Pakistani community in Britain worries about people in homeland

Many support battle against terror, but fear it could hurt relatives

Terrorism Strikes America

The World

September 24, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- For the Pakistani Diaspora in Britain, these are days filled with apprehension.

They know Britain is braced to join the United States' battle against global terrorism. They know, too, that the war's first retaliatory strike might be against Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan, whose Taliban regime refuses to surrender Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.

And they worry over the consequences of war and, in many cases, what affect that war could have on their relatives in Pakistan.

"I have strong roots in Pakistan. I have also spent many years in England," said Sonu Lalvani, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, the scene of recent anti-American demonstrations. Lalvani was educated in England and is owner of a restaurant in the posh London neighborhood of Mayfair. "It is difficult to choose sides in such a situation," he said.

Despite conflicting emotions, there appears to be strong support in Britain's Pakistani community to bring to justice those behind the suicide hijackings in America.

"All the Pakistanis in the United Kingdom condemn all the atrocities committed in this heinous attack by terrorists," said Zahoor Niazi, who heads the London office of the Daily Jang, which has 300,000 readers in Britain and Europe. "They want a combined effort to get rid of all the terrorists. The feedback I have been getting is that we should first have the full knowledge of the activities of these groups who are the terrorists and then go for it. Innocent people should not be caught in the middle."

The events unfolding in Pakistan have cast a light on Britain's Pakistani community, which comprises a large percentage of the country's Muslim population, believed to be between 1.5 million and 2 million. There are about 700,000 Britons of Pakistani origin concentrated in and around London, northern English cities including Bradford and parts of Scotland.

Lured by manual jobs in such industries as textiles, Britain's Pakistani community grew from about 5,000 people in 1951. Men made up the first wave of immigrants, sending money home and often yearning to return there. But soon they brought families, and a second wave of immigration occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.

Britain's Pakistani community has by many measures enjoyed great success, producing an array of workers, from taxi drivers, shopkeepers and teachers to restaurateurs and bankers. Yet the community still suffers from large pockets of deprivation, with high unemployment in the old industrial centers of the north and low rates of educational success among youth, especially compared to Britain's other minorities.

This summer also saw some of the worst rioting in years in Britain, when far-right demonstrators in three northern cities clashed with youths of Asian background, primarily Pakistani. The riots caused soul-searching within the Pakistani community, with many older people questioning the values of the young.

"I think without a doubt, the Pakistani experience has been positive, for both the white and Asian communities," said Shahid Malik, a community activist who serves on the British Labor Party's national executive committee. "Of course, there are elements of negativity and frustration."

Malik's story is mirrored by thousands of others. He is a second-generation Briton whose path to success was cleared by his parents. His father, a school principal in Pakistan, arrived in Britain and worked on an assembly line inspecting television sets, going to college and earning a degree so he could again teach. Malik's mother also took an industrial job in Britain, received an education and worked as a magistrate.

"I love this country," he said. "I regard it as my home. I can't think of any place I'd rather be."

But Malik's links to Pakistan remain strong. "When people in Pakistan hurt, we hurt," he said. "We can't deny that. That is a fact, an emotional fact. We feel very frustrated that there is not much we can do to help the situation there."

Malik said he has drawn comfort from President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made clear their fight is against terrorists and those who harbor them, not those who follow Islam.

"Bush said that these [terrorists] were not Muslims and that these acts were profoundly contrary to the doctrine of Islam," he said. "I think at last somebody is recognizing we are truly British, that we deplore terrorism, wherever it comes from."

Khalid Mahmood, one of two Pakistani-origin Britons in the House of Commons, said that in the current situation, there is some tension, with isolated cases of harassment against Britain's Muslim community. The British media also have provided a platform for a handful of radical leaders expressing strident anti-Western views.

"We need to rise above that and say that in terms of British Muslims, we are part of this country," Mahmood said. "We are British, and we're proud of that."

And yet Mahmood, too, is drawn to events in Pakistan, seeing them through the eyes of a British politician and as someone whose family hails from the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

"There is concern that people will be caught up in this because of geography," he said. "The stand that the Pakistani government has taken is the right one. They had to stand up and be counted, and they made a courageous decision."

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