Multicultural United Kingdom is having problems with its expatriate Muslim community. Since a large plurality them are expat Pakistanis, one can talk about why the UK is hurting today in light of what Pakistan has already suffered under the Taliban onslaught. Former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove announced last month that the government would “require all 20,000 primary and secondary schools to promote British values”. This led a culturally relativist New Statesman to ask on June 10: “British values, what are they?”
The issue cropped up after “a watershed series of inspectorate reports into 21 Birmingham secular schools, uncovered a limited, Islam-based ideology; rigged staff appointments; inappropriate use of school funds; and a culture of fear and intimidation.” What appeared in the local press cautiously referred to Muslim communities simply taking over secular, government-funded schools and unleashing a madrasa-like regime in them, as any long-suffering liberal-moderate Pakistani would understand it back in Pakistan.
According to The New York Times of June 20, a typical Muslim-dominated school in Birmingham, “Park View, where 98 per cent of students are from a Muslim background, has won special dispensation to hold Islamic assemblies instead. The school allows for lunchtime prayer and shortens the school day during Ramadan. Head scarves are an optional part of the school uniform; but at least four in five wear them. On Fridays, loudspeakers broadcast the fall to prayer which is led by a student.”
Then an op-ed column in New Statesman frankly admitted that the Brits had forgotten their own values after they accepted a plurality of value systems in the UK, proudly nesting “a vibrant variety of cultural, religious and ideological communities”. What was not asked was: if the Brits have forgotten their own values simply to allow others of different values to live among them, had these “others” also agreed to “forget” theirs? Muslims are caught up in sharia law in the 21st century. They can accept British law only in violation of sharia.
The problem is that “values” are not sharia, the code of Islamic punishments that extends to, and questions, the host state’s penal code. If a British Muslim converts, he is to be killed as an apostate under sharia, but Britain will not allow such a punishment. Hindus in the UK can integrate much better because they don’t have a sharia. If a Muslim girl marries a non-Muslim, her father is under obligation to punish her as an apostate.
Studies show Muslims “integrating” in the UK less well than other expats. One has to point out that they integrated well in the past. (My relatives in the UK, for instance, used to be pleasantly anglicised in the 1960s when they visited in Lahore; they look very un-British in their Arab-looking dress today and don’t even integrate in Pakistan.) What is the UK doing to my Paki relatives? Pakistan had nothing like Hizbut Tahrir and al-Muhajirun till the two extremist organisations were “sent” here from London, or Londonistan, as the French dub it.
I personally prefer British philosopher Thomas Hobbes to John Locke because the former was more bothered by religion and its judgemental dogma. This also reveals the state of my mind living under social and legislative extremism in Pakistan, even though our government-run schools here are not like the ones in Birmingham. Gilles Kepel happens to be my favourite author after he wrote Allah in the West: Islamic Movements in America and Europe (1997).
According to Kepel, Islamisation of the immigrant Muslim community in the UK was an early post-colonial trend stemming from the British experience in India. Communalisation rather than integration suited the UK because it could then farm out menial jobs to a community formed especially for them. Workers’ mosques came up in the 1950s in the industrial areas of the UK.
But things changed. The Rushdie affair in 1988 almost coincided with the explosion caused by the Islamic scarf affair in France a year later. The protest organised against Rushdie’s Satanic Verses united the fragmented Muslim community in the UK behind Imam Khomeini’s fatwa of death against him.
It began in 1988, when the Islamic Foundation of Leicester campaigned against Rushdie’s blasphemy, but the man who finally ran away with the collective Muslim response was ex-journalist, Kalim Siddiqui, of Jamaat Islami background, who set up his Muslim Parliament and issued what was termed the “Muslim Manifesto” in 1990, actually challenging the British system. Siddiqui came to grief eventually and was exposed for his shady financial deals.
Today, as British-Muslim parents cry for their sons secretly taking off for jihad in Syria, they should rethink their Islamisation as a defence against the British “culture shock”. The UK has the dubious distinction of housing the largest mosque in the world.
London ignored the transformation of the moderate Barelvi-Paki mosques into Deobandi-Paki mosques — which later spread Talibanisation in Pakistan — because its law on importing imams and preachers was not discriminating enough. Today, the more tolerant Barelvis, who don’t interface with hardline Arab immigrants so well, call themselves the “forgotten children” of the UK.
Muslims have not accepted the “moral relativism” at the root of British tolerance: they are more wedded to the Lutheran “certainty” of the murderous 17th century Europe.
I recall listening to Professor Muhammad Anwar of the University of Warwick in Lahore in 2001 who said Pakistanis living in the UK were 700,000, the third largest minority community. (There were a million Indians in the UK then.) Pakistanis had the highest unemployment rate, five times more than the British average, and the crime rate was higher among them than in any other community. Fully 2 per cent of the prisoners rotting in British jails were Pakistanis, the highest for any one community.
There are three million — unofficially seven million — Pakistanis living outside Pakistan whose thinking about Pakistan tends to be different from the desi Pakistani. They now coyly call themselves “conservative Muslims” and are far less integrated into the host society than non-Muslim expat communities. This is so because of double alienation. The anger against the home country — for not being Islamic enough — which is double that against the hosts, for not being Islamic. Some Muslims flee Pakistan protesting religious persecution but once in the UK, want to create the same hardline religious conditions they have fled.
I indict the UK for transforming a British cousin of mine who harasses me every time he calls in Lahore. For the life of me I can’t recognise the Islam he has adopted living in Londonistan. He is not a “conservative Muslim”. He is dangerous and threatening in the way he rejects my way of life.
Kenan Malik, writing in The New York Times, echoes my view: “Instead of promoting a secular state education system, with a shared educational framework that would ensure that all children are taught to a common standard, the UK government has encouraged different minority communities to define their notion of education and to devise their own curriculum. And when it goes disastrously wrong, as in Birmingham, rather than question its own policies, it blames the community.”
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’