Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Young, Angry and Muslim

I was idly eating my dinner watching the TV last night when I came across 'Young, Angry and Muslim' at 8pm in the Channel Four documentary strand 'Dispatches'.

At first I was tempted to turn it off thinking it was going to be peddling the same old, same old "we are all guilty", neo colonialist blather, but in fact it was a remarkably wide ranging and nuanced report written and presented by a guy called Navid Akhtar, a British Pakistani Muslim.

Just after the 7 July attacks on London I felt a second wave of intense horror as it emerged that three of the four suicide bombers hailed from my community. Like me they were British, Pakistani-Kashmiri and Muslim.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised: they were not the first British Pakistani terrorists, but the successors of young men such as Omar Khan Sharif, who attempted to blow up a bar in Tel Aviv in 2003.
But for many in our community the London bombings were a watershed and left us feeling the time had come to face up to some harsh realities. The community has failed to address a growing crisis of identity.

According to the programme, one million people in Britain (45 per cent of all the Muslims in the county) are of Pakistani origin and 80 per cent come from villages in Kashmir and Punjab.

We now have three generations of Pakistani Muslims in the UK, but we are not part of the 'Asian Cool' success story, like other South Asian groups from India and East Africa. Our community is fracturing - we live in the most deprived areas of Britain, family ties are breaking down, personal conflicts and 'honour' killings are on the increase.We have low educational achievement, high unemployment and one of the largest prison populations for any ethnic group. A once law-abiding community is now plagued by drugs, crime and violence.

Young Pakistanis, he said, are increasingly torn between the oppressive, crushing, all embracing orthodoxy of the elder-driven clan system - called the Biraderi - that they brought from the sub continent and the very different pressures of the individualistic, self indulgent, promiscuous - logo, bling, drink and drug driven - lifestyle of their contemporaries.

He made the startling - at least to me - observation that our home grown terrorists were very often wide boys in the first flush of youth, and in trouble with the police for petty crime etc.

What stands out is the overwhelming sense that the younger generation is being hemmed in by both their own community, with its cultural responsibilities, and a wider society focused on individualism. In this pressure cooker tension, a political Islamic identity offers an attractive alternative. It gives clear answers: good guys, bad guys. You know where you stand.
He also used the example of the Labour party's notorious 2004 vote rigging scandal to explain how young members of the community could be disgusted and alienated by both "community leaders" and the political process, suggesting that it was a cynical attempt by Asian councilors to blunt the backlash against the party because of the invasion of Iraq. (I supported the invasion of Iraq, but how on earth did Blair's party seemingly get away with "electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic" in Birmingham?)

All in all, it was a very informative hour. At least you got the impression that the writer and presenter knew more about the matter at hand than you did.

It was worrying though. Although Navid Akhtar didn't make the connection, the historical analogy that was in my mind was the rise of the Nazi party against the decadence of the Weimar Republic.

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