August 3, 2005Foreign Affairs

Inside the mind of Londonistan

Identity — cause or excuse?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

For a chilling insight into the mind of a Londonistani’ jihadi, head over to Prospect magazine (via Rajeev Srinivasan), where Aatish Taseer interviews Hassan Butt, a 25-year old jihadi from Manchester. In Taseer’s view, the failure of Pakistan to evolve its own identity contributed to the confusion and subsequent radicalisation of second-generation British Pakistanis.

As a half-Indian, half-Pakistani with a strong connection to this country, I have observed the gulf between what it means to be British Pakistani and British Indian. To be Indian is to come from a safe, ancient country and, more recently, from an emerging power. In contrast, to be Pakistani is to begin with a depleted idea of nationhood. In the 55 years that Pakistan has been a country, it has been a dangerous, violent place, defined by hatred of the other—India.

For young British Muslims, if Pakistan was not the place to look for an identity, being second-generation British was still less inspiring…So far afield in this case, that for many second-generation British Pakistanis, the desert culture of the Arabs held more appeal than either British or subcontinental culture. Three times removed from a durable sense of identity, the energised extra-national worldview of radical Islam became one available identity for second-generation Pakistanis. The few who took it did so with the convert’s zeal: plus Arabe que les Arabes. [Aatish Taseer/Prospect]In another post on his blog, Rajeev Srinivasan takes apart the argument that it was middle-class racism that drove British Pakistanis to extremism. Pakistani, Bangladeshi as well as Indian immigrants had to contend with racism, but it is the Pakistanis that have taken to terrorism. So The New York Times Amy Waldman is way off the mark — it is not confusion between British and South Asian’ cultures which created the breeding ground for jihad. For, as Manish Vij over at Sepia Mutiny puts it, the UK has one of the richest diasporic sub-cultures anywhere.

Saeed Naqvi’s recent op-ed bears out Aatish Taseer’s contention.

The profile of the south Asian immigrant in Britain remained that of an ‘‘Indian’’ until, gradually, Pakistani assertiveness began to register. As long as the South Asian presence was innocuous, sometimes even pleasant, they were all perceived to be ‘‘Indians’’. But when the Pakistanis went out of their way to establish their separate identity, a rash of street-corner ‘‘bash ups’’ made frequent appearance in the tabloids…

After a hard day’s work, the Indian Punjabi would socialise with his English mate at the only place the Englishman meets friends — the Pub. Indeed, the Punjabi would drink him under the table. The Punjabi was fun, strong of elbow and stout of heart.

The Mirpur ‘‘Paki’’ (sic) never turned up at the Pub — religious taboo. He refrained from the other English neighbourhood institution — the butcher shop. He opened halal meat shops. The Indian brought his family with him. The man from Mirpur left his wife in the village, which did not come in the way of his taking British openness for license. [IE]

If you would like to share or comment on this, please discuss it on my GitHub Previous
Sugar please. Where’s the beef?
The economics of espionage

© Copyright 2003-2024. Nitin Pai. All Rights Reserved.