I was born and brought up in the UK. My parents are from India and Pakistan. My identity? Simple. I’m a British Indian Pakistani who is a Muslim. How did I fit into British society? As if I belonged. The Uk was, and is, home for me.
I never felt the need to ”assimilate” when I was growing up. Being different wasn’t a problem. I never had to hide the real me to blend in. I could openly share, and take pride in, my culture and my religion. At the same time I felt British through and through.
Sweden can’t be all that different from the UK, I thought. But I was wrong.
In the UK diversity was a sign of a society which was dynamic, inclusive and multicultural. Of course I experienced racism in the UK, but I always felt that I belonged.
Fast forward to 2015, when I moved to Sweden. I still live in the EU. Sweden can’t be all that different from the UK, I thought. But I was wrong. ”I’m sick and tired of people who come to Sweden and don’t learn the language”, an old woman yelled after me in town when she heard me speaking English. Maybe she had a point, or maybe it’s just that I’m fluent in five languages.
But what I realised then was that being different in Sweden isn’t easy. It scares people. Sweden’s attitude to immigration is progressive. At the same time, its interpretation of the word integraton is more like assimilation.
Integration is about being able to maintain your identity and your beliefs while at the same time recognising diversity
Integration is about being able to maintain your identity and your beliefs while at the same time recognising diversity. It allows individuals from different groups to be accepted into society as equals. Assimilation is making others comply completely with the culture of the host country. Immigrants must ”earn their place” in society by giving up what makes them foreign and different.
The difference is subtle, but significant.
The UK’s history of colonisation has perhaps made it easier for immigrants to be integrated and accepted in society. I never heard anyone talk about assimilation, perhaps because previous generations had paved the way for me.
In a few years Sweden may have begun to resemble the UK. Or perhaps not. A wave of right-wing nationalism is sweeping over Europe and the rest of the world.
I left the UK before Brexit, and never in my wildest dreams imagined that ”Leave” would win. But between the scaremongering of the media and the politicians and the racist rhetoric, negative tendencies are beginning to get a foothold everywhere. It’s time to put an end to it. Stop telling immigrants they must assimilate – help them instead to take part in the life of the society around them.