The Vital Role of the British-Pakistani Diaspora

Nurturing Economy, Enriching Civil Society and Deserving Respect

There are 1.5 million British Pakistanis living in the UK, from an army of taxi drivers to 10,000 doctors, from a host of transport workers to 10,000 dentists, from a multitude of factory labourers to 10,000 pharmacists from billionaires like Sir Anwar Pervaiz and Lord Zameer to BBC newscaster Michelle Hussain, from sports legends like Amir khan to political leaders like Baroness Warsi. This young community of faith and traditional values is strong, diverse, and dynamic. However, like its motherland, it faces enormous challenges of identity and modernity.

Last month (April 2023) Suella Braverman, Home Secretary said that British Pakistani men “hold cultural values at odds with British values”. She received a backlash on social media, with users saying “the remarks will mislead the public and incite violence against Pakistani men”. Contrary to what she and politicians say, I believe that Pakistanis are playing an important role in British society. The third and fourth generation of British Pakistanis speak English like their mother tongue; they support local football clubs, wear designer clothes like white children, and love fish and chips. No less than a native Brit!

Integration not Assimilation

The BBC’s popular sitcom Citizen Khan was a light-hearted way of portraying this integration, which is a good way of getting the mainstream communities to understand the Pakistanis better. Most Pakistanis will not accept the assimilation model, since it expects them to lose their religion, culture, and distinctiveness. They are good Muslims who have a clear identity and therefore will not accept assimilation. We believe faith and Pakistani culture are good for our country and just as an Englishman is proud of his country and culture, so are the British Pakistanis. In a democratic society, no one should have to give up their identities, it’s contrary to Human Rights.

Sadly, prejudice of one kind or another is deeply ingrained in all of us. It dose not matter whether we are Pakistanis, Indians or British. Even the young British Pakistanis born here in England lived all their lives here and contributed to the economy are not accepted by some Brits. Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the legendary American basketballer once said “I don’t think we’ll ever be post-racial because of the fear and anxiety of dealing with the other people who are not like you but the ability of racism to distort and corrode our society has become a lot less.” Here Kipling’s famous verse sadly comes to mind with perhaps a grain of truth: “Oh! East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.”

Some areas of British cities are ‘Little Pakistan’

Pakistanis have created their own ‘comfort zones’ and almost exclusive little Pakistans in some areas of Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester and other big cities. Here they feel comfortable, safe and one. Just walk along Alum Rock Road in Birmingham or down Manningham Lane in Bradford or Wilmslow Road in Manchester and you’ll see what I mean. In these areas, they have developed their traditional rituals, culture and customs. This does not in any way make them ‘No-Go’ areas for non-Pakistanis. The British Pakistani community is a diverse community with various cultures and people who come from different parts of Pakistan with a large majority from Mirpur, Northern Punjab, Karachi and Pushto-speaking Pathans from the Northwest Frontiers of Pakistan.

Through the various economic, social, religious, and charitable institutions, they have built a real sense of identity and belonging. They have developed social capital and there is an active connection among people in the form of trust, mutual understanding, shared values and behaviours that bind them together. These myriad activities represent close negotiated ties of interdependency, which is the glue that holds them together. The mosque building projects, Pakistani centres and welfare associations are a powerful strategy for bringing the community together and adhering to Islam. However, the new mosques will have to be multi-dimensional and multi-functional places. So they can serve the old and the young, men and women and people of many different cultures and nationalities.

The challenges for the Pakistani community

The Pakistani Brits face several challenges, perhaps the biggest is maintaining their Islamic identity. Britain is a secular country with an undercurrent of militant atheism, aggressive secularism and far-right extremism. These threatens religious and spiritual identity.

The second challenge is integrating and getting to know British society and its history properly. This requires building links and bridges. We need to engage with the wider society and promote community cohesion. So, we not only have a shared sense of belonging based on common goals and core social values. But also respect for differences and acceptance of reciprocal rights and responsibilities. Trust building and Interfaith work will help in developing relationships, something that my organisation Karimia Institute has been doing for many years. I am pleased to note that the World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis WCOP is also very keen to develop this interfaith harmony.

The third challenge is how to maintain and develop links with Pakistan and to share talents and treasures with our country of origin. Perhaps the best way to empower people in Pakistan is by carrying out partnership projects. It will build a stronger civic society that has a clear sense of justice.

The Pakistani Brits are a peaceful law-abiding community with an innate ethos for hard work. They deserve better representation and a positive image in the media. The British government needs to be fairer so we can make even more contributions to Britain. Today, they feel unfairly treated by the media, politicians and public agencies like the police, civil society and educational sectors. Consequently, lots of Pakistanis are angry and frustrated. The internal community cohesion and our Islamic faith are preventing this anger from exploding. This needs to be addressed and pacified by positive measures.