Panel abstract: This panel aims to explore the global dimensions of diasporic belonging in postcolonial Britain. Whilst the arrival and settlement of increasing numbers of South Asians, West Indians and East and West Africans in post-1945 Britain has been well documented by historians of modern Britain, there has, perhaps, been too little historical engagement with the intersections between the local and the global that shaped the diasporic experiences of these migrants in Britain. This panel aims to offer a fresh insight into how formal and informal notions of belonging in postcolonial Britain have – and continue to be – defined, negotiated and articulated through global structures and processes. The first paper aims to explore the disconnect between globally inclusive definitions of British nationality and restrictive gatekeeping policies employed against non-white British subjects and citizens seeking entry to Britain in the pre-1962 period. Beginning in the 1960s, the second paper traces the history of the multiple migrations of British East African Asians, charting the complex ways in which these ‘model migrants’ have been classified and how they, in turn, came to articulate their own transnational identities. In the third paper, processes of transnational citizenship are examined through the postcolonial politics of diasporic groups within Britain, in particular, in the response of ‘overseas Indians’ resident in Britain to the Indian Emergency of 1975-77. The evolution of Islamist-inspired organisations in Britain from 1960 – 2015, is the focus of the final paper, which analyses how these groups constructed new forms of nationally-rooted but globally-influenced Western ‘Islamism’ in the diaspora. In their exploration of postcolonial migrations and transnational belonging between 1945 and 2015, the papers on this panel seek to connect the dots between British history and wider world histories in the analysis of diasporic identities in Britain. The papers also aim to collectively contribute to a wider conversation about the multiple, layered – and global – dimensions of membership and belonging in modern Britain.
Session Chair: Gurminder Bhambra, University of Warwick
Paper 1 abstract: The evolution of citizenship and immigration policy in post-1945 Britain: the case of non-white British nationals
Sundeep Lidher, University of Cambridge
This paper aims to consider the global and historical evolution of British citizenship and immigration policy in the years between 1945 and 1962. During this period, non-white British subjects and citizens from South Asia, the West Indies and various parts of Africa began to exercise their legal right to enter and settle in Britain in increasing numbers. The beginning of this period saw Britain, along with other Commonwealth countries, articulate formal membership through citizenship legislation. The British Nationality Act 1948 introduced an expansive definition of British citizenship. Under the Act, British born and colonial born subjects were defined collectively as ‘Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies’ and all other Commonwealth citizens were to be recognised as British subjects in Britain. Despite this legal assertion of a universal and globally expansive British nationality, British immigration policies on non-white subjects and citizens in the post-1945 period reveal a rather different – contradictory – take on official notions of national belonging. Although the passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 is largely considered to be a watershed moment in the history of British immigration control on non-white subjects and citizens seeking entry and settlement in Britain, British authorities had, in fact, long pursued non-legislative policies of obstruction. The web of ‘informal’ mobility controls employed by British officials between 1945 and 1962 suggests that this story is a global one. Screening and blocking processes were ‘outsourced’ to various extra-national actors, in a bid to maintain an informal approach to gatekeeping. It is hoped that this analysis of the disconnect between British citizenship and immigration policies between 1945 and 1962 will offer an insight into the early contradictions inherent in formal notions of membership in postcolonial Britain.
Paper 2 Abstract: Cheering Fictions and the East African Asian Model Migrant
Dr Saima Nasar, University of Birmingham
In John Bull’s Island, Colin Holmes described the ‘frightening elasticity’ with which immigrants have been defined and classified. This elasticity is strikingly evident in the historiography of Britain’s East African Asian population. Variously described as subjects, citizens, aliens, exiles, others and refugees, the narrative of East African Asian multiple migrations has been told and re-told by all kinds of social and political actors – be that behind official parliamentary doors, at the European Court for Human Rights, or in community centres, museums and living rooms across continents. Contemporary
historians have inherited from this an extraordinary archive of mostly untapped private papers, reports, petitions and conversations. This paper elaborates on the ways in which scholarly analysis and broader political discourse has evolved since the 1960s. By using oral history testimonies as well as migrant literature and public acts of commemoration, it sets out the many ways in which East African Asians in Britain are negotiating their postcolonial, transnational identities. More specifically, it explores attempts to draw on both the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ in order to fashion a new identity, that of the model migrant. In so doing, this paper questions the role of migrant classifications in the struggle for meaning and belonging.
Paper 3 Abstract: Hindu nationalism and transnational citizenship: the Indian diaspora in the UK during the Indian Emergency, 1975-77
Dr Edward Anderson, University of Cambridge & Dr Patrick Clibbens, University of Oxford
This paper explores the contest to mobilise the Indian diaspora in Britain during one of India’s most politically significant, yet under-researched episodes – the Emergency (1975-77). When the Emergency was declared in June 1975, imposing draconian restrictions on the press and political opponents, India’s substantial overseas population engaged with homeland politics in new and significant ways. Opposition activists travelled to diaspora communities, creating and mobilising networks of anti-government action, and engaging with the British and Indian media in various ways, including smuggling news into India for underground circulation. The diasporic Hindu nationalist movement played a particularly important role in this activity, largely due to the proscription of their counterparts in India. These activities raised important questions about new and subversive forms of democratic participation and transnational citizenship available to the Indian diaspora. The Emergency also represents a moment of transition in government policy towards the diaspora. In contrast to existing histories which argue that India neglected its diaspora for decades after Independence, this paper demonstrates that they sought to cultivate allies amongst overseas communities and attempted to exert pressure on opponents through their citizenship status.
Paper 4 Abstract:The infidel within? Islamism in the British context, 1960 – 2015
Hira Amin, University of Cambridge
In the post-war period, migrants inspired by Islamists in the Middle East and South Asia, namely the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-e-Islami respectively, established some of the first Muslim organisations in the UK. Islamism – sometimes called political Islam –
refers to those ideologies and movements that seek to establish a religious state, or moral codes largely based on shari’a law. Yet, in the West, or in other Muslim minority states such as India, Islamists did not call for an Islamic order; rather they reconstructed new forms of Islamism to match their minority setting. How did these groups establish and adapt in the British context? Jettisoning their central characteristic of working towards an Islamic order begs the question: to what extent is it accurate to call these groups Islamist, or even speak of a global Islamist movement? What are their relationships with similar movements abroad?
This paper seeks to address these pertinent questions. It departs from alarmist tendencies, which deem Islamism as a singular, networked, insidious, global and political ideology. It argues that it is important to understand how Islamist movements have moulded and rooted themselves in the British context. Since Islamism’s ultimate aim is to bring about change in their local, socio-political orders and work within available legal avenues, they embed themselves in their national contexts. Localisation is thus an inherent characteristic within Islamism more broadly. As a result, this paper demonstrates how prominent South Asian Islamist ideologues – even Mawdudi himself, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami – began to sow the roots for a distinct mission for Muslims in the West. They did not urge their Western followers to create an Islamic state in Britain, nor simply provide resources for these movements in the ‘Muslim world’, but instead they encouraged their adherents to establish Islam in the Britain. To this end, this paper charts how Islamist-inspired organisations have evolved from being ambassadors of Islam to promoting active citizenship.