A Brave New Voice
A Round Table discussion with members from the British Pakistani diaspora
17 March 2015
House of Commons
The British Pakistan Foundation (BPF), together with Rehman Chisti MP held an Engagement Seminar at the House of Commons on March 17, 2015. Participants included Hon. Cllr. Mushtaq Lasharie, Baroness Nosheena Mobarik CBE, Asif Rangoonwala, Ahmereen Reza, Hilary Patel, Anwar Akhtar, Farah Durrani, Naseem Amin, Dr. Sundas Ali and Adnan Sheikh. Rehman Chisti chaired the seminar.
Discussions opened on the topic of integration. Participants agreed that while the British Pakistani community has made many social, economic and political contributions to public life in the UK, the diaspora continues to face significant challenges, including rising extremism and economic and academic marginalization. It was noted the performance of British Pakistanis in schools continues to fall, while number of incarcerated British Pakistanis is on the rise. Existing issues are exacerbated by racial tension and industrial relations.
Participants suggested that a major challenge the diaspora faces is an “umbilical cord” that connects to Pakistan. Members of the community spend majority of their lives in the UK, but do not fully integrate in society and continue to look to Pakistan as their true home, to which they hope to return.
It was agreed that the British Pakistani community is highly diverse, pluralistic, and can lack unity and cohesion. It was also suggested that there is a generation gap among the diaspora, with first generation and third generation British Pakistanis struggle to relate . Other schisms are often along sectarian and economic lines.
It was noted that members of the community also suffer from issues of low self-esteem, which may be tied to the negative perception of Pakistan in the media. By association, this perception carries forward to members of the diaspora. This problem is compounded by the lack of positive media coverage and role models in the British Pakistani community.
Questions of identity were also discussed. Participants shared some primary research that suggests that members of the diaspora identify in the first instance as British, then as Muslim, and lastly as Pakistani. The government looks to religious groupings rather than ethnic division between communities. However, this can pose a challenge as Pakistani Muslims have different traditions, customs and languages from other Muslim ethnic groups.
Participants maintained that these identities are not mutually exclusive or in conflict with one another. Members of the diaspora should be proud of their Pakistani heritage as well as their British identity.
Panelists agreed that British Pakistanis should be more involved in public life in the UK and discussed possible government and civil society initiatives to facilitate community engagement. In return, the community must avail of these initiatives, as engagement is a two way process.
Panelists debated the extent of meritocracy in British society. Some speakers asserted that they and others have been able to succeed through determination, hard work and perseverance, which are traits instilled within the British Pakistani community. It was also noted that some members of the community do not have access to the opportunities or resources. It was suggested that there is a significant economic divide within the community, and often those who have succeeded are not inclined to look back, and those at the bottom unable to imagine a way up. The need for affirmative action was put forward.
A leadership deficit was also identified, both within the community and within the wider political landscape. There is also the need for cultural leadership, and for the showcasing and celebrating of the British Pakistani experience.
There is also dearth of British Pakistani and Pakistani voices in the arts and in media, as members of the diaspora often look to more traditional fields, such as accounting, medicine or law. This has resulted in the loss of narrative and the silencing of the British Pakistani voice.
Marginalized members of the diaspora need role models across fields and industry sectors. There is also a need for basic services and programmes, such as CV building clinics and events for the diaspora. Women are sometimes among the most marginalized groups within the community and lack access to public services and programmes.
The need for a platform such as the British Pakistan Foundation to organise and unite the diaspora was articulated. Participants noted that such a movement would have to be grassroots, and should start as a social platform that could eventually turn into a political platform.
Grassroots programmes organised through mosques,civil society organisations or local councils could also serve to integrate and empower the community.
Finally, The media has the potential to play a very powerful role in engaging the diaspora, particularly local and community radio. This medium can showcase the British Pakistani experience, it can highlight success stories and empower marginalized communities. The local radio can be the space for a brave new voice for the British Pakistani community.