On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged £665 million in aid over the next four years to Pakistan. Although much of the financial assistance will be geared towards Pakistan’s counter-terrorism (and hopefully, counterinsurgency) operations, £125 million will be earmarked for supporting education projects in the border area “in an effort to stop the spread of extremism,” reported Dawn. The announcement came just a day before Britain ended its combat operations in Iraq, a sign the UK, like the United States, is also shifting more attention to the volatile Af-Pak border areas.
The pledge and Brown’s corresponding statements also highlighted an attempt to address the alleged “chain of terror” between the Pakistan and the United Kingdom. On April 8, British police arrested 12 men on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot. Ten were Pakistani citizens on student visas. Although it is still not clear whether it was actually a terrorist plot, and charges against the students were dropped, the incident sparked a “diplomatic row” between London and Islamabad.
In an interview with the Guardian, Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner to London, said Britain appeared vindictive against Pakistani nationals, adding that claims Islamabad was soft on terror were slurs. He told the news agency, “Pointing a finger towards Pakistan was shocking for us … it was uncalled for and shocking..Pakistan’s name is dragged into the mud on every opportunity … either we are allies, or we are not.”
The Guardian noted in its coverage, “Tension between Islamabad and London over terrorism has been rising for months. In December, Brown claimed 75% of the plots Britain faced were linked to Pakistan…” In this most recent development, UK officials physically searched the students’ houses and seized computers but found no evidence of any connection to this alleged terrorist plot. Nevertheless, they have been remanded into the custody of the UK Border agency, pending their deportation. An editorial in Dawn earlier this week noted,
Can Mr. Brown, who was in Pakistan the other day, answer this one simple question: what is their crime? Every single student rounded up by the police was in the UK on a valid visa. Not one shred of evidence that could stand up in court could be produced against any of the young men now in custody. Is this justice? No, it is not.
Gordon Brown may not realize that false accusations, arrests, and seizures of Pakistanis do little to keep the UK safe from terror. Instead, such actions exacerbate tensions further, not only between Islamabad and London, but also among the UK’s Pakistani community. Moreover, while the PM may contend that three-quarters of the terror plots in Britain are linked to Pakistan, blame cannot be shifted one-way. An article in last week’s Economist entitled, “The Immigration Superhighway,” reported that each year 250,000 Pakistanis come to Britain to visit, work or marry, and some 350,000 British-Pakistanis journey to Pakistan, mostly to visit family. And while the oft-porous border between the two nations has raised concerns, not everyone agrees that Islamist extremism is the fault of Pakistan alone.
In Londonistan, written after the July 7, 2005 bombings in London (also known as the 7/7 attacks), Melanie Phillips wrote about the increasing alienation of Muslims in Britain, as well as the rise of extremism among this community. Her basic premise was that Britain largely created the culture that bred Islamic terrorism. British authorities have certainly done very little to discourage it, and in many ways exacerbated this influence. She wrote,
Driven by post-colonial guilt and, with the loss of empire, the collapse of a world role, Britain’s elites [establishment] have come to believe that the country’s identity and values are by definition racist, nationalistic and discriminatory. Far from transmitting or celebrating the country’s fundamental values, therefore, they have tried to transform a national culture into a multicultural society, both in terms of the composition of the country and the values it embodies.
Ultimately, noted Phillips, current British society has replaced tradition with an ‘anything goes’ culture, in which decisions about one’s code of ethics or behavior “become unchallengeable rights.” The ramifications of such an approach has been significant.
The author cited a poll conducted after 7/7, which revealed “a dismaying amount of anti-British feeling among Britain’s Muslim citizens.” Although the overwhelming majority of British Muslims polled rejected violence, one in ten supported the July 7th attacks, while 5% said that more attacks in the UK would be justified. And, in another poll, while 56% said Muslims should accept Western society, 32 % believed that “Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end.”
A February 2009 article by Ed Husain, author of The Islamist and co-director of the British think tank Quillam, cited a poll conducted by the institute regarding mosques in Britain, [Husain noted there are between 1,200 and 1,600 mosques in the country, although no definite figure exists]. The Quillam report, Mosques Made in Britain, found that 97% of imams, or leaders, were from overseas and 92% were educated abroad, mostly in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Almost all mosques are controlled by first-generation immigrant men, leaving most British Muslims – women and young people – out of the management structure. Husain asserted,
Britain’s mosques are run by men who are physically in Britain, but psychologically in Pakistan. They retain their village rituals and sectarianism, and prevent the growth of an indigenous British Islam. And for as long as young Muslims are confused about whether they belong in Britain or elsewhere, we risk handing them over to preying extremists in our midst.
It is important, however, not to paint the British Muslim community with one stroke. Not all British Muslims or British Pakistanis are religious, and not all those who are religious fall into the category of extremists. However, the fact remains that the alienation experienced by many in the immigrant Pakistani or Muslim communities is a dangerous phenomenon. Within this confusion, many Muslims, particularly young men, have subsequently turned to more radical seminaries, jihadi chat rooms, and extremist websites for guidance.
In the case of Britain, this “religious guidance” is impacted further by the influence of the aforementioned first-generation immigrant imams. And, bringing this back to the terror link discussion earlier, the subsequent radicalization can have serious ramifications for the porous border between Britain and Pakistan. I’d contend that while Gordon Brown claims Pakistan exports terror to the UK, it seems that Pakistan may also import extremism from the UK. The blame goes both ways.
This is not to say that this radicalized generation are the victims in this scenario. In fact, although many British Pakistanis feel alienated from society, so to do many distance themselves, thereby perpetuating this cycle. Gordon Brown must therefore walk a precariously thin line, taking a firmer stance on terror without inflaming an already volatile community further. The British government must also realize that blame cannot be shifted just to Pakistan without recognizing their role in this cycle of radicalization. Only then can both our governments even attempt to be “partners” against this war on terror.