Sunday, 29 March 2009

Only English Speakers Please!

In a rare instance of an immigrant taking “Britishness” to an extreme, Deva Kumarasiri, a Sri Lanka born postmaster, refused to serve customers who could not speak English. Kumarasiri used to manage a post office at Sneinton Boulevard, Nottingham, a town with a large immigrant population. A man with political inclinations, Kumarasiri was also a member of the Liberal Democrats and a local councillor. Having migrated to the UK around 18 years ago, Kumarasiri speaks good English and does not have any sympathy for people who refuse to follow his example. Kumarasiri flies the Union Jack at his home and office and runs a website for the promotion of Britishness.

Very soon after Kumarasiri stuck his neck out, the local Muslim community objected. I assume there are many Muslim immigrants in Sneinton who don’t speak English. At his own request, Kumarasiri was soon transferred to another branch at Netherfield, a predominantly white locality where his stance was much more appreciated. However, as the outcry over his actions grew louder, his employer terminated his contract. The liberal democrats disowned him, though the UK Independence Party went to his support.

Unlike say France, the UK does not really force immigrants to learn English. Moreover, it spends a lot of money on interpreters and translators so that immigrants are able to benefit from the National Health Service and various other social services. I am all for changing this state of affairs. However, such a decision should be made by the legislature and not by a postmaster at Sneinton!

What is it that drives immigrants to be more fanatic in matters such as this, than the native born? Why try to be more catholic than the Pope? Despite the outcry over Asian and African immigrants to Europe who don’t integrate, I believe that the majority of immigrants do their best to fit in. Except for a very few, most immigrants do learn English or improve their existing English language skills. I assume that it is the sense of insecurity which immigrants carry with them, that forces them to do whatever it takes to gain acceptance in their new homelands. There is also a feeling of loyalty or gratitude towards the host country for having given entry and a chance to prove oneself. On the flip side, settled immigrants tend to be a bit nasty to relative newcomers. Having earned their spurs, they are very keen that their successors do climb up the hard way.

There is no doubt that Kumarasiri overstepped his limits. As the MP for Nottingham East, John Heppell asked, ‘what do you do with tourists?’ Since Kumarasiri spent the first 22 years of his life in Sri Lanka (where English in taught in schools), one assumes he was at least familiar with the English language, if not fluent in it when he came to the UK. Someone from a country where English is not used at all will not be able to pick up English as fast as Kumarasiri did. If Kumarasiri was so keen that all immigrants should speak English, he could have organised English language classes for new immigrants free of cost!

Do access this link and find out for yourself how well Kumarasiri speaks English. However, his written skills are not as good as a review of his Britishness website will reveal.

Kumarasiri has said that he might start a political party of his own. He has also said that if he can find the money, he will start his own post office and enforce his English only rule. Since Kumarasiri is currently unemployed, I do hope that someone lends him the money to start his own post office.

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