Friday, August 22, 2014

Pakistan Independence Day - and confused identity. Some concerns.

On the face of it the parade for "Pakistan Independence Day" in Manchester was, as the Bishop of Manchester David Walker said, a celebration of "Pakistani heritage". And there were some token Union Flags on display as well - though the overwhelmingly present symbols were the flag and colours of the Republic of Pakistan. Those at the event were presumably mostly British Asians of Pakistani descent who had, or whose parents/grandparents had, left Pakistan to seek a better life in Britain. The event was publicised by the office of the Pakistani High Commission:

As someone who welcomes and often defends multicultural Britain I could be expected also to welcome, as the Bishop has, this event. Surely it can only help bring harmony between the Pakistani community and the rest of us? Well I'm not sure about that. I do not wish to undermine the motives or integrity of those involved but I find it discomforting. The Partition of colonial India in 1947 was not Britain's finest hour leading not just to much bloodshed at the time but to the creation of a dysfunctional State. Pakistan has never been a stable democracy - the original crazy idea of a West Pakistan and, a thousand miles away, an East Pakistan lasted until 1971 when after more bloodshed, Bangladesh was created. Over the years since Pakistan has struggled for any kind of stability with assassinations, factionalism, discrimination rife. It is an "Islamic Republic", and that means what it says. There is institutionalised discrimination against those of other faiths, and none. Many Pakistani Christians, for example, have fled the country to seek safety in Britain and elsewhere. I wonder how the Bishop feels about that?

Pakistan is also a home of Islamic extremism and the border in the North West between the country and Afghanistan is porous - the Taliban moves freely across it. And Pakistan deliberately or inadvertently (who knows?) gave sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden. In the fight against Islamic extremism and terrorism Pakistan is more a part of the problem than part of the solution. 

To celebrate our various heritages as citizens of Britain is a perfectly decent thing to do. Where we came from is part of what we are. If we must talk about "British Values" then they surely include the celebration of diversity and of the fact that we are no longer a homogenous and monocultural citizenry. But nostalgically acknowledging where we come from is different from overtly celebrating the independence of a State from which we (or our recent ancestors) escaped for good reason. The Pakistan flag, waved at the parade in Manchester, can be seen as a provocative symbol of a country which, not to put too fine a point on it, is a threat to the West. And the more that flag is waved by British citizens and passport holders the more confused their identity will be.

The three British born 7/7 terrorists were of Pakistani descent and were trained in terrorism in Pakistan. That is the extreme variant of confused identity - as may be the killer of James Folely. Britons like these who perpetrate evil because they hold allegiance to an alien extremist doctrine  are at the darkest end of identity confusion. But if you are British your main allegiance has to be to the United Kingdom, indeed you cannot credibly hold allegiance to any other State. Perhaps the organisers of the "Pakistan Independence Day" parade would say that it was 1947 they were celebrating and that the flag of Pakistan was no more than a symbol of that celebration. I'm not so sure.


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