Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What does citizenship mean?

Anyone wishing to come to the UK is to take part in a citizenship ceremony and may be asked to work in the community prior to their application for citizenship being granted. This is Gordon Brown's latest contribution to the immigration debate. But what does it mean to be a citizen?

There are the basics: paying taxes, obeying laws - fine! But the suggestions are that citizenship should go beyond this. It questions issues of culture: is there a 'UK' culture? Does it go beyond watching football and soap operas, binge drinking and eating curry? Should everyone speak English? What about devotees of Welsh and Gaelic then? Some talk of national identity, though Brown would use this more to attach Scottish nationalism. Then there is saluting the flag or the Queen. Suddenly all republicans on Labour backbenches are nervous?
A Telegraph article from 2005, written by Political Sociology Professor Anthony King, talks of feeling British, identifying with key symbols, images and elements of history. Others identify a vague idea of a 'British way of life' enshrined in the mythical constitution; another reason why any citizenship test is a dubious notion. So where does this leave us, how are would be citizens going to be tested on their conformity to Britain?
The answer seems that no-one is actually going to say. There is no 'pledge of allegiance' - yet! The other problem is that this becomes bundled up with terrorism. So is the test really about whether the immigrant is going to have loyalties to the Muslim faith, regardless of whether that is extreme or not? A bigger question is, how many of those of us who can claim to have British blood would pass the test? So what should be on this test? What does it really mean to be a citizen of a nation: feelings and reverence for symbols or an actual contribution to the nation. Many immigrants make the latter, but still feel supportive towards the sporting teams of their previous or ancestral home, surely this cannot mean they are un-British?

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