was a coalition of “conservatives” (CDU) and the left (SPD). It was applauded by allmost all the other parties, with th exception of the “populists” (AFD).

        • Weiss-Nix

          You are right. It was a coalition but of course dominated by the conservatives. Yes, in the public media was a lot of applause. In fact, die public media support and defend the government. They are talking about their task to “educate” the people. A self-understanding which is quite annoying in my view. Tja people are grown-up who do not need parenting but unbiased information. Not to forget the fact that we have got a very strong culture of political correctness in the peoples mind but also in German institutions resulting in massive self censorship. For instance, there was Zero discussion about the reunion of Germany. Actually, it would have been possible to organize a referendum. The conservatives simply overruled democratic processes by creating facts as fast as possible. In fact, the conservatives utilized the reunion to win votes in Eastern Germany because their support in Western Germany was decreasing very much. From a Western German perspective, the reunion would have looked like a kind of migration crisis too, if the media and politics had discussed cost/ benefits. I have got friends in Eastern Germany who were disappointed that the option to form a new, improved DDR was not only missed but never seriously discussed. Actually, it was a forced marriage for both sides.
          Of course, WWII Vergangenheitsbewältigung (history management/digestion) still influences political culture of political correctness a lot. In my opinion this is also one reason why the right wing party AfD came up. It is a silent poison if people are not allowed to express feelings, concerns, problems and opinions because there are too many taboos (the US-German Relations are another one. Thanks to Trump this taboo is eroding)
          To question the opening of borders at the high time of refugee influx was definetely not political correct. I suppose, the people also enjoyed to provide unpopular Germany with a positive image. And of course our domestic Social Economy is based on solidarity. Thus, Germans like oder Northern European countries are used to the concept of cost sharing to the benefit of the group and the idea to secure social peace by sharing tax financed resources instead of living in country with too big unequality, low education, poverty, no other values than egoism & profits, etc. You can describe it best with a sense of being a family with members who support each other and don’t let anybody completely behind. I suppose this is another reason why migrants in bigger groups are not so much welcome anymore. It is Not only the cost for integration that often falls…it is also the feeling that they do not belong to the family due to their culture & traditions, others values systems, different understanding of society, laws, rules etc. I think critics who highlight the benefits of cultural diversity often forget the fact, that you have to differentiate… die unkomfortabel truth is that the Northern European countries are doing excellent for decades. Why should we welcome a change of our way of living and let migrants take influence on our society? While the migrants come from failed societies (sorry) regardless of the reasons…I guess this aspect can partially explain why locals are struggling with the acceptance of further migrants nowadays too.
          I assume that the rise of autocrats & oligopolies, predator capitalism, neoliberalism at the cost of the tax payer and the negative change of political culture will be a game changer. If the masks are falling, we will get to know each others and ourselves. I hope not to experience it anymore…but I am prepared to take and defend my position.

  4. Since 2014, Hungary has processed around 175,000 applications for asylum, most of which were from Syria and Afghanistan.
    As a result of asylum immigration, European politics has shifted to the cultural right.

    According to ESS, cultural anxieties around immigration have eased. However, what this study fails to contextualise is that immigration fears are instead being represented by European politics with the rise of Brexit and other forms of right populism. In this respect there is no disenfranchisement and democracy is allowing anxieties to be represented. Hence the ESS study is simply highlighting the positive impacts of European democratic systems and the ability of democratic systems to absorb cultural anxieties.

    In other words, large numbers of people are concerned about uncontrolled immigration and the failure of ethnic minority groups to integrate which is reflected by the rise of cultural conservatism within European politics. Overt negative sentiments are reducing because concerns are being politically incorporated. Therefore levels of enfranchisement are actually relatively high.

    Concerns still exist regarding Sharia law, the concept of kafir and socially divisive terms such as infidels, all of which find a platform on global satellite broadcasts which reflect deeply held conservative Islamic identities which serve to segregate and isolate these identities from the predominant European identity.

    A case in point is

    Additional conservative European concerns relate to the social, economic and ecological capacities of national infrastructures.

    In countries where these overall issues are being addressed, then anti-migration sentiments are being stabilised as the ESS study shows. However, in countries where national politics are not addressing immigration concerns, populations are still openly hostile. The solution in this respect is to enfranchise these populations with a national politics that better incorporates small c cultural conservatism.

    Overall, Political Party representation and enfranchisement is often determined by the balance between small l liberal human rights and small c conservative/ancestral rights with most people having a political identity balance between small ‘l’ liberal human rights and small ‘c’ conservative ancestral rights. Some political identities however are at the extremes with either large L liberal human rights or large C conservative ancestral rights which tend to be in opposition.

    Conservative viewpoints will tend towards ancestral rights and are utilised to promote cultural continuity, social cohesion and the fact that local & national infrastructure is deeply embedded with the toil and labour of previous generations for the benefit of future generations.

    Liberal viewpoints will tend towards human rights and are utilised to promote individual autonomy (and therefore social and economic atomisation) and human dignity upon which rights to survival should not be subject to discrimination.

    Since most people have a shifting balance between the two, those people at the fringes, or at the extremes, who dismiss this balance in favour of one or the other, tend to be the same voices that use false rhetorics to reframe the liberal and conservative balance into an oppositional conflict. It is these extreme identities that fail to integrate and it is these extreme identities that seek to create social fracture.

  5. With regard to the survey on which the article leans so heavily, one can reasonably say: “There are lies, damned lies – and statistics” (Disraeli).

    One can also point out that if more liberal attitudes to massive immigration now exist, it is because of generational change, not any shift in belief.

  6. So white hostility to Britishness is “fractured” and “tribal” ?

    No – merely honest; Britain (the 1707 Anglo-Scottish alliance to plunder the world) now being a fading political phantasm that has lost even the white sheets that used to cover it.

    Thus Britishness has become a refuge of immigrants understandably wary of the St Georges Cross or embarrassed about calling themselves English (but WHY ? – if you’re settled in England, you ARE English, irrespective of your colour).

    Less creditably, Britishness is also the last refuge of envious Scotsmen (Gordon, take a bow) and scheming Labour politicians dependent upon it for power.

    Since a non-country like Britain, which fails to make any true (heartfelt) impression on 9/10 of its inhabitants, cannot be relied upon in any respect whatsoever, it becomes clear why the decline of Englishness has been such a catastrophe.

    And is becoming a worse catastrophe, a major factor in fuelling the Far Right.

    For myself, as an Anglo-Italian, England is a vanished dream, that I used to love and respect. It has been abolished – by the death of the Protestant foundations (of the England of 1560-1960), by liberal trendies giggling and sneering at it, by the PC mob using England as a scapegoat for the British Empire – and not least, by anti-English racism.

    This doesn’t tempt me to join the Boot Boys – but it does make me very angry and sad.

    Though with this consolation – since the heart of Britain is now a void, a vacuum, Britain in total is wholly doomed and (as Russian monks prophesied in 1911) will arrive “at almost complete ruin.”

  7. The West is dying, its politics in their death throes, its economies Bubbles waiting to burst, its societies increasingly rotten, selfish, semi-psychopathic.

    In this situation, the integration that minorities desire is bound to be (and IS) very limited, notional not real – just as one’s public self isn’t one’s real self.

    And who can blame them ? – who wants to integrate with a dying body, that’s soon to be a decaying corpse ?

  8. damon

    Here’s another Guardian opinion piece from today.

    “Tommy Robinson wants to be an MEP. But we in the north-west can stop him”

    That’s by Nahella Ashraf, who is co-chair of Greater Manchester Stand Up To Racism.
    And this was also her recently:

    “Say it loud: hands off the hijab.
    The government and its allies in the media are once again fuelling anti-Muslim attitudes, this time with their attack on the right of young Muslim girls to wear the hijab at school.”

    When you ask people about their views on living in a diverse society, you have to ask more than “would you mind living next door to someone of a different race”. You need to be a bit more specific as to what goes on in real life too.
    Like seeing nine year olds wearing hijabs, and activists like this woman, who is very quick to call out racism and Islamophobia, campaigning against any school who might go against their Islamist or “Respect Party” type agenda.
    She’s a “Linda Sarsour” identitarian type leftist by the look of things and the Guardian are promoting this kind of politics every day now.
    All it’s doing is pushing things to further polarisation.

    And in case anyone hasn’t seen it – that UKIP candidate who’s standing for the EU elections in the South West of England constituency, has been accused in the Daily Mail of saying he thought it was “OK to sexually abuse young boys”.
    Which is a total lie and has been shown to have been a “quotation” stitched together from four different conversations he had on YouTube.
    It’s completely outrageous – and he should easily win a libel case of over it.
    But it just goes to show how nasty and horrible things have become.
    He had said “the N word” a couple of times on his YouTube channel (Sargon of Akkad) in the past, so it seems that’s enough for it to be open season on him.
    Buzz Feed News and Hope not Hate did the original hit piece on him, which the Daily Mail and The Sun then published as facts.
    It’s worse than what happened to Roger Scruton, but won’t get the same coverage.

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