EDITORIAL: London and Islamabad must cooperate
Reports from the United Kingdom were ominous on Tuesday: The first anti-terrorist breakthrough made after the July 7 bombings in London suggested that four British nationals of Pakistani origin may have been the suicide bombers. This followed raids by the police in Pakistani-dominated neighbourhoods in areas north of London. One area under suspicion was Luton, 50 kilometres from London, where there is a large community of Muslims of Pakistani-Kashmiri origin. These are now likely to come and remain under suspicion as potential terrorist-hatching areas, which raises the disquieting fear that they could suffer under stringent security regimes introduced by the British government to counter further attacks.
Most of the Pakistani-origin British nationals are, of course, innocent people. They may live in an increasingly non-integrative style but they are not involved in the politics of religion. Because of their conservative lower-middle class origin back home, they are deeply embedded in their religion. Indeed, they may have acquired a defensive-hardline position because of the secular-materialist conditions of modern life in the UK. Still they pose no threat to the established British order. Only a few of them on the fringes of the community become involved in extremist activity. Such breakaway individuals exist in all Muslim communities in the UK. Not only are they alien to their own brethren in the host country they are also out of tune with the community back home. In the coming days, however, the entire expatriate community might suffer because of these individuals.
Disturbing news has been trickling in about the growing lack of integration among the Pakistanis in the UK. In particular, a 2001 study by Professor Muhammad Anwar of the University of Warwick reached conclusions that could only spell trouble in the days to follow. There are 700,000 Pakistanis living in the UK, a majority of them Kashmiris. They are concentrated in four regions: 30 percent in and around London, 22 percent (100,000) in Birmingham, 20 percent (65,000) in Bradford, 20,000 in Manchester and 15,000 in Glasgow. The figure of 700,000 has grown from 5,000 in 1951. Today, because of their high birth rate, fully 47 percent of them are under the age of 16, as compared to 17 percent for their white compatriots. They have the highest unemployment rate, five times more than the British average; and the crime rate is higher among them than in any other community. Two percent of the prisoners rotting in British jails are Pakistanis, the highest proportion for any community.
The good thing is that the Pakistani community has thrown up competent leaders who sit in parliament and look after the interests of their community. They speak up when there is racist discrimination against them and remind the government again and again of the pluralist pledge given to the minorities. But the sad fact is that Muslims in the UK have turned their face away from the obligation to integrate with British society at large. Integration is a defensive measure taken by expatriate communities to avoid being persecuted by the red-neck local extremists who simply hate anyone looking different. A trans-national feeling of being persecuted in the Middle East and events such as the Salman Rushdie affair have forced the Pakistanis into a kind of defensive isolation that is not natural. This is not the case, for example, of the one million strong Indian community.
Communication with extreme elements in other Muslim communities is made possible by a “zone of contact”. There is no such zone even in the volatile Middle East. British laxity has also contributed. For instance, successive British governments have paid scant attention to the takeover of Pakistani mosques by extremist imams and khateebs from Pakistan. Research shows that most of the Pakistani-funded mosques in the UK were originally Barelvi, but have now fallen to extreme Deobandi leaders imported from Pakistan. The traditionally moderate Barelvis complain of a similar “takeover” in Pakistan, but the British government was expected to be wiser than Islamabad. The most lethal British export to Pakistan and elsewhere in the region is Hizb al-Tahrir, an organisation banned in Pakistan for seeking to overthrow democracy and replace it with khilafat. Al Tahrir is an example of the “zone of contact” that exists in the UK between Pakistanis and the salafi Arab ideologues.
Unfortunately, most of the journalistic reaction in Pakistan has been unhelpful. Readers’ columns are full of diatribes against the Labour government. Such opinion is stubbornly in denial of the facts of July 7 (“The Jews did it!”), and defiant in the safety the letter-writers feel in Pakistan. Even though it may appear relevant, reminding the British prime minister that his “crime of going into Iraq with Mr Bush” is behind the London bombings is not a wise stance to adopt. Our concern should go beyond such rhetoric to focus on the plight of the Pakistanis living for generations in the UK who may now face discriminatory measures necessitated by what happened on July 7. Expatriate Pakistanis are “dual” nationals, not simply inhabitants of the UK. They are important to Pakistan economically and politically and they must get priority in our thinking. The practice of “reprimanding” Mr Blair must cease. Pakistan’s High Commission in London must undertake a campaign of “renewal of contact” with Pakistanis, speaking to them on the advisability of a less strident religious expression. London and Islamabad must cooperate, as they have indeed pledged, to act in concert against the terrorists who threaten their peace. *