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Immigration and the clichéd question: 'Are you thinking what we are thinking?'

By Shaikh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
24 April 2005

Following the Conservative campaign one may be forgiven for seeing the party's primary slogan 'Are you thinking what we’re thinking?' as a hackneyed gimmick to attract potential voters, in the same vein as Labour’s 'Forward not Backward' and the Lib Dems' 'The Real Alternative'.

On closer inspection, however, the Conservative slogan stands apart as something more than just a slogan with which to convey a succinct and easy-to-remember message. Indeed, the slogan is void of any substantive content while embodying an interesting psycholinguistic feature. It is a feature that only becomes apparent when accompanied by another question, which is 'When do people feel the need to ask such a question?'

If one thinks about the question 'Are you thinking what we are thinking?' and when it would normally be used in standard English, it would become clear that one of its uses is where the speaker wishes to convey a message he or she is unwilling to articulate explicitly, i.e. speaking the unspeakable, without actually saying it. Implicit communication is not only an effective way of circumventing agreed socio-cultural norms of decency, but it also provides plausible deniability in the event of someone being challenged. One is always able to say 'That’s not what I meant!'

The downside of implicit communication, such as this, is that it is highly susceptible to error. People can easily be misunderstood. Therefore in order to achieve mutual comprehension and precision in the desired effect, the speaker has to provide an array of clues to guide the listener's thoughts towards a specific semantic field, i.e. a cluster of concepts and ideas that happen to share a plateau with the unspeakable component of the communication. The question 'Are you thinking what we’re thinking?' prompts the mind to generate the desired meaning (e.g. an unscrupulous individual pointing to a hefty restaurant bill and saying to his friend, 'Are you thinking what I’m thinking?' i.e. 'Let’s slip out without paying!')

If one listens to the hundreds of references to 'immigration', 'disease' 'TB', asylum seekers, the Burnley riots, borders, hospitals etc in Michael Howard’s campaign rhetoric, a pattern of clues emerges to function as a channelling mechanism for his slogan 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?' It is no surprise therefore, that a similar slogan was also used by some far-right parties in continental Europe ("Our programme is what you are thinking", "Notre programme est-ce que vous pensez", Jean Marie Le Pen, National Front Party, 1988 Election).

The human mind is designed to alert itself to changes in patterns. If one walks past 9 white people on the road and 1 non-white person, the mind will register the instance of the latter more vividly than the encounter with the others. There is nothing sinister about this: it is the way our brains work. By employing evocative clues and a complementary campaign slogan, Mr Howard has tried to exploit this natural memory instinct to promote the idea that Britain is being overwhelmed by immigrants, when the truth is that the number of immigrants in this country remains relatively small.

If, as Mr Howard appears to be claiming, he is an expert in the demographic problems of global migration, I would have expected him to highlight one such genuine problem in his lecture of 06 December 2004 to the Conservative Friends of Israel at the Savoy Hotel in London.

If ever there were a country in need of a cap on immigration, it is Israel. Immigration to Israel has caused and continues to cause the violent uprooting of millions of Palestinians from their homes. Israel continues to promote an aggressive immigration policy in favour of one particular race at the expense of wreaking devastation on the indigenous inhabitants. The irony of this situation is that whilst Muslims are called upon continuously from all quarters to abandon belief in the words of the Quran and to forsake their religion, Israel continues to lay claim to Jerusalem, and all Palestinian lands for that matter, solely on the basis of belief.

It is a belief that gives no consideration whatsoever to the fact that Palestinians have lived in those lands for thousands of years. Mr Howard told his audience at the Savoy, 'We're here today because we all support Israel – the only full democracy in the Middle East'. Of course, no mention was made of the fact that Palestinians are prohibited by law from purchasing any land in that 'model democracy'. Even Israeli Arabs, who have the right to vote, cannot purchase land in Israel. Palestinians, displaced for forty years, do not have the right to return to their homes, whilst mass Jewish migration and settlement in Palestinian lands is sanctioned by the state and continues unabated.

It is time that politicians consider these facts very carefully when they next feel the urge to speak of their 'support for Israel and a viable Palestinian state'. Why is it always necessary to qualify the state of Palestine with the word 'viable'? Does it mean 'barely alive' (as it seems to suggest), so as to safeguard the unfettered dominance of Israel?

On the one hand, I deplore Mr Howard for demonstrating repeatedly during his campaign his attraction to people and ideas that are repugnant to and degrading of the Muslim community (e.g. promoting 'hate-monger' Steve Moxon, publishing deceptive Urdu pamphlets, making cheap political capital out of the Burnley riots, using asylum as a euphemism for Muslim etc). On the other hand, I thank him for making my task of raising awareness of the real danger we face from him in this country so easy.

The danger is that of multi-culturalism being replaced by a 21st Century McCarthyism, where those who vocalise their disagreement with right wing prejudice are branded as a fifth column within our society. I believe this is a danger to which every serious politician, that is genuinely patriotic, should pay close attention. I had always disagreed with the conclusions of the reports on the riots in our northern towns and now that Mr Howard has used these conclusions in his rhetoric, I urge those responsible to re-examine their data. One cannot emphasise enough the need to be vigilant about conflicts of interest in the civil service. If we are to believe the polls, Mr Howard is likely to vanish from the political scene in two weeks' time, but the likes of Mr Cummins and Mr Moxon could still be waiting for their chance. We must be vigilant of the drive to make Britain, in the words of Kathleen Christison in respect of the US congress, 'Israeli occupied territory'.

Last week Douglas Davis threatened university professors in his Spectator article (Anti-Semitic Studies, 16 April 2005) by employing a technique favoured by Joseph Goebbels, namely 'If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.' Mr Davis warned us all that if we decide to boycott Israel then we must unplug our computers, mobile phones and digital TV because they 'depend [only] on technologies that have been produced by Israeli academics in the Zionist state' and that multinational companies such as Microsoft 'do most of their R&D' in Israel.

This week we have Leo McKinstry in the Spectator (The Age of Unreason, 23 April 05) arguing in support of Michael Howard's immigration stunts whilst reproducing lavish quotes from the Labour party member of the 'Friends of Israel', Roger Godsiff MP, for whom immigration is placing 'intolerable pressures on services such a housing, social care and education'. Mr McKinstry tells us that 'all around I see mounting social anarchy' and that 'the ideology of race has blinded us to the dangers of immigration'. In a rather revealing conclusion, the article ends with a swipe at George Galloway and Muslims for their opposition to Labour’s Oona King MP on the basis of her support for the war on Iraq.

The question we need to ask is: what is it that brings together in one forum Mr McKinstry's support of Michael Howard, Mr Godsiff (Labour MP) and Oona King (Labour MP)? Antipathy towards multiculturalism, immigration, diversity and Islam?

24 April 2005