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Casey pulls no punches but will anything change?

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Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr
Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr

This is a cross-post from Sedaa

 

A much-awaited report which contains no big surprises received reactions that were entirely predictable.

From segregation and misogyny, to the child grooming gangs and Sharia councils, Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report pulls no punches.

Towns and cities with high Muslim populations, such as Oldham, Rochdale, Blackburn and Bradford are mentioned as places of concern.

Some of them are areas with large numbers of people who came from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, particularly the rural region of Mirpur. They came to the former mill-towns which now suffer from industrial decline and high levels of deprivation.

Parents still ship their children ‘back home’ to get married, creating ghettos and a “first generation in every generation problem”.

Immigration itself is not a bad thing. The problem is when large numbers of immigrants arrive into areas where there are already large numbers of people from the same background. There is less of an incentive to integrate and learn English if most people in your neighbourhood are going to be from the same village in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Last week’s Policy Exchange survey “Unsettled Belonging” showed Muslims overwhelmingly identify with Britain. And there is a hope that Muslims will become more liberal and secular. But if Muslims choose to live in areas with a high Muslim population, those who are more liberal or non religious will find it difficult to express their views openly, for fear of being attacked. Islamists benefit from this type of environment, as they can say they are trying to cater for the growing Muslim population – remember the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham.

Of course, some have suggested that “white people need to integrate too”. The report says:

“In recent decades, it appears that in some respects, rather than becoming more of a classless society, sections of white working class Britain have become more isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the white British population.”

White British boys are falling behind students from other ethnic backgrounds, which will no doubt only help foster the narrative that no one cares about the white population. It partly explain why we have seen Britain voting to leave the European Union and the rise of parties such as UKIP.

In Oldham, two schools with one dominant ethnic group were merged to form one large school. The majority white Counthill School and majority Pakistani Breezehill School became the Waterhead Academy. Though the school is not doing so well academically it is helping bridge the divide among two communities.

If this model can be replicated then this can help community cohesion, as secondary schools tend to be places where young people from different backgrounds will mix. But there is no point in the Government talking about the need to end segregation if it is continuing to approve the creation of faith schools.

The report also finds – again, to no one’s surprise – that Muslims tend to marry spouses from abroad, particularly Pakistan.

But even if those people marry their fellow Brits, it is more likely to be someone from their “own community” – that is to say, someone who is either related to them or has links to the same village/town in their parents’ country of origin. So communities are hardly becoming more diverse.

Dame Louise also mentions Sharia ‘courts’ and the fact that many Muslim women are in unregistered marriages, which leaves them vulnerable. Critics of the report claim Muslim women are unfairly targeted in the review. Let’s admit it. Muslim women do face more barriers – mostly from their own communities.

When Muslim women themselves are saying that they are restricted by their own spouses or families, then why is it all being dismissed as being ‘Islamophobic’? When Muslim – and south Asian women in general – used to speak out against forced marriages, or African women were speaking out against female genital mutilation, were they also being racist and ‘Islamophobic’?

An important part of the review, which has been missed by most, is the reference to Prevent, which was introduced following the July 7, 2005 attacks on London as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST.

Dame Louise talks about the anti-Prevent lobby who “appear to have an agenda to turn British Muslims against Britain”.  The report states:

“These individuals and organisations claim to be advocating on behalf of Muslims and protecting them from discrimination. We repeatedly invited people we met who belonged to these groups, or who held similarly critical views, to suggest alternative approaches.  We got nothing in return.”

Well that’s a surprise…

The report tackles the myths behind some of the stories which were very critical of Prevent.

Dame Louise writes about the infamous “terrorist house” case, in which Lancashire Police were reported to have interviewed a pupil referred to Prevent, after he had simply misspelled “terraced house” as “terrorist house” in a class exercise.

In fact, the pupil had also written that “I hate it when my uncle hits me”.  The teacher quite appropriately and acting in the best interests of the child, raised a concern.  A social worker and neighbourhood police officer then visited the family and concluded that no further action was required.  No referral to Prevent was ever made.  No Prevent officers were involved and Lancashire Police rightly maintain that they and the school acted responsibly and proportionately.

In an earlier case in May 2015, the parents of a 14 year-old boy started legal action after their son was questioned following a French lesson in which he had been talking about “eco-terrorists”.  After the lesson, he was reported to have been taken out of class and asked whether he was affiliated with ISIS.  His parents sought a Judicial Review, saying he had been discriminated against because of his Muslim background.

The truth is that the pupil was never referred to Prevent or Child Safeguarding (nor removed from the class), and there was no police involvement.  A concern about the boy was correctly raised by a teacher to the school’s Designated Child Protection Officer, who spoke to the pupil in an interview two days later which included asking whether he had “heard of Isis”. The Judicial Review was thrown out of court as totally without merit.

Yet the latter is still used as an excuse to bash Prevent and the boy’s mother, Ifhat Smith, still tells this story to anyone who will listen, despite her dubious links.

It is important that we discuss the issues mentioned in the report and the problems with segregation and mass immigration, rather than denouncing it all as ‘racist’. Indeed, some Muslim commentators have come out with the usual accusations of racism and Islamophobia; they are only interested in being defensive rather than actually coming up with any solutions.

No wonder we are having the same debate today as we were ten years ago. We’ve had similar reports in the past and I have no doubt we will have more in the future, saying the same things. There is little point in recommending what should happen now because it will only fall on deaf ears. Until there is a real political will to actually do something then nothing will change. In the meantime, I await the next report.

On the campaign trail with George Galloway

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Originally published for Left Foot Forward on April 21

George Galloway ncr

Few people, when casting their vote on polling day, will have Judgment Day in mind. But Oldham’s Muslim population are being told by George Galloway to consider the ‘final day’ when they choose their candidate for local elections.

The Respect party leader, who is standing for re-election in Bradford West, visited the town on Sunday to officially launch the campaign for Respect Oldham council election candidate Tariq Mahmood Ullah.

According to Galloway, not only do the borough’s Muslims have to consider choosing the right candidate for their ward, but they have the added burden of voting on behalf of the Palestinians.

“The people of Gaza don’t have a vote,” Galloway declared. “If they did, they would vote for Tariq. A vote for Respect, therefore, is a vote for Palestinians.”

The green and red Respect Party bus visited Waterloo Street with Galloway on board, alongside Ullah – a married father-of-three – who is fighting for election in the St Mary’s ward, a predominantly Pakistani area. Labour’s Shadab Qumer will be fighting for re-election.

The atmosphere may have been electrifying for the majority male members of the community, who greeted Galloway as though he were the Messiah, but it was intimidating for someone like me, one of a handful of women at the campaign launch. During the rally  most women chose to stay on the other side of the road, away from the men.

Starting with the Islamic blessing bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful), Galloway described Ullah as a “lion” who has got the “sheep” (that’s politicians to you and me) ‘nervous already’.

It is commendable for politicians to try to get more people involved in the democratic process, and this is what Galloway seems to be doing. He is defending a 10,140 majority in Bradford West, where he won support from a cross-section of the city.

When Galloway claims to be speaking ;for those Labour has abandoned’ there may also be some truth to it. Although Oldham is a Labour-run council, two UKIP councillors were elected to the Council for the first time last year, with the party coming second in many of the 20 wards.

After winning Bradford West in 2012, Galloway claimed to have “smashed” the clan-based/biraderi bloc voting. “We don’t believe in biraderis,” he said in Oldham. “There’s nothing Islamic about biraderis, there’s nothing democratic about biraderis.”

Traditionally, when a candidate was chosen for the election, it would have been an elder selected by his clan on the basis of bloodlines rather than merit. For the second and third generation Pakistanis in the UK, the biraderi system is not as relevant as it was for the first generation of Pakistani settlers, who found that it provided essential support in the form of links back to the villages of Punjab and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

But despite Galloway’s bluster, this continues today. And the journalist Nick Cohen was correct when he described Galloway’s politics as ‘unashamedly communalist’. Those who once identified with their ethnicity or their parent’s country of origin – i.e. British Pakistanis – now identify more with their faith, i.e. Islam. In this respect Galloway has found his ‘new revolutionary proletariat’, as Cohen puts it.

Galloway’s speech in Oldham was littered with Islamic terminology and religious rhetoric. He claimed that Muslims would have to account for their actions and the way they vote. This is nothing new – these were words recycled from a speech he gave back in 2012 in his by-election campaign.

Galloway also made references to grooming cases that have recently been in the news – two of the men who were jailed in 2012 for preying on vulnerable girls were from Oldham –  claiming that it is unfair to label them “Muslim criminals”.

“These men are not vile perverts because they are Muslim, they are just vile perverts,” Galloway said, before going on to say that “the biggest terrorists in the world are white Christians in the White House. They killed one million Iraqis and they’re still doing it.”

Ratna Lachman, a human rights campaigner who chaired the hustings in Bradford earlier this month, remarked that personality rather than issue-based politics dominate in Bradford West.

That seemed to be the case in Oldham on Sunday. The Oldham candidate preferred to let Galloway do the talking for him, though when he did speak he merely said he wanted to “ease concerns some may have for Islam”. Very little was said about local issues and how Respect would address the needs of Oldham’s residents.

Opinion seems divided over Galloway. Some Bradford residents claim he has done little for the city. Records show he has spoken in four debates in the last year and has voted in 11.19 per cent of votes in this Parliament – well below average amongst MPs.

Meanwhile West Yorkshire Police are investigating after allegations were made on an anonymous website against Labour’s candidate Naz Shah. At the hustings earlier this month Galloway went on the offensive against Shah, accusing her of lying about her forced marriage. Muslim Women’s Network UK described Galloway’s comments as “irresponsible” and “counter-productive”.

Dan Holden wrote on Left Foot Forward in 2012 that Respect was running a ‘divisive and regressive’ campaign. Three years later and little has changed.

Written by Iram Ramzan

April 25, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Integration: whose responsibility is it?

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 16/12/12

 

FOLLOWING the release of the 2011 census, it was inevitable that immigration and integration were going to be subjects of great debate.

Earlier this week, the Labour party leader Ed Miliband, speaking in south London, described his enthusiasm for ethnic diversity in the UK, while claiming that ‘too little’ has been done to integrate people within British society.

He said:

    “Some people say that what we should aim for is assimilation whereby people who have come here do so only on the condition that they abandon their culture. People can be proudly, patriotically British without abandoning their cultural roots and distinctiveness.

    But there is another idea we should also reject: the belief that people can simply live side by side in their own communities, respecting each other but living separate lives, protected from hatreds but never building a common bond – never learning to appreciate one another. We cannot be comfortable with separation. It blocks opportunities, leaving people at the margins. And it breeds ignorance, suspicion and prejudice. Instead, we must think of the home we build together in all its richness, variety, diversity.

    With an immigration system (under Labour) that allowed two million people to come to the UK over ten years, there is a degree of anxiety about Britain’s cultural identity and the levels of immigration.”

   The issue of identity becomes even more complex when one learns that up to two million people in the UK are mixed race. Is this important for integration? Certainly: US scholars consider intermarriage rates as the gold standard of integration due to the intimacy and social implications.”

Why is your dad brown and your uncle is white?

A friend of mine, Omar Mehtab, who lives in Ilford, grew up in a mixed and diverse background. His maternal grandfather, an Indian Muslim, married a Pakistani Hindu woman, while his paternal grandfather, a Pakistani Muslim, married a German-Polish Catholic woman. Furthermore, his Hindu uncle married a Seventh-day Adventist  Brazilian woman.

Growing up, he said, he never noticed the differences in the family – as he rightly pointed out, children aren’t born racist or prejudiced. “The only time I noticed the difference is when someone asked me, why is your dad brown and your uncle is white,” he said.  As well as this, he went to a school that had a mix of pupils from diverse backgrounds.  “I’m glad I’ve had this,” he said. “It’s given me different cultural and religious viewpoints. My generation is a product of a mixed environment – we love it.”

Many friends and acquaintances of mine have said something similar – that the reason they are so open-minded and well integrated is down to, a) – their own open-minded and diverse families, and b) – their own willingness to integrate and mix with a diverse group of people.

Which brings me  to my next point – to what extent are families to blame for this? As pointed out earlier, racism is taught; no one is born racist or prejudiced.

The 2001 UK Census showed that people from South Asian backgrounds were the least likely of the minority ethnic groups to be married to someone from a different ethnic group. Only 6 per cent of Indians, 4 per cent of Pakistanis, and 3 per cent of Bangladeshis had married someone outside the Asian group.

This could possibly change in the next few years, who knows, but I believe that there are certain prejudices and barriers there that have been long-held by the elders. Although some of them are no longer with us, the subsequent generation absorbed some of those views – you are a product of your environment.

As the study by Shamit Saggar and Will Somerville shows, there are several factors that drive successful immigrant outcomes:

“One of these is proximity to…buoyant local labour markets. In London, the professional service and corporate business sectors have been important in generating demand for highly educated and skilled employees. This signal has been received and reflected in middle-class Indian educational patterns… This has not been seen in the case of many Pakistani immigrants, whose settlement patterns were concentrated in declining heavy industrial areas of northern England.”

Poverty and deprivation lead to a lack of integration

  Poverty and deprivation are major factors which lead to a lack of integration, and in areas with high levels of deprivation, there will be high levels of tension between the different ethnic groups, and people will live in clusters and blocks, not really mixing with people of a different background to theirs.

The Pakistani immigrants who first came to the UK to work in the mills brought with them their culture and their way of life. Subsequently marrying off their British born children to their nieces and nephews from their village abroad has continued this mentality. This trickles down to the children. (Forgive me for discussing Pakistanis mainly, but this is my background and a group that I’m more familiar with)

Lejla Kuric, a 36-year-old businesswoman in Manchester, originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has faced racism from both English and Pakistani people alike, for being married to a British-born Pakistani man. Although his family accepted her without any objections, others have not been as tolerant.  She said: “On one occasion, a group of Asian lads had a go at my husband at the Trafford Centre, saying, ‘why, oh why is he with a white woman?’”

Of course there will be idiots, and downright vicious people everywhere. But there are people out there who will hold such views because of the way they have been brought up – certainly with some Asian children, they will pick up such prejudice from their parents, who will no doubt talk about the ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ of marrying someone from outside their ethnic group.

“We don’t like pakis, they smell”

  When I was in primary school, being the only Asian girl in school at the time was challenging at times but the overall experience was fine. The children did come out with racist terms, but I do not believe they were racist – I believe they were simply repeating what they had learned from their parents.  For example, in class one day, a boy sat next to me said, “We don’t like pakis, they smell…but we like you Iram, you’re okay!”

Of course I was okay (actually, no, I’m fabulous!), because they knew me, they were my friends. Which got me thinking, how many other ‘pakis’ would they think were ‘okay’ after they had bothered to get to know them?

Although Lejla was abused with terms such as “Eastern-European c*nt,” “immigrant,” “white paki,” and “guest in this country” that has “no right to comment on British politics”, her experience of Britain overall has been pleasant.

  She said: “In general I found British people open, friendly and tolerant and I found Britain multicultural and a very tolerant society. This meant it wasn’t difficult for me to accept the British identity, and preserve my Bosnian identity at the same time.

Again, we see this issue of identity cropping up again. How do immigrants preserve the identity of the homeland while maintaining their British identity too? If they are to live in the UK peacefully, tolerating other people, which aspects of their culture do they retain, and which do they abolish?  Additionally, whose responsibility is it to integrate – is it the role of the host community or the immigrants?

Language is a gateway to a culture

Omar believes that while it is the job of the immigrants, he also thinks that English people, in general, are not really aware of other people and cultures.  Part of this could be down to the school education system. Apart from Ireland, the United Kingdom is the only EU country where learning a language at school is not compulsory. As a result, only 44% of school pupils took a modern language GCSE in 2009. The figures are even more dire at A-level: fewer than 5% of all A-level entrants sat a language exam last year. After all, language is a gateway to a culture.

Education and awareness should begin at an early age. But if parents are prejudiced, is it then the school’s responsibility to tackle such prejudices and allow children to become more open minded?  There are certain schools where 90% of the pupils will be of one ethnic group – although schools are reflective of their areas (in a majority Asian district, the majority of the children in that school will be Asian), there should be a policy which should tackle this.

In Oldham, two schools were closed down to merge into one big academy school in order to tackle the issue of segregation between Asian and white children (though many politicians still do not acknowledge that Asians segregate themselves from other Asians too, e.g. Bangladeshis against Pakistanis).

It is difficult to say whether this project has been successful yet, but it might be a case of too little, too late. The damage may already have been done, which is why early intervention is necessary.

There is so much more that I could say, but time is of the essence (and my editor must be furious!), but please do share your thoughts and opinions on what we, as a nation, can do to integrate better and educate our young.

Written by Iram Ramzan

December 23, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Voters in Manchester still unsure of Labour Party policies

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Originally published on Digital Journal on 01/10/2012
 
 
A radio discussion in Manchester today showed that people are still unsure of what alternative policies the Labour Party has to offer.

 
The BBC Radio 5 Live show was presented on day two of the Labour Party conference by Victoria Derbyshire with an audience of 5 Live listeners, party members and prominent Labour politicians.

 

Union representatives also appeared on the show, including General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union Mark Serwotka and Steve Turner of Unite.

 

The economy was the most important issue for Labour voters who believe that the party has lost a lot of credibility since the 2008 financial crisis.

 

When an audience member asked what responsibility the party took for the economy, Sadiq Khan, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, admitted that the previous government did not do enough to regulate the banks.

 

Michael Meacher, MP for Oldham West and Royton, said: “It was the recklessness and arrogance of the banks – they’re the ones who have to say sorry. I’m sad and angry that virtually no one at the top of the banks has paid the price of what they have done.”

 

Meacher also advocated Keynesian economics, as “there’s no other way of doing it.”

 

As well as a general lack of trust with the economy, most voters believed that party leader Ed Miliband has little credibility.

 

One audience member claimed that “Ed is a shambles.”

 

Meacher, however, defended Miliband claiming that people put ‘too much pressure’ on party leaders, which turns politics into an ‘X Factor contest.’

 

John Denham, MP for Southampton Itchen, praised Ed Miliband for his stance against Murdoch during the phone-hacking scandal.

 

Quoting Miliband’s lead in the polls, he said: “People say they don’t know Ed well enough to make their minds. The more they see of Ed the more they like.”

 

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union showed confidence in Miliband. He said: “I believe Ed is listening to us.”

 

Despite the somewhat united from prominent party members, others remained skeptical and unsure of just what the alternative Labour policies were with regards to health and education.

 

Although shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said that Labour would repeal the health act, which was corroborated by MP Owen Smith, John Pienaar, 5 live’s Chief Political Correspondent, said: “We’re told in a very headline way that the [health] act will be repealed but the machinery will stay exactly where it is.”

 

He also went on to say that the party hasn’t talked about crime ‘in about two years.’ Some audience members agreed and expressed concern over an apparent lack of education policy.

 

The discussion can be heard on the 5 Live website.

 

Integration this, integration that

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One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings” – Franklin Thomas

 

Am I the only person who is rather bored, and somewhat irritated, of hearing politicians go on, and on (and on) about integration. This week, Conservative Eric Pickles was the latest to jump on the integration bandwagon (only English speakers aboard!), concentrating on, surprise, surprise, the Muslim community.

He said: “We have always been of the view that if the Muslim community of Britain, British Muslims, are seen as the enemy within, then the forces of extremism win”.

I am often suspicious of people continually bleating on about integration, because most of the time, in fact almost always, it is in reference to the south Asian community (read: Muslim).

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair had the audacity to write an article in the Wall Street Journal about the ‘problem of integration’:

We have to nail down the definition of the problem. There is no general failure to integrate. In the U.K., for example, we are not talking about Chinese or Indians. We are not talking about blacks and Asians. This is a particular problem. It is about the failure of one part of the Muslim community to resolve and create an identity that is both British and Muslim.

What gives the Blair the tenacity to write on ‘knowing’ exactly how Muslim people identify themselves? Studies have shown that, in fact, more Muslims identify themselves as British than the rest of the population (shame they had to couple it with the standard Veiled-Muslim-Woman photo but that’s another issue).

If anything, however, Blair’s foreign policy alienated some Muslims and even radicalised them. TheJuly 7 bombers mentioned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the main reasons for why they were so angry and hence committe their atrocities.

But why the Muslim community? Are all these politicians seriously trying to tell us that only Muslims segregate themselves and cannot speak English? As well as being a gross exaggeration and a backward stereotype, this type of behaviour is not limited to Muslims.

Orthodox Jews, Chinese, and Black people will form their own communities and live in clusters. Many people of other ethnic groups do not speak English fluently, or at all, yet no one finds that an issue. That is largely down to the fact that Muslims have come under more scrutiny post September 2001 than any other group.

For some non-Muslims, being (South) Asian is synonymous with being Muslim and vice-versa, and that is primarily because most Muslims in the UK are from the Indian subcontinent, hence when something from the Asian culture is reported on (e.g. cousin marriages) the immediate reaction is that it is a ‘Muslim issue’.

 

What do they mean when they say integration anyway?

 

 

 

Many a time we have heard it being said, either by politicians or ordinary people, that immigrants and foreigners are welcome so long as they “live as we live; do things the way we do”.

Often people retort, “They should just learn English”. Next time someone says that, ask them how many languages they speak. About 62% of Britons cannot speak a foreign language. But who cares eh, because “everyone speaks English anyway”.  

Personally, I believe that people should interact and mix – how else will we learn from one another?

In my town, for example, the Pakistani community originate from one part, or one province rather, of Pakistan, and consequently all know one another. Sometimes you will even find many families of the same village living together – a home away from home!

Consequently, many immigrants still live as though they are in their country of origin, and are reluctant to let go of the traditions of their forefathers (which can be both good and bad). Asian women and their clothing is always a disputed issue – heaven forbid if she is wearing anything but traditional Pakistani clothes, she has become, gasp, ‘modern’. [I could go on with my list but this blog would be never-ending]

At the same time, is it so bad for people to live in clusters where the entire street or neighbourhood might be of the same ethnic group? What if they are law abiding citizens and are just getting on with their lives like the rest of us, then what? If it is not harming anyone then is there really an issue?

After all, it is quite normal for people to live like this. Just because white families live in one part of the town, and Asian and blacks in their own areas, does that necessarily indicate there are racial tensions between the different ethnic groups? [NB readers: do comment below with your own thoughts and experiences]

There is a genuine need to have adiscussion on this topic but for groups such as the EDL or other far-right groups, it is racism and/or prejudice under the guise of freedom of speech and liberalism.

Politicians can go on about integration and segregation as much as they like but do those people that talk about these issues actually want to mix with people of a different background? How many close friends of David Cameron are Muslim, Arab, or Asian?

The debate about integration, segregation and whatever other ‘tion’ is not going to go away. As I wrote in a previous article, Europe is in the midst of an identity crisis, as is the Muslim community to an extent (one for another article, perhaps?.

What does it mean to be British,or French, or European? It means not being ‘the other’. And who is the other? This is what worries me; each time people think of a new attribute to add to the selective list of what it means to be British, and each time it seems to exclude anyone different – sometimes that includes non-whites and often Muslims.

I wonder who will be the next person to have their two pence say…  

Written by Iram Ramzan

March 16, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Posted in politics, UK

Tagged with , , , ,

Divide and rule: the hidden discrimination in the South Asian communities

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Originally posted on Mancunian Matters: 15/06/2011

 

I absolutely hate walking home from the bus station, because it is a mile away. I confess: I am a wee-bit lazy. But also, gangs of teenage boys loiter on street corners, thinking it is hilarious to shout profanities at any girl who walks past.

On one occasion, I was on a busy road when someone shouted ‘paki’ at me. It was not the word that really shocked me, despite not being called one since I was 11 years old. What surprised me was that it was not a white person of the skinhead variety or even a black person.

It was another Asian person, a young Bangladeshi boy, who had used this offensive word towards me.

Living in a predominantly ‘Bengali area’ of Oldham, I am used to receiving stares and probing questions about my ethnic origins. This may sound strange to non-Asians, but believe me we can differentiate between one another. We hear of prejudices between Whites and Asians (2001 riots anyone?), but what about within the Asian communities?

The one area where segregation is evident is in housing. Even the 2009-2012 Oldham Housing Strategy recognises that housing is a key priority for addressing these tensions and aims to rectify this issue, but they have not outlined exactly how.

The Asian communities do not see themselves as one, collective group, despite the fact that the majority of them are Muslims.

Dr Burjor Avari, Manchester Metropolitan University’s multiculturalism lecturer, said the differences between Pakistani and Bangladeshi people are rooted in history, in part due to the war between West Pakistan (modern-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Dr Avari said: “There’s no point blaming the English, this is a problem of the people themselves.”

West Pakistanis were seen to be imposing their culture and language on the East Pakistanis, who became resentful. Consequently war broke out between the two states and in 1971 East Pakistan declared independence.A child of Bangladeshi or Pakistani parents can be born and brought up in England, and still continue the prejudices of their elders.

This view is echoed by Waseem Altaf Khawaja. An ex-immigration consultant, 60, he has lived in Oldham for many years, and is a respected member of the community, even occasionally arbitrating on delicate community issues. He believes many immigrants in Oldham did not change or ‘advance’ their lifestyles in order to blend in with their new surroundings.

“It is a hidden segregation, a hidden discrimination,” said Mr Khawaja.

It is all about their attitudes and mindsets towards each other.

Oldham has a large Pakistani population of expatriate Azad Kashmiris and Punjabis. Both are extremely similar with only slight linguistic differences, but both also view the other as inferior to them. Why? Partly because of the caste system.

The caste system of the sub-continent is a hereditary system, describing someone’s occupational background or social status.  Although this concept is absent in Islam, Dr Avari said that it is still a practice that continued among the Muslims.

He said: “Muslims normally tell you ‘we’re Muslims, we believe in equality, we don’t practice that’, but history tells us a different story. Out of the lower group you have the Muslims groups who were converted. They thought it was better to become a Muslim than suffer from the Hindu elite but all these castes continued.”  He added that sectarianism further fuels the tensions.   He said: “Islam could not isolate itself from Hinduism; every community in India has been influenced by Hinduism.”

This can be reflected all too well in Oldham, where there are currently 34 mosques.  In Glodwick, two of the mosques are just a stone’s throw from each other- I won’t mention the names. They are both of the ’Sufi Barelvi’ denomination. So why are there two mosques? Quite simply, the former is managed by Pakistanis and the latter by Bangladeshis.  So in this instance, it is not necessarily sectarianism (as they both of the same sect), but ethnic and linguistic prejudices that prevent the two communities from sharing facilities.

Mrs Nessa, who has been a Bangla interpreter at the Royal Oldham Hospital for nine years, finds no problems with community relations, but she agreed that in the Coppice area people usually go to their ‘own’ mosques, but things are changing slightly.   She said: “Bengalis will go to Bengali mosques, and Pakistani people will not go to Bengali mosques. The majority go to their own mosques. Recently, some mosques are mixed. We’re overcoming that now.”

Mr Khawaja believes the mosques play a vital role in the community, but they are not promoting social cohesion. He said: “Their motives are to create their own parties and affiliations. They should educate their youths.”

He went on further to say: “I am against government funding to mosques. Instead of these mosques, they should provide sports activities for kids to play so they’re not becoming victims to drugs.”

But not everyone has an un-favouring view.

Councillor M. Afzal Khan, a Labour politician who was the first Asian, and Muslim, Lord Mayor of Manchester, has a more positive outlook to community relations, and life in general.

He said: “On the whole, my experience is very pleasant. I believe an overwhelming majority are decent people; it’s always a small minority.”

While admitting that there is history, and differences, he said that at the end of the day we all share the same values. He said: “The key point to remember is we cannot live in the history, we have to live in the now.”

Indeed. We are all the same underneath, despite exterior differences. There is more that unites, rather than divides, us.

And there is much promise for the future. A new academy school opened in Oldham last September with the stated ambition of promoting integration. The academics hope the Oldham Academy North may help overcome the town’s segregation.

As for the boy that called me a ‘paki’, I hold no grudges against him. His parents, however, have a lot to answer for.

 

Written by Iram Ramzan

June 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

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