“I am worried my children will take on British values and be totally gora-fied” says this British Pakistani mother who phoned me for some information regarding places of interest for tourists in and around our picture perfect British town. Her sister and niece are coming over from Pakistan on a six month visit visa, after several refusals by the British High Commission, she tells me with great pride in her voice. Persistence pays, for sure.
In the very next breath, when I inquire about her children, just following the etiquette of a polite conversation, she blurts out the sentence that makes me uncomfortable and at the same time gets me thinking: “I am worried my children will take on British values and be totally gora-fied”.
She is supporting a local Pakistani initiative to set up a faith based school. Once the school is ready, she will pull out her children from the mainstream school; send them to the one that would be based on Muslim values with some garnish of Pakistani culture. That would save her children from becoming "goras".
After I put the phone down, I kept thinking about the contradictions and confusion in our thought processes. On the one hand we badly crave British citizenship; on the other we reject the British values. How proud this woman was at the fact that her sister and niece had been granted a UK visit visa, after several attempts but couldn’t see her prejudice and dislike for British values and the "goras".
A growing number of European Muslims are rejecting European and Western values. They believe that it’s impossible to be a good Muslim and a good European citizen at the same time. If that's what they believe, why do they immigrate to Europe in the first place is the question I wish to ask. And I want honest answers.
I would like to ask the Pakistani citizens who wish to move to the European or western countries: Do you consider this fact – i.e. incompatibility of British/Western and Islamic values – when you start the immigration process?
If the British values that promote democracy, gender equality, freedom of speech, are not acceptable to you then perhaps you are better off staying where you are or choose oil-rich Muslim countries like UAE or KSA if you must. If the values you hold dear support gender segregation, isolation, gender inequality, homophobia, hatred of other faiths then Europe or West isn’t the place to make your home.
We read, see and hear many sad stories where precious lives are lost in the pursuit of protecting the values immigrants hold dear. Women often, however not exclusively, bear the brunt of this overpowering and irrational desire to preserve and adhere to the infallible Islamic values. I am reminded of the tragic honour killings of three Afghan teenagers in Canada a few years ago. Mohammed Shafia who had moved to Canada from Afghanistan wasn’t too happy with his daughters’ lifestyles. For him they were a "disgrace" to the family honour as they dated boys and wore inappropriate western clothes. Certainly a deviance from Islamic/Afghan value system!
In the UK too such cases aren’t unheard of. The horrific murder of Shafilea Ahmed, that was a direct consequence of this clash between British and Islamic values, will remain etched on my memory as long as I live. Shafilea was brutally murdered by both her parents in 2003 in the presence of her siblings because she was deemed to have become too ‘westernised’. Shafilea was regularly abused and then murdered for being a 'normal teenager' and embracing all that Britain stands for – freedom, independence, democracy and the right to choose whom she wished to marry.
Honour killings of girls who reject the "Islamic values" are rare and happen only in extreme cases, some may argue. No doubt about that however honour killings are rooted in a belief that women or in some cases men who exercise their basic human right of freedom of speech and thought endanger the whole community's reputation. They break away from the Islamic values and therefore deserve to be punished. Those who escape death for rejecting the Islamic values are ostracised and face, rejection and isolation from their families and the wider community. They are targeted by labels like "gora" "coconut" "westernised" "shameless", etc.
Not only the new immigrants but the ones who have been living here for three or four generations choose not to integrate into the British society, because in their eyes it’s a morally bankrupt society. Free mixing of genders, female emancipation, acceptance of same sex marriages, pre-marital sex, cohabiting couples, are evils afflicting the western society, they believe.
A few weeks ago, I was training a group of Pakistani women around appropriate use of vocabulary when referring to people from ethnic backgrounds different to theirs. The rationale being we all have prejudices and in a multicultural society it is important we combat our own prejudices too. We discussed why embracing diversity wasn’t only indigenous population’s responsibility, the ethnic minority communities too had a role to play.
One of the participants, Tasnim Bibi, an elderly woman who made Britain her home about 40 years ago summed up the whole issue of compatibility. During the training session she had indicated how fed up she was with the segregation narrative a large section of the Pakistani community had adopted. In her broken English combined with some Punjabi, she laid bare the quintessential Muslim dilemma: “We are a community that thinks we are the best, because our religion is the best of all. Everyone else is second to us therefore it’s futile to expect us to adopt British Values as we see them as inferior to our values by virtue of being the followers of the best book given to humankind. Why would we leave our superior values to take on something that is inferior?”
The British Pakistanis who support integration and embrace diversity, a minority within a minority, term this rejection of British values blatant hypocrisy. According to them, those who hate the Western culture and values but want their immigration and benefits at the same time are nothing but hypocrites. When they reach Europe, they want to impose their culture on the host societies or they choose to segregate themselves from the indigenous population to prevent their children adopting European/western values. However their voices are either dismissed as rants of a few troublemakers or stifled by levelling charges of fanning the flames of Islamophobia.
Having realized that multiculturalism as a policy of diversity management has failed, the British government is now focusing on promoting the fundamental British values which are democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. However the British government’s strategy to promote British values hasn’t been embraced or welcomed by all. In some segments of the society it has met with criticism exasperation and bewilderment “The list of values was seen as vacuous nonsense in the Daily Telegraph, and as parochial, patronising and arrogant and meaningless at best, dangerous at worst and a perversion of British history in any case in the Guardian”.
Amongst the British Muslim community there are grave concerns as many feel that they risk being labelled "extremists" for supposedly failing to accept British values. The counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam has urged the government to base counter-extremism efforts around human rights, rather than "contentious" British values. One may ask why the British Muslims have an issue with British values? Why they think they are ambiguous or contentious or biased? And why Quilliam suggests using a human rights narrative rather than the British values discourse? How are the British values any different from human rights? It seems Quilliam by making this suggestion are trying to appease those in the Muslim community who believe British values are incompatible with Islamic values.
The concept of human rights is embedded in British values. We are free to practice our faith, celebrate our festivals, and build places of worship. There is no restriction on our movement, no restriction on buying properties or businesses, we have equal opportunities. Despite this, if we still choose to reject British values and deem them incompatible with and inferior to Muslim values then something is certainly rotten in the state of Denmark. Figuratively speaking…