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Ghost of 9/11 continues to lurk around British Pakistanis

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States generated numerous conspiracy theories and explanations of what and why the incident happened.

Who was actually the designer of this tragic catastrophe includes the farfetched assumptions that it could have been stage managed as a prelude to wider objectives.

However, it remains a bitter fact that as many as three thousand human lives were lost. Whatever the motivation behind the incident, there should never be any legitimacy given to taking of life, whatever the grievance. Such acts of violence should always be condemned and never condoned.

Throughout the recent invasions and occupation of Afghanistan, first by the Soviet Union and then by the USA led alliance, Pakistan has been linked with nurturing and supporting the so-called terrorist cells inside its borders. The implications of this are not only being faced by Pakistan but also by the Muslims of Pakistan heritage across the world, including those living in the UK.

The UK is home to the largest Pakistani community in Europe. The population of Muslims of Pakistani heritage is now approaching 2 million, which was, according to 2011 consensus, 1.17 million, making it the second largest of all the immigrant communities and the second largest subgroup of the British Asians.

The majority of British Pakistanis originate from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab regions, but a large number is also from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan provinces. They are now into their 4th generational settlement, with the majority British born of Pakistani heritage.

British Pakistanis continue to maintain and cherish their links with Pakistan through regular visits, investment and political links. The majority have homes and holdings of some description in Pakistan and strong political affiliations to the main political parties in Pakistan.

Since 9/11, the British Muslim community in general and Muslims of Pakistani heritage particularly came under intense scrutiny. The leadership and institutions of Pakistan heritage Muslims came under immense pressure, often accused of not doing enough to curtail the activities of extremists or turning a blind eye to them, despite their repeated denial of having any role in encouraging and supporting extremist tendencies.

Since 9/11, we have seen a marked shift in perceptions about British Muslims and British Muslims of Pakistani heritage, from positive to negative. This is evident in the recorded incidents of hate against Muslims, particularly women, as reported by the Tell Mama, the Muslim charity dedicated to monitoring incidents of hate against Muslims.

In the year ending March 2020, the figures reported by the British police authorities, 50 percent of all religious hate crime offences targeted Muslims.

Tell Mama also reported in September 2019 that Islamophobic incidents of hate increased by 375 percent in week after Boris Johnson compared Muslim women wearing hijab to letter boxes.

Emboldened by the rise of far-right politics across Europe and beyond, mischief makers have identified Islam as a soft target.

Particularly, since 9/11 incident, those on the extreme right have recognized they can gain greater traction through the vilification of Muslims and Islam. We have witnessed gratuitous targeting of Muslims.

The Charlie Hebdo affair in France and subsequent fallout is a case in point. Casual racism has moved from the fringes to the centre ground, perfectly exemplified by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reference to Muslim niqab wearing women as ‘letter boxes’.

Thus, the 9/11 incident has diminished the good will, which the Muslims, including British Pakistanis, were enjoying.

Muslim leadership, Muslim institutions, particularly, Mosques have become under intense scrutiny from the counter-terrorism agencies despite very little evidence of mosques support to extremist activities.

Mosques have suffered extensively from misconceptions around their exact role and have been inextricably linked with fanning extremism, despite robust repeated denials.

Mosques are a visibly identifiable symbol of the Muslim faith and can be an obvious target for hate and islamophobia. There are numerous high and low-level attacks on mosques around the UK.

The attacks on the Finsbury Park Mosque in London and Al-Noor Masjid in Christchurch, New Zealand are powerful reminders of the dangers that lurk around Muslims and their faith institutions.

The Media’s role in fanning the Islamophobic activities remains a major concern for Muslims here. The persistent association of terms such as ‘Islamists’ with the perpetrators continue to embroil British Muslims in incidents of violence which they vehemently reject and draw a distance from them.

 This unapologetic linking with extreme elements and their ill-conceived ideologies continues to generate misconceptions and fear about Muslims presence in the UK as well as elsewhere in Europe.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) 2020 report states “ There is significant disparity in the association of “terror” between so-called Muslim and non-Muslim perpetrators: over half of the terms “terrorist”, “terrorism” or “terror” were used with the terms “Islam” or “Muslim” – almost nine times more than when the perpetrator was identified with the terms “far-right”, “neo-Nazi” or “white supremacist”.

Hence, in all aspects, the impact of the 9/11 carries on to blight and thwart the progress of British Muslims, particularly of British Muslims of Pakistani heritage. The ghost of 9/11 continues to lurk British Pakistanis.

To conclude, the impact of 9/11 is carrying on blighting and thwarting the progress of British Muslims, particularly those of Pakistani heritage.

Thus the bitter impact of September 11, 2001, perhaps, the darkest day in the recent history of America since Pearl Harbor in 1941, continues to reverberate around British Pakistanis in many disguises.

About Author: The writer is a British Pakistani settled in Bradford, UK for decades. He is co-author of two research reports and a book.

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