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Jewish victims, Muslim shame

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An amended version of this appeared in The Sunday Times (£) on January 18, 2015

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Throughout the week, we have heard commentators condemning the Paris attacks which left 17 innocent people dead, while simultaneously chastising Charlie Hebdo journalists for “provoking” the wrath of Muslims.

It was almost like telling a woman who was raped that she should not have “provoked” her attacker by wearing a miniskirt.

Even Hamas – that well-known advocate of human rights and free speech – denounced the onslaught on the satirical magazine. Yet notable by its absence was any comment on the Jewish people who died in the supermarket.

I put this question to all those who, in a round about way, are trying to explain away the actions of terrorists they claim had “genuine grievances”: what was the justification for the murder of the innocent Jews? They were murdered simply for existing.

This debate is being framed around free speech but this is about the bigger picture. For Al Qaeda it was about making a statement and carrying out strategic attacks against those who mock them – Charlie Hebdo – and those who are perceived enemies – the Jews.

What the terrorists did last week was to ensure that Muslims around the world would get outraged over the cartoons and push the “Us vs Them” narrative. They want to draw the West into a war with them, but they received no such response. Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish a cartoon of Muhammad again after the attacks was incredibly brave and I admire them for it.

It was no surprise to read that some Muslims in France hold the Jews responsible for what happened at the magazine. While the atrocities in Paris were unfolding I was asked by a fellow Muslim in Manchester: “Are the Jews behind the cartoons?” Antisemitism is a deep-rooted problem within our communities.

Members of my parents’ generation have said they didn’t see any extremism during their youth. But that is because they didn’t live in a globalised world as my generation does.

Disillusioned with their parents’ culture and not feeling as though they belong in Britain, they are drawn more towards religion, the global Muslim ummah that gives them a sense of identity and purpose.

Last week I was asked by a suspicious Muslim gentleman why I was defending Jews. I have previously been labelled a coconut, sell-out and even “Jew lover” for saying such things. There is a conspiracy theory culture mixed with a perceived sense of grievance among some Muslims. Their belief is that Jews are protected and immune from criticism while Muslims are unfairly targeted.

Many people criticising the cartoons have been conflating racism with criticism of religion. The former is abhorrent and we have laws against this. The latter is perfectly legitimate.

Deborah Maccoby, executive of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, wrote a letter to the Guardian last Tuesday, saying that Jewish organisations should denounce the actions of Israel in order to reduce anti-Semitism and deter jihadists. I somehow doubt that chanting “free Palestine” and wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh would have melted the bullets fired by the terrorists.

Lest we forget, anti-Semitism was rampant in Europe before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Even the “moderate Muslims” often come out with reactionary views — that they are being victimised, and that extremism is a result of the West’s foreign policy and a legacy of colonialism.

As the counter terrorism analyst Anas Abbas wrote in Left Foot Forward, the political blog, if these attacks were merely the result of grievances against colonialism, then all Indians living in the UK would be avenging the suffering of their ancestors.

We should remember that European enlightenment was a product of centuries of challenges to religious authority, after which secularism was able to flourish. That is one of the reasons why reactionaries abandon the Muslim world: silenced in their own countries, they seek refuge in the liberal West, only to undermine its principles from within.

What we need is for people to continue to blaspheme, else we will be complicit in the Islamists gaining strength and destroying us all. They are organised, determined and, armed with deadly weapons and the belief that they have a divine power on their side, they will prevail.

Dissenting voices I have come across with Muslim communities  have expressed fear for the future. If we do not defend our rights and freedoms then, to paraphrase Pastor Niemöller, one day there will be no one left to speak for us.


Written by Iram Ramzan

January 19, 2015 at 6:40 pm

A weekly round up: Fatwas, nude photos and sensationalist reporting

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Sensationalism in the British press

I was about to go to sleep when my Twitter timeline erupted with the news  about the brutal murder of 82-year-old Palmira Silva in her home in Edmonton, north London.  Nicholas Salvadore, whose identity was revealed later, has since been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Police were initially called out yesterday to investigate a man dressed in black, who neighbours said had decapitated a cat with a foot-long, machete-like blade, and who was running through rear gardens banging on doors and windows.

The Sun newspaper decided to go with a front page claiming “‘Muslim Convert’ beheads woman in garden”. Someone apparently told The Sun journalist that the alleged murderer had converted to Islam, though this cannot be verified.

This is sensationalist and shoddy reporting for several reasons. Firstly, detectives say they have ruled out terrorism as a motive. By putting ‘Muslim Convert in the headline and on the front page, alongside the letter to ISIS caliphate Baghdadi (see below) in the paper, The Sun is forcing its readers to link the stories together. Yes, beheadings have been in the news thanks to the barbaric actions of the so-called Islamic state, but if the police are not describing this as a terrorist crime then why is The Sun making readers think otherwise?

Secondly, as an arrest has been made, publishers and broadcasters have a duty to report news in a responsible way and in a manner in which will not create a real risk that the course of justice in proceedings may be seriously prejudiced. I work at a local newspaper so I know that I could not get away with writing that and nor would my editor publish it. However, The Sun can afford to be in contempt of court as it is a national paper, therefore they can choose to flout certain rules and guidelines.

Thirdly, the Press Complaints Commission code states that the “details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.” As we do not know what the motive of the suspect murderer was, it is irresponsible of The Sun to mention the man’s religion.

What we seem to have forgotten in all this is that an innocent elderly woman was murdered in such a horrific way. What must her family be going through? The Sun has demonstrated that it does not care about victims, rather it uses such victims to make a wider, political point to push its agenda.

I said as much on BBC Asian Network earlier today, which should be available to listen to on iPlayer soon.


Speaking out on abuse

Nazir Afzal

What has happened in Rotherham for over a decade has shocked us all. The Times claimed (£) that details from 200 restricted-access documents showed how police and child protection agencies in the South Yorkshire town had extensive knowledge of the grooming of young girls  for a decade, yet a string of offences went unprosecuted. I hope journalist Andrew Norfolk wins some awards for his brilliant investigative work.

People have come out and said that “victims should speak out” and those who know must tell the police. Ann Cryer, former MP for Keighley, tried to do just that. She claims that West Yorkshire police did not want to do anything when she told them about the abuse of young girls in her town. She then went to “community leaders” who told her that it was nothing to do with them. We also read, in Rotherham, that victims‘ evidence would go “missing” and police would not take their claims seriously. So it’s no good telling people to speak out, because at the end of the day, many in positions of power neither listened nor took any action.

Louise Mensch suggested that with a Muslim – Nazir Afzal – as the chief prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service for the North West in England, children would remain unsafe, which is an inflammatory statement that prompted some to reply with anti-Muslim sentiments. Never mind the fact that he was responsible for securing successful prosecutions for Asian men who were part of a grooming gang in Rochdale. Some have suggested that he is in denial over the religions of the men involved, who were all of Muslim heritage. Perhaps Afzal – a devout Muslim – is correct that religion was not a factor, as drinking and prostituting girls is hardly one of the five pillars of Islam. It could be because, as a chief prosecutor for the CPS, he has to be more careful with what he says. Regardless, one can hardly accuse him of remaining silent on abuse.

In an article for the New York Times a year ago, Afzal knows just how hard it is for women to speak out against barbaric cultural practises, stating: “Women have been talking about these issues for a long time,” he said. “I’m not the first person to take up this fight in this country, I’m just the first man, and that makes it a lot easier. I come from these communities. I understand their patriarchal nature. I can challenge them. And because I am a man, the men in the community are more likely to listen to me.”

While Muslim reformers do attract a lot of negative attention from those within their own communities, it is worse for women, who often have to put up with misogynist remarks as well as accusations of blasphemy or heresy.

Afzal revealed a more personal side to himself. When bullied in school, his father told him to “get used to it”. He also stopped posting on Twitter because, he said, the abuse got to be too much. This does not surprise me. Many Muslims, including myself, have been heavily criticised and insulted when choosing to speak out. All I can say is that when you manage to piss off both the far right and the Islamists, you are doing something right. I hope that Afzal returns to Twitter although I understand he probably has better things to do than respond to those on there who simply want to hurl abuse at him.

I have heard some Muslims say that the whole of Catholicism is not to blame for child abuse by priests, so why do we expect Muslim to defend their faith whenever any perpetrators of a Muslim heritage commit crimes? Perhaps we do not blame the whole faith but we do examine whether the requirement of celibacy is a factor in the abuse of young boys by Catholic priests. Earlier this year, Pope Francis met victims of abuse and asked for forgiveness for the crimes, which shows that in order to solve a problem, one must first acknowledge it.


What the Fatwa


Letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi


Just over a week ago, a group of British imams and scholars issued a fatwa condemning Islamic extremist group ISIS. The fatwa represents the British Muslim community’s strongest denunciation of ISIS yet, calling the extremist group “heretical” and “an oppressive and tyrannical group.” It came after Britain’s terrorism threat was raised last week from “substantial” to “severe”. Clearly the government wants to be seen to be doing something though personally I think we should not give in to these terrorists by showing that we are afraid of them.


I can see both the upsides and downside of this fatwa. On the one hand, I am not keen on the use of the word ‘heresy’ as extremists themselves use it as a justification to kill those they deem as behaving in an “unIslamic” way. What exactly is ‘Islamic’ behaviour anyway? Furthermore, only those who follow those particular leaders are bound by the fatwa, meaning it is not applicable to everyone and can be ignored by many.

On the other hand, we have had many people in the media complaining about the lack of Muslim leaders coming out to denounce ISIS and the behaviour of its jihadis.  Fatwas serve those people who still seek the advice and ruling of their sheikhs and imams. Chairman of Quilliam Foundation Maajid Nawaz wrote in the Independent:

Understandably frustrated cynics could claim that this is far too little, too late. Such a stance fails to appreciate that this can only be the start, not the end. The Isis brand will only be weakened by a full-on assault from all angles.

If theological “get out clauses” are not provided for vulnerable young minds, if all vulnerable young minds hear is silence from every other Muslim Imam on the subject, this will look precariously like consent.

Similarly the above letter, featured in Friday’s Sun newspaper, speaks to self-styled ‘caliphate’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in his language and on his terms. Al-Baghdadi does not believe in secularism or western democracies, so what better response than from a group of practising and devout Muslims. My only criticism of the letter is that there are more than twice the number of men than women though that may have been down to not being able to get enough responses from people in such a short time.

Also in the news was the Muslim Council of Britain, who raised concerns about the prime minister’s anti-terrorism strategy. They claimed that the “crackdown” on British-born extremists will “push marginalised young people further towards radicalisation”. While I think the government’s strategy is only focused on those who have already become extreme – with not enough focus on counter extremism narratives – the MCB have to acknowledge that they cannot keep using this as an excuse. Some Muslims are being brainwashed and we need to address that, rather than using apologetic language. Some Muslims are already marginalised and no longer identify with Britain or British identify, hence why some chose to leave to fight in Syria and Iraq. At the end of the article is a quote from Saleem Kidwai, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Wales, who said:

I would say to the government, you must talk to the Muslim Council of Britain because it is the largest organisation. You can talk to thinktanks but they are not the grassroots groups – the MCB has got the mandate from 500 organisations who represent Muslims from all walks of life. I know they would love to help rather than obstruct.

Gosh. I wonder to which thinktanks he is alluding…


The two faces of Asghar Bukhari

Sometimes people forget that what they post online is available for all to see. Recently, author Jeremy Duns decided to debate, or rather attempt to, with Asghar Bukhari, of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which describes itself as the UK’s “leading movement for empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad through political activism”.

Bukhari is regularly invited on to Sky News or the BBC. On air he is very calm and composed. But his Twitter account shows a darker side.

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As you can see irony is lost on Bukhari who calls other people “bullies” yet constantly insults and demeans those with whom he debates. Not only does he use rather colourful language, he is misogynist towards women with whom he disagrees and even believes it is a “fact” that European  Jews have no DNA linking them to Palestine. Perhaps media organisations should have a look at his Twitter account and his blog – where he likens Lee Rigby’s murderer Jeremiah Adebolajo to a “revolutionary” – before inviting him on air?


Don’t drink?

Retired judge Mary Jane Mowat was criticised by women’s campaigners after she said that the rape conviction rate would not improve until women stopped drinking so heavily.

Mowat, who stood down in August, said it was often difficult to secure a rape conviction as it was “one person’s word against another”.

She was not, she insisted, saying that drunk girls deserve to be raped, but that drunkenness has implications for juries attempting to establish the reliability of witness testimony.
What do you think – was she right?


Women’s bodies

Earlier this week,  several intimate photographs of celebrities were published online. Apple confirmed that some  iCloud accounts were hacked into. Copies of the images spread to other services, including Reddit, Imgur and Twitter, from which they were subsequently deleted by administrators.

Fleet Street Fox wrote a brilliant piece on this in the Mirror that sums up exactly how I feel on the issue.  It amazes me that we still live in a world where what a woman does with her breasts or vagina can make the news – note that no nude photos of men were posted.

Jane Moore, writing in The Sun, said that the best prevention is not to take such photos in the first place.  I take it that Ms Moore has absolutely nothing on her phones or computer that would make her feel embarrassed were it to be seen by the public?

Her paper also ran the headline “How bare they”, supposedly sympathising with the female victims. This is the same paper that published semi nude photographs of journalist Tasmin Khan, bought from her ex boyfriend. In a statement to Mail Online, Khan said the incident had left her devastated by someone whom she had trusted. A bigger betrayal is from The Sun who chose to publish photos they knew were not obtained with Khan’s permission and could have ruined her life. As an Asian woman, one can only imagine what her family’s reaction could have been if they had not supported her.


The Ahmadi Muslims – a question

In a Twitter debate, I asked a few people why it is that Ahmadis, despite being widely persecuted, seem to be the most progressive of most Muslims in the world. After all, they believe in the same Qur’an as all other Muslims, so what makes them so different?  My theory is, as they believe that the Messiah has already been – in the form of founder of the faith Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – this has marked the beginning of a new chapter and allowed them to progress and move forward. Other Muslim groups, however, are either doing nothing in the hopes of the arrival of a hoping for a messiah to solve their problems, or they are willing to do anything they can to can to prompt the arrival of the messiah. Certainly the latter is the view of the Evangelical Christians who  believe that the return of the Jews to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus.

As I said, this is just a theory, but I would be interested in your views.


Pakistani Immigrants: Home From Home? The Conclusion

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Iram Ramzan’s long second part to her analysis of the issues facing Pakistanis in the UK, and her conclusion.

Originally published for The Backbencher on 07/04/2011



On the eight-hour flight back to England (easily the best part of the entire ‘holiday’) I talked with a British Pakistani gentleman on many topics, including the two subjects in which one supposedly should not engage  with a total stranger – politics and religion. But when do I ever do as I am told?

Anyhow. I told him that I would never want to go back to Pakistan again and I had very little interest left in that part of the world, to which he replied: “We will never truly be accepted in Britain, among white people, but we will always be welcome back in Pakistan. People in Pakistan will always see us as one of them.” This led me to wonder if other Brits of Pakistani origin feel the same way. Are there others who, like me, feel disconnected to Pakistan or Kashmir, or do they all still feel as Pakistani as their parents and grandparents? How do they identify themselves?

Identity is a tricky issue, as it is very subjective and simplifies what is a very complex idea. As Omar Mehtab, a 22-year-old student from Ilford, said: You’re you, as soon as you try to define yourself that’s where you’re not able to; don’t define yourself, just be yourself.” Indeed.  Nonetheless, I wanted to give a voice to sections of society who have so much to share yet rarely have the platform to do so.


Factors that shape identities

I met up with Burjor Avari, Honorary Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University, to debate on what factors influence our identities. He believes that there are a number of factors which can shape a person’s life, with the role of the parents being the most important one.

“If a child has been, for example, brought up with a strict Islamic life then I think that that one particular type of characteristic remains with them as part of their identity. The opposite to that is if children are secularised, then that child is going to grow up in that way, indifferent.

We will find that the majority of parents came from Pakistan  in the last 50/60 years. A large majority will be of the first category, and will be passing the message of the religion to the child. One of the reasons is that many Pakistanis come from rural areas. Rural people have greater faith in religion. They also have a lack of education of the modern type.”


As I wrote in my previous article, the majority of the Pakistanis in the UK came from Azad Kashmir to work in the mills, hence why one will see a large concentration of Pakistanis in certain places such as Oldham, Keighley and Bradford. They came from largely rural areas, which still affects the way they interact with others and their outlook on life.

It frustrates me when the older generation insists that we have no morals, that we are ‘shameless’, but that is not true. We do have morals, they’re just different to their morals. We have our own values and beliefs because we are of a different generation, therefore our outlook on life is bound to be different.

Who do you think you are?

Bradford young

Growing up, I was never inculcated with much of the Pakistani culture, thanks to my mother, who shielded me from the more traditional aspects. Then there was the fact that I went to an all-white primary school, which meant that I was interacting with people who were of a different background to mine. Because of these two major factors, I found that I did not fit in with the Pakistani children in secondary school who had all been raised in a very traditional background, hence why even they were obsessed with the idea of a person’s ‘caste’ or what ‘sect’ they belonged to. I still, to an extent, described myself as a Pakistani because that is the label others gave me, despite the fact that I did not know where in Pakistan my family came from until I was 15.

I asked a few people of Pakistani origin how they identified themselves and their thoughts on ‘being Pakistani.’ I was surprised to find that there were many like me who did not feel a great connection to that part of the world.

Ghaffar Hussain, a former Director of Training and Consultancy at Quilliam Foundation, describes himself as a Brit with Pakistani heritage.

“However, I don’t feel connected to Pakistan culturally and struggle to appreciate the mindset and values of people that are born and raised there,” he said. “I’m also highly critical of Pakistani culture and feel isolated from the mainstream Pakistani community in the UK.”

Syma (not her real name), an accountant from Bradford, who sees herself as a British Asian first and foremost, put it a bit more bluntly.

“I couldn’t give a shit about Pakistan,” she said. “It makes no bearing on my life whatsoever, it is just a country where my parents were born and as a result means I have a nice brown skin colour. I care about Bradford, that’s where I live, things that happen here actually make a difference even if minimal to my life.”

Janied Inayat, a 26-year-old Project Manager from Blackburn, expressed similar sentiments.

“Personally I’ve never really identified with being Pakistani (beyond supporting the cricket team, mainly because of their highly entertaining gung-ho approach),” he said. “I’ve been to Pakistan  a few times and I spent most of my time with an un-shakeable uneasiness. Off the top of my head I have problems with their attitude toward women, education, class and religion. It is no coincidence that Pakistan  is a failed state.” He added: “Having said that, the emphasis that UK Pakistani communities place on friends, family and togetherness is a source of great pride, something I hope we can cling on to for as long as possible.”

Perhaps the issue of Pakistan being a ‘failed state’ explains why some young Pakistani people do not wish to be associated with that part of the world?  There seems to be an underlying inferiority complex amongst Pakistanis, which lends to issues with esteem and identity.

That is what Shoaib (not his real name), a 29-year-old from east London, believes.

He said: “When I am asked about my ethnicity I don’t say Pakistan I say I’m Punjabi as that’s what my true indigenous ethnic identity is. Through my own research I found the whole concept of Pakistan as a political entity completely fraudulent. States/countries should be made around cultures, not the other way round with cultures being prescribed to people around the concepts of states as Pakistan  was.”

However, he did add that he is sentimental towards Pakistan. He said: “I always followed the Pakistani cricket team and had a fondness for Punjabi food – I like lassi and find salwar kameez comfortable to sleep in. I find the Urdu language (although actually an Indian language) aesthetically luminous and incredibly polite.”

Perhaps this is the future – a generation who identify with Pakistan in an abstract sort of way, taking the positives, e.g. the food and clothes, and purging the negative aspects? This type of thinking though can only come from greater education.

Education Pakistan


Literacy in Pakistan is shameful, ranking 113 among 120 nations, with only 55% adult literacy. One cannot deny the importance of education. As Mr Avari said, “Without [a proper education], you cannot think properly.” He went on to say that part of the problem is when schools have very little diversity. He said: “Local schools reflect the area and if the school is majority Pakistani, then young minds will have difficulties to some extent adjusting to other groups of people.”

Janied confirmed this by saying that, in his opinion, most British Pakistanis are not making informed decisions, because they “lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to truly feel empowered.” He said: “Their choices are restricted and they go with whatever is easiest, hence retreating back into the comfort zone of their insulated communities.”

Indeed, my grandparents’ and parents’ generation did not have as many opportunities to study and reach their full potential, because, as Mr Avari said, there was often very little encouragement from the parents to pursue an academic education. A lot has changed since then. Indeed, Syma acknowledges the change in men and women in pursuit of an education and careers.

She said: “My mum was not allowed to study after marriage and back then they got married early so she always wanted to be a doctor but was never allowed to pursue that.

“Nowadays its pretty standard for Asian people generally to be educated with degrees and careers and if anything the girls have a greater work ethic than the guys.

“Our family are looking for rishtay (suitors) for my brother and we have come across so many very highly educated intelligent women who are now allowed to have careers. This is the biggest step for me in terms of my generation compared to my parents.”

Pakistani women

Despite these advancements, sometimes it seems as though very little progress has been made, especially when one lives in a tight-knit community where everyone is judging you and ready to report you to your family if they see you outside the home.

It can be over something ridiculous such as clothing. My mother’s friend’s daughter, who is getting married next year, said that her future in-laws have told her that once she is married she cannot wear ‘English clothes’ because it’s ‘disrespectful’. One would think that this type of mentality would have died out by 2013, but alas, I am not wholly surprised that there are people who still think this way.

Pakistani woman

This is what happens when you have people living in such communities in small towns as Keighley and Oldham, where entire clans, or biradaris, live. One has to factor in the entire family and community when making even the simplest decisions. In fact, Syma, who is one of the most educated and financially independent young women I’ve ever come across, admits that even she faces forms of gender discrimination.

“When it comes to socially, it’s still ‘where are you going, who with, what time will you be back, etc.’,”she said.  “Socially, I still feel girls are not allowed to go out for no reason or just to hang out with friends whereas guys are hanging about shisha bars aimlessly for hours on end.

“Living in Bradford as well, half the time my ground rules are not set by what my own parents would find acceptable but what other people would think. My mum wants me home by a certain time otherwise neighbours / family would see my car’s not at home and think I’m out too late.”

“Likewise, how much worse is the Asian community towards, say, girls that smoke, compared to guys? They wouldn’t even bat an eyelid for guys. Likewise having a partner before marriage.

“I noticed my brother, who is four years younger than me, always has his friends round at our house playing computer games, etc. One time three girls came and they were like ‘is your brother in’. My mum and dad said to him who are they, and he said ah they’re my friends from school and introduced them. And it was fine, they were allowed to come over whenever they liked to do homework, watch TV or just chill. If that was me and guys were coming to my house when I was 16, I’d have been killed!”

I can, of course, relate to this, not being allowed out as often as I like, despite being a grown woman. The mentality still remains that a woman carries the honour of her whole family on her shoulders, whereas the man, well they’re men, so what?

Trying to explain to my white counterparts that I still have a curfew or cannot go out sometimes can be quite embarrassing and frustrating. Maybe there is a north-south divide? Many of my Pakistani female friends in London do not seem to have this issue, whereas here in the north, regardless of how educated we are, regardless of how financially independent we become, there is always something to reign us in.

Clash between parents and wider diaspora

old muslim man

Naturally, there is bound to be a bit of a clash between children and their parents – both think they are right and that the other is wrong. There will be more of a clash because our way of thinking is different to our parents’. Or, as one friend put it, “we’re realising that what our parents told us all that time was just bullshit.”

Syma is in her early 20s, whereas her parents are between 55-60 years old, which is quite a big age gap, not just in terms of age, but experiences too. As I stated in my previous article, the earlier generation never intended to settle permanently in the UK, therefore they thought only on a short-term basis and brought their children up as though they were still living in the villages back in Kashmir or Pakistan.

Mr Avari believes it is precisely this obsession with ‘Muslim’ issues, or what is happening ‘back home’ in Pakistan that hinders these communities, leading to them becoming “obsessed with themselves, which builds up alienation.” This is not just a problem with the older generation – even the younger ones tend to be more preoccupied with what is happening in Muslim countries

As Syma (again quite bluntly!) put it: “They don’t see themselves as belonging in the UK, it’s like they’re here on vacation and home is still Pakistan. They watch ARY and follow the presidential elections, but won’t go to the polling station down the road in May.

“They follow closely what happens there, even though we’ve limited family that live there. Its more than just a healthy interest.”

So how does one pursue one’s ambitions when there are such restrictions in place? Is it simply a case of being rebellious? Syma believes so. She said: “Our generation is far more brave (rebellious perhaps?) and willing to question. There is nothing now that we will just accept, we’re constantly testing the waters trying to be able to do more and more for ourselves and finding out what’s acceptable.

“My sister was the first one from our whole area to go to university in a different city. When she initially asked, my parents said no. She didn’t accept that, and pursued with ‘why not’ and kept pushing till they gave in. This paved the way for me to live in a different city if I wanted.

“When I first asked about going on holiday when I was 20 I was told ‘no’. The generation before would never have mentioned it again. Four years later, I’ve booked a holiday with my best mate and told them I’m off on holiday.

“It might be besharam (shameless) really but essentially we probably listen to our parents less, mainly because we see a lot of what they say as unreasonable. They only set rules like that because its all they know from the generation before them.

“It is not just our experiences that are totally different, its the mentality. My world at home is so different to my world outside.”

In fact, I know of many young Pakistanis who live a double-life – they play the obedient son or daughter at home but outside they feel free to be who they are without fear of admonishment, because often strangers are more accepting of them than their own family.

Some, like Ghaffar, live in self-imposed isolation. He said: “I just don’t connect with [most Pakistanis] and find they have very different values to me which makes meaningful interaction difficult.


Next generation

Maybe there will always be a debate on identity and self-perception.  Janied believes that, “Negotiating a British Pakistani identity is a constant battle, I think you have to be adaptable, rational and confident in order to reach a well balanced outcome.”

Ghaffar believes that it will become more about what you believe in. He said: “My Pakistani heritage informs my self-perception and how I see things but not because I’m informed by Pakistani culture or values in any meaningful way. It’s more a case of me remaining cognisant of this heritage and making room for it in my thinking.”

It will be a case of going out of one’s comfort bubble and interacting with others. With Britain boasting a population of approximately one million mixed-race people,  inter-race marriages could increase among the Pakistani communities, despite the prejudices I highlighted previously, such as, for example, the caste system. It may become less of a taboo for Pakistanis to marry someone of a different race and ethnicity to theirs.

Mr Avari claims that it depends on how the next 30-40 years pan out, but in his experience, many young, inter-racial couples can be seen at the university. After all, there are many benefits to marrying out.  Omar said that he takes many different things from other cultures, boasting a mixture of Indian, Pakistani, German and Polish background.

“I’ve got such a mix,” he said. “Right now in my fridge the gulab jamun is sitting next to the Pierogi and Kapusta.

“I’m glad I’ve had this. It’s given me different cultural and religious viewpoints. My generation is a product of a mixed environment – we love it.”

When one is raised in such an environment, differences are not seen as unusual, but celebrated rather and appreciated. At the moment, there is still that clash – the expectations of society and those of our parents versus wanting to be who we are.

On a positive note, I do admit that there has been a big change since my mothers’ generation. From an age where Pakistani women could not pursue education or careers to one where most women now are educated and setting the standards for the next generation, I would say that that is pretty damn impressive. Go girl power!

But there is still room for progress – I wonder what discussions the next generation will be having. I only hope that they will not be telling their own children that wearing ‘English clothes’ is ‘disrespectful’, or that boys will still be treated like princes who can do no wrong.

One thing is certain though – I’m still not going back to Pakistan.

Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 17/3/2013


Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!


When I first heard of the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ I imagined it to be something kinky (or perhaps it was wishful thinking), a silly joke on social media. The reality, however, was less amusing and far more sinister. The new rules, due to come into effect in April, will affect housing benefit, which is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week. This change will affect council tenants and those who rent from housing associations, who are housing benefit claimants. The government estimates that 655,000 households will have their benefit cut.

social housing

The ‘bedroom tax’ will penalise households in social housing deemed to have more bedrooms than they require. Under the government’s so-called “size criteria” (how do you decide what is the ‘right’ amount of space a person needs?) families will be assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need.

The government says that it is a necessary policy to get the £23bn housing budget under control and that the savings to the taxpayer ‘will amount to £505m in 2012-13′, and ‘£540m in the year after’.


That’s the theory anyway, but reality doesn’t quite work like that, as there is no way the local authorities will be able to move everyone around and put them in the ‘right’ properties. As Theo Paphitis rightly pointed out on Question Time this week, it’s just ‘theoretical economy’.

Ministers have pointed out that foster carers and families of armed services personnel will be exempt from controversial changes to housing benefit. Furthermore, anyone with severely disabled children is supposedly exempt from the spare room subsidy, yet Guardian’s Patrick Butler  highlighted the fact that government lawyers were still actively seeking to quash an appeal court ruling last May that would ensure exemptions for severely disabled children did not apply.

Katy McCauley, a volunteer at the CAB in Rochdale, believes the policy is “not thought through.” She said: “They’re forgetting that people on housing benefits are on a low income anyway.” She was among the many who came out to protest in Manchester city centre on Saturday in solidarity with the 60 or so towns and cities that had planned demonstrations against this policy.

The government has persuaded many people that all benefits recipients are scroungers and shirkers and so this discussion of the welfare budget always seems polarised. What some people don’t seem to understand is that some of the people who will be affected will have lived in their home for decades.

Take Janet Southgate, a 55-year-old disabled woman from Hyde who came to the demonstration in Manchester. She ‘under-occupies’ a three bedroom house in which she has lived for 27 years, a home where her children grew up. She cannot afford to move out and there are no bungalows available for at least two or three years in her area – to move out would cost her £1000, assuming she has somewhere to go.

“I’m stockpiling food, tins of soup, or I won’t be able to afford to eat,” she said. She will be left with £150 to live off each month, before what is spent on the gas and electricity bills. She adds: “The doctor said I’m suffering from trauma because of all this. I’ve done jobs you don’t want to know about to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’m epileptic, disabled and trapped.”


Andy Bentley, a 50-year-old ex-soldier from Halifax, said that some of his friends would be made homeless come April. A disabled friend of his ‘under-occupies’ his house because he can’t get upstairs, so he sleeps in the living room. What will he do?

When I suggested the possibility of living with his mother, he replied that she did not want him living with her, which begs the questions – what will happen to vulnerable people who cannot rely on family or friends to help them? More people now still live at home with their parents in the UK, but what about those whose parents do not want their children living at home any more?

Yes, housing benefit is a huge bill but that is because property prices and rents have been allowed to rise without control. It is clearly an ill-thought out policy or, as Andy from Halifax put it, “It’s lunacy.”

There are many more in this desperate position and although the government’s explanation suggests that there is an element of choice, that people are being asked nicely to decide whether to downsize or pay extra to have a bit more room, in practice there really aren’t many suitable smaller properties for people to move into, nor can those people afford to have their benefits reduced.

Is the theoretical half-a-billion pounds savings really worth it?

Written by Iram Ramzan

March 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

A response to ‘The problem with white converts’

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Famous converts to Islam

Last night I came across an article about white, converts to Islam because it had caused some controversy with a, erm, white, convert to Islam.

She missed the entire point of the article and proceeded to rant away on the racism that converts to Islam suffer from ‘born-Muslims’. Which is fair enough (it happens) but when you use the word ‘Paki’ you really don’t get to complain about racism. She defended her right to say the word because in Latin America it’s ‘perfectly acceptable’, though strangely enough she has since deleted those tweets. Hmm!

Anyhow. The article in question, by Michael Muhammad Knight, explores briefly this notion that somehow the convert to a different religion is “imagined as coming from a place outside culture, becomes privileged as the owner of truth and authenticity.”

I could not agree more.  I have lost count of the times that I have heard Muslims saying things such as “Converts/reverts make the best Muslims”, “InshaAllah I will marry a convert wife they are better than our own women.”

There is a misguided notion that white converts don’t bring culture to religion, as if they, not being born-Muslims, (I don’t believe that anyone is ‘born a Muslim’ but that is a separate topic) read the religious text in a pure, unadulterated form.

Firstly, it is patronising, as it suggests that white people, or anyone who is not brown,  don’t have any culture – everyone subscribes to some form of culture.  Secondly, it places an enormous burden on coverts, who are expected to be living, talking, breathing versions of Islam personified.

Knight hits the nail on the head when he writes: “When people assume that ‘religion’ and ‘culture exist’ as two separate categories culture is then seen as an obstacle to knowing religion.”

Exactly. One cannot divorce culture from religion and vice-versa, the two can shape each other. Islam came out of Arabia, hence the reason why the Qur’an addresses, or tries to, the needs of the people in Arabia at the particular time, e.g. polygamy. This is what has led to some to question, what aspects of Islam are “truly Muslim” and what aspects of Islam are shaped by “Arab culture or tradition”?

It is too complex to go into in such a short amount of time, but I believe that it is misguided for Muslims to say that we should “go back to a pure form of Islam” because it simply does not exist. It is not just the Salafis and Wahhabis who are hell-bent on trying to recreate this seventh-century Mecca as a panacea for numerous ills in today’s Muslim world (thank you Edward Said).

Even the moderate of Muslims allude to such views. The reason, I suspect, why some born-Muslim men are looking for convert wives is because they are disillusioned with their parents’ culture, hence why they seek a convert wife so that they don’t have to put up with that culture anymore (and don’t get me started on those women who forego their own identity and adopt their husband’s), and can solely identify as Muslims only – because to be a ‘proper Muslim’ one apparently has to remove all cultural baggage when approaching the scriptures.

But guess what – it just does not work like that.

Stalkers Stalked: New Law Is Just The Start

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 02/12/2012


ALICE (not her real name) was stalked for five years. Her stalker sent her husband poison pen letters, type- written in order to conceal their identity.  Everything was noticed and mentioned in detail: the car she drove, her clothes, the friends she had, the parties she attended, where she went, who she saw. Everything.

The letters proceeded with alarming regularity, often two in one month. Someone was out there, watching. The language was crude, offensive, personal and hateful.  It affected Alice greatly.  She’d walk through the town centre wondering, “Is it you…is it you? Are you doing this?”

Eventually, three years ago, she called the police, who she says were sympathetic. Although they made the right noises, the investigation was closed as they couldn’t find the culprit. Fingerprints were evident, but as the person wasn’t on their database the case was closed.  Although the five-year ordeal stopped, Alice never found out the identity of her stalker. The most incredulous thing, however, is that until this week, what happened to Alice would not have been described as stalking in the context of the criminal justice system.

Previous laws on harassment and stalking were “not fit for purpose”

On Monday, two specific criminal offences of stalking (stalking and stalking involving a fear of violence) came into force in England and Wales for the first time. The new offences sit alongside ones of harassment in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.   The Home Office minister Jeremy Brown said the new offences are designed to provide extra protection for victims, highlight the serious impact stalking can have on them and help bring more perpetrators to justice. This comes after an independent parliamentary inquiry, which found the previous laws on harassment and stalking were “not fit for purpose”.

They also found that 120,000 victims, mostly women, were stalked every year, but only half lead to a reported crime and only one in 50 incidents leads to a conviction. Mr Brown said there is some evidence that making stalking a specific offence helps convict more people, after Scotland brought in similar laws two years ago.

He went on to say: “Stalking is an appalling crime that destroys lives. The impact on victims can be devastating and we are doing all we can to make sure they have the protection they need and do not have to live in fear.

“These new offences send a clear message to offenders that stalking is a serious crime and they will be brought to justice for making others’ lives a misery.”

Certainly this legislation will be welcome from organisations such as Protection Against Stalking and the Network for Surviving Stalking who have been aiming for precisely this. These new laws are long overdue. Stalkers wreck decent peoples lives. But this legislation must not be the be all and end all – legislation can only do so much. The system needs to try to stop the cases from escalating. Abusers were often charged with the less serious offence of harassment. This resulted in more lenient sentences of 12 months or less in prison, and many being granted community orders.

Stalkers will repeat-offend until they are treated

This is just the beginning of a wide range of measures that should be implemented to tackle this crime seriously. Alexis Bowater, chiefexecutive of the NSS, said that stalkers will repeat-offend until they are treated, so there needs to be mandatory treatment, and there needs to be better support for victims. Police have, at times, been accused of not providing adequate protection and support for victims of stalking as they do for the rich and celebrities.

Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, who was an adviser to the parliamentary inquiry, said: “What you have is the ‘fixated threat assessment centre’ set up by the Met in 2006 to protect the rich and famous but the thousands of ordinary people do not get anything.”

This must be addressed. Many years ago domestic violence was dealt with in the same way as stalking is now. Hopefully, with better training and guidance from charities and organisations that deal with stalking, police can stop stalkers and victims can feel more confident in the system, knowing that the authorities understand their ordeal, which can then lead to more prosecutions of perpetrators.

There is still a lot that needs to be done. Let us hope that this legislation is one step in the right direction.

Written by Iram Ramzan

December 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Focus on ‘Asian gangs’ takes away from the victims

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This article originally appeared in The Backbencher on 25/11/2012

This week on BBC Asian Network, the topic on Wednesday morning was: “has the media got it wrong by focusing on Pakistan child grooming gangs?”

It was not long before the majority of the callers, including former Labour MP Ann Cryer, were quick to point out that this was specifically a ‘Pakistani problem’ because Indian or Bangladeshi men had not been involved.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear, before you all start accusing me of being in denial or other such things. I was absolutely appalled at the behaviour of these gangs in Rochdale – I hope they are left to rot in jail. But what disgusts me even more is how people have jumped on the bandwagon and started brandishing their pitchforks, determined to point the finger at Pakistani or Muslim men.

Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz said this week that the “model” of Asian men targeting white girls was just one of “a number of models”, and warned that if investigators concentrated on those patterns, victims could fall through the net. The report concluded that both boys and girls could be victims of sexual exploitation, although the vast majority were girls. However, something which was not revealed in the media at the time was that almost three out of ten victims (28 per cent) were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

This is the key point, given that the general perception and crude stereotype seemed to be that there were dangerous brown men only after white flesh, because of some underlying prejudice where they see all white females as easy targets and more ‘available’ than their Asian or Muslim counterparts.

Furthermore, this should, hopefully, quell the myth that somehow Pakistani or Muslim men avoid abusing their ‘own’ women out of respect – that is simply not true. Men such as the ones who were  arrested in Rochdale have absolutely no respect for females of any kind, whether they are white or brown. They are monsters. End of.

Academic Vron Ware recounts that the black male has been historically ‎constructed as the antithesis of white femininity, sexually predatory upon white innocence and ‎beauty – the black male has now been substituted for ‘Asian’ or ‘Muslim’.

The danger with this finger pointing and crude stereotyping is that the victims often lose out.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report says that approximately one third of abusers, about which they received data, are Asian but ethnicity isn’t an issue.

In the vast majority of cases the ethnicity of perpetrators is not collected and it may be that their ethnicity is more likely to be recorded if they are non-white. Overall, the percentages were skewed to show a higher percentage of perpetrators were Asian than is really the case.*



In certain areas ‘Asian gangs’ can form a bigger percentage, especially if they are a bigger part of the local population, but that does not make it an ‘Asian’ problem. Yet there is this danger now that many Pakistani men will be suspected of being potential groomers or abusers

A social worker on BBC Asian Network recounted how young Asian men are now under the spotlight – pregnant white women who come into hospital with their Asian boyfriends are suddenly suspected of being groomed by them with no reason, other than seeing partners with two different skin colours.

The victim loses out once again

The discourse of the grooming case has been dominated by this idea that there is a cultural issue behind the sexual abuse of white girls. Unfortunately, this takes away from the fact that young girls, or children rather (let us not forget they were still children), were being abused for a significant period of time. While we have all debated how it is brown men that are causing the problems on our streets, we forgot to ask ourselves – what about the children?

Because, let’s face it, Pakistani abusers receive more headlines and it sells more papers, and eventually plays into the hands of the racists, such as the BNP and EDL, who don’t really care about the victims, they are just looking for someone to scapegoat.

Debating the race, ethnicity or nationality of those monsters to me is irrelevant and trivial and the abuse goes unnoticed. This needs to be addressed.

Instead, the focus should be on the victims. Social services and the police need to be trained and guided on how to identify children who may be subjected to sexual abuse or grooming. They need to be helped first. That way, the abusers are caught – it is not easy to find out who is an abuser, it just does not work like that, whereas there are often tell-tale signs of a child who is being abused. Once a victim is identified, the abuser can be apprehended. The police and social services can then find out who else is being groomed or abused.

An Asian problem?

Sexual abuse is a taboo everywhere, especially in Asian communities. Not all abuse is documented, or ever found out.  Asian women are less likely to report abuse because of this notion of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’.

Amongst Asians, the family (extended over numerous households) is a fundamental and influential foundation, providing financial support and emotional security. The accomplishments of an Asian family are judged in terms of the family as a whole, so privacy or independence is seen as undesirable. Gender stereotypes are highly conventional and since women are held responsible for maintaining family honour, known as izzat, and avoiding sharam (shame) the family may justify women being guarded and considered not as individuals but as property.

This leaves many Asian girls even more vulnerable because they are less likely to speak out. So we need a better system in place that can help even more young boys and girls come forward if they are being abused.

At the end of the day, our first priority should be helping the victims, and I hope that after this report we can see past the labels and put the victims first.


* This paragraph has been amended to include the unreliability of the data

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