The Pakistani Muslim community in Britain

Following the Second World War and British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Britain witnessed a large-scale influx of South Asian immigrants, who arrived in the country predominantly in search of employment and economic prosperity. It is often noted that hardship, engendered by poverty and unemployment in the subcontinent, encouraged mass migration to the UK. Hiro (1973, p. 107) observes that for Pakistani immigrants “the economic consideration was the sole motive for migration” and that they did not envisage settlement in the UK or integration into British society (see also Anwar, 1979, who discusses the “myth of return”). Today, British citizens of Pakistani descent constitute a sizeable proportion of the ethnic minority population in the UK – the 2011 UK census recorded approximately 1,125,000 British Pakistanis in England and Wales, and the largest communities are located in London, Birmingham and Bradford. In his overview of the socio-economic status of British Pakistanis, Peach (2005) argues that this group is one of the poorest in the country, after Bangladeshis. Approximately 92 per cent of British Pakistanis are Muslims (UK Census 2011), and research has consistently shown that religious identity is a “core” identity among this population, more so than ethnic, cultural and British national identities (Abbas, 2005; Jaspal, 2011b; Jaspal and Cinnirella, 2013).

The 1989 Rushdie Affair refers to the angry and sometimes violent reaction of many Muslims to Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses, which was widely perceived as insulting Islam and particularly the Prophet Mohammed. Since the Rushdie Affair, British Muslims have acquired a negative “hypervisibility” in British society (Abbas, 2005). To many individuals, the angry community response to Rushdie's book, exemplifi by a book burning in Bradford in January 1989 and other forms of protest, appeared to illustrate Muslim intolerance and extremism. More recently, Muslims have been associated with Islamist fundamentalism, extremism and even terrorism in both public and media discourses (Cinnirella, 2013; Jaspal and Cinnirella, 2010b). This has been particularly acute after 9/11 and the July 7th attacks in London (Ansari, 2005; Cinnirella, 2013, 2014). Following the Rushdie Affair and with the emergence of second and third generations, British Pakistanis appear to be much more vocal about Muslim suffering and grievances and the Israeli-Palestinian confl has featured prominently in their thinking (Jikeli, 2013). Indeed, Ansari (2005, p. 162) notes that “Muslim suffering and grievances elsewhere are deeply felt by Muslims in Britain, and infl their attitudes” visà-vis key social issues. The State of Israel and the Jewish community are just two issues, upon which many young British Pakistani Muslims have taken a stance.

Many British Pakistani Muslims feel angry about the perceived Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people and about Israel's military actions in the region (Jikeli, 2013). Such anger is also discernible in some British Muslim
institutions. For instance, the Muslim Council of Britain, which is recognised by the UK government, has repeatedly refused to participate in the Holocaust Memorial Day, because it claims that to do so might obscure and shift attention from Israel's treatment of the Palestinians – this decision was emphatically repeated in the aftermath of the 2009 Gaza War (Spencer and Di Palma, 2013). In his qualitative study of perceptions of the Holocaust among many Pakistani Muslims in London, Jikeli (2013) found that a prevalence of doubts, denial and conspiracies about the Holocaust – several respondents believed that 6 million Jews could not have been killed. Crucially, there was a widespread perception that the Holocaust constituted an “excuse” to establish the State of Israel, Thus, as opponents of Israel, there was a psychological incentive for them to deny the Holocaust. In some cases, respondents expressed sympathy and solidarity with the Nazis who perpetrated this act of genocide.

The shared superordinate Muslim identity may encourage individuals to perceive a sense of solidarity with fellow Palestinian Muslims and, thus, a common enmity with the State of Israel (Baum and Nakazawa, 2007). Many commentators on the “new antisemitism” have remarked that its rise can be attributed largely to Muslim opposition to the State of Israel, which has resulted in antisemitic acts. For instance, in 2004, 21-year old Asif Hanif from London, UK and 27 year-old Omar Khan Sharif from Derby, UK travelled to Israel to perpetrate suicide bombings in Tel Aviv – Hanif blew himself and three Israelis up and injured 55 others, and Sharif fled the scene after his bomb failed to detonate but was later found dead. In a video recording posted on a Hamas website, Sharif stated that “Muslims are being killed everyday. It is an honour to kill one of those people [Jews]”. Such comments were also reiterated by the young French Algerian individual who targeted a Jewish day school in Toulouse.

It is important to consider the sources of information among British Pakistani Muslims in order to understand their perceptions of Israel and Jews. As observed in Chapter 2, Islamic Holy Scripture does appear to contain some anti-Jewish segments, which can easily be re-construed and applied to the contemporary context, thereby providing further credibility to and justification for antisemitism. Furthermore, the British newspaper media is said to be excessively critical of Israel, which is particularly the case for The Guardian and, according to some accounts, the BBC (Wistrich, 2011). However, various scholars have noted that British Pakistani Muslims manifest suspicion of the Western media which has “come to be regarded as Western propaganda for consumption by its own public” (Ansari, 2005, p. 162). Similarly, Ahmed (2005) has indicated that British Pakistani Muslims may prefer what is perceived as “Muslim media”, which they regard as more balanced and accommodating of their Muslim identity. In empirical research, Jaspal (2011b) has found that, because many British Pakistani Muslims distrust the Western media, this led some disaffected Muslims to explore alternative news outlets such as Iran's government-aligned The Tehran Times and Press TV. These newspaper outlets are known to be deeply anti-Zionist in representation (see Chapter 5). Unlike Iranians, British Pakistanis live in a context in which overt antisemitism and extreme anti-Zionism are not socially acceptable, although the British context does appear to accommodate anti-Zionist expression in various social and institutional contexts (Klaff, 2010; Wistrich, 2004). Thus, it may facilitate the development and voicing of anti-Zionism that is punctuated by antisemitism. Given the lack of empirical research in this area, this book explores British Pakistani Muslims' perceptions of and attitudes towards the Jewish people and the State of Israel, alongside those of Iranian Muslims.

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