In Britain, between a rock and a hard place

Original article can be found here

Flag pic

A British flag that was washed away by heavy rains lies on the street in London on June 24, 2016, after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum. Photo courtesy of: REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

(RNS) My country doesn’t know what to do. Its citizens are confused on who they are and what they stand for. It is a fractured nation, unsure about its place in the world today and its standing in the eyes of others.

I am talking about Britain, of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking that I was talking about Pakistan, my country of heritage. In a way, I’m talking about both.

The United Kingdom recently held a referendum in which its future in Europe has been voted on by around 70 percent of its population. Not a bad turnout. Fifty-two percent voted to leave the European Union, with immigration to Britain from the EU being cited as the most common reason for doing so.

Britain stands now on the brink, with many in the country embarrassed at its isolationism, realizing slowly that departure from the EU may be the end of the United Kingdom as we know it, with Scotland seeking a second referendum and some in Northern Ireland seeking a referendum to join the Republic of Ireland.

For many younger voters, there is a deep sense of violation. We feel as if our identity has been shaped by views that we do not share by a generation so far removed from us. Many of us embrace immigration, with our British identity inexorably tied to our European one, having only ever lived in a British European nation. This is especially the case since around 75 percent of those 24 or younger voted to remain in the EU.

This sense of violation is evidently new to many of my generation, but the feeling is not new to me.

As an Ahmadi Muslim of Pakistani heritage, I know full well about having your identity forcibly taken and shaped by others. In Pakistan, Ahmadiyya Islam is banned. Any Ahmadi expressing an Islamic identity can be imprisoned for three years and subject to a fine. If one’s expression is deemed blasphemous, one can be put to death under the blasphemy laws.

The reality, however, is that before the law can even get hold of such dastardly criminals, vigilante groups execute them in the cold light of day. In the last two months, three prominent of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community of Karachi, Pakistan, were gunned down. Most surprisingly, however, is that such behavior is no longer confined to Pakistan, but has been exported to my own country – the United Kingdom.

In March 2016 a Glaswegian shopkeeper, known for his friendliness and kindness in the local neighborhood, was stabbed to death in the early hours of the morning while opening his shop. At first, the killing was thought to be Islamophobic in nature but it was quickly realized that his killer was also a Muslim. The attacker’s reason was simple: Asad Shah had “disrespected” the Prophet of Islam by virtue of being an Ahmadi Muslim. It soon emerged that leaflets calling for the death of Ahmadi Muslims had been distributed in British mosques as well as at London universities.

In the recent referendum, fears of immigration from Eastern Europe and from Muslim refugees coming freely to the U.K. were exploited by the likes of Nigel Farage. This has resulted in hate incidents such as the distribution of cards in Cambridgeshire stating “No more Polish vermin” and the graffiti of a Polish center in London with the words “Go home.”

After Shah’s killing, Ahmadi Muslims too are in a precarious position. To the indigenous British community, we are visibly and noticeably Muslim. To many other Muslims, however, we are not Muslims but Ahmadis posing as Muslims. A heretical sect in a pure religion. We are, in many ways, between a rock and a hard place.

I do not live in fear since Shah’s killing. I know, however, the road that Britain is going down and I know where it leads. I have seen it in Pakistan, where fear of Ahmadis has turned into hatred. I know that because my faith is vilified in their legislation, I would never fit into Pakistan, despite my ethnicity.

Similarly, Britain’s recent referendum result, driven principally to Brexit out of fear of other people, has made me feel that I no longer fit in today’s British society. I am a British European Ahmadi Muslim of Pakistani heritage. If home is where the heart is, then I belong everywhere and nowhere.


Why the Refugee Crisis Is My Favourite Crisis of All

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here. Photo by Bengin Ahmad

Without doubt, the refugee crisis in Europe is definitely my favourite crisis so far (and we’ve had a fair few crises recently).

Here’s why.

It is not my place to give a number on what the right number of refugees this country should take is. It’s a difficult question. Nevertheless, Mr. Cameron’s logic on the number we have decided, doesn’t add up. Recently he was quoted as stating that taking more refugees than we are doesn’t really “solve the problem“. Instead, we should look to “bring peace and stability to the Middle East“. One can only assume that this was precisely what Mr. Cameron was aiming to achieve when he and Sarkozy as part of NATO bombed Libya – a country with the highest human development index in Africa at the time – into a failed state, brewing ISIS. Though the Libyans did not benefit from our intervention, BP definitely did, as did Total, the french oil giant. Who would have thought?

The need for integrity in international affairs was highlighted to me recently when I attended the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the UK. Speaking to an audience of 35,000, the caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community quoted John Wright, a historian on Libya, who wrote that “…Out of the many examples of Western military interventions in recent times, none has been more grievous or disastrous than NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, which only helped turn the country into a failed state.” The Caliph went on to say that “this is just a glimpse of how wrongdoing is perpetrated in the name of peace and justice”.

How true that statement is. It was bombs manufactured in Swindon, Samlesbury, Coningsby and Yeovil that destroyed the homes and hearths of the people of Libya, paid for by our taxes. It was the same story in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fast forward just a few years, and here we are again. A new Middle Eastern crisis, spiralling out from a Syrian civil war that was funded lock, stock, and barrel by our governments, has displaced millions of desperate refugees. And now, after making their lives intolerable, having creating power vacuums in their countries that have been filled by bloodthirsty and fanatical warlords, we suddenly recoil in horror at the idea that refugees would like to come to our country. The nerve!

The next line of the script usually goes something like, “but where will all the thousands of refugees go? The UK is full!” Well, not quite. You see, 6.8% of land in the UK is urban with the other 93% practically uninhabited. 78% of the urban landscape is classified as “natural” rather than built, i.e.: gardens/parks/green spaces, leaving 2.3% of the UK literally built upon. All of the UK’s 64.1 million people live in this 2.3%. Oh and 69% of our land is owned by 0.6% of our population – the same aristocracy trying to convince the public at large that the UK is bursting at the seams. Coincidence, right?

How things have changed. After world war two, when the UK had a debt to GDP ratio of more than 200%, (Greece after its last bailout was at 170% to put things in perspective), Western Europe accommodated 900,000 refugees. Mr Cameron can’t afford to accept more than twelve refugees a day into our country, not because of the limitation of money or means, but out of fear of a public indoctrinated by the Daily Mail and co. into thinking that immigrants are taking all our jobs whilst all being on benefits too. As public perception changes, so will Mr. Cameron’s tune, and there is evidence that it is already beginning to.

How then can we solve this crisis? On this, the Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, said something that struck a chord with me – and maybe it will strike a chord with you too. He told us that justice is the bare minimum God expects of us. Justice, he explained, is to give to others what is their right and their due. Beyond that, there are two further levels of goodness: grace, and kinship. Grace is to go beyond that and give people more than what they are owed. Kinship is the highest stage – it is to treat others like they are your children. This level of goodness, he said, requires that you undergo sacrifices for the good of others, seeking nothing in return, seeking only their welfare.

Justice may solve today’s crisis, but it is kinship that will solve the problem for the future. Kinship means that we wouldn’t invade countries out of envy of their resources; we wouldn’t fund civil wars; we wouldn’t sell arms to warring nations; we wouldn’t ignore the plight of the desperate; we wouldn’t imprison people without charge; we wouldn’t kill those who speak the truth.

We would simply think and do what is best for others, as we would count them among our own kith and kin. And that’s why this refugee crisis is my favourite crisis of all – because maybe, just maybe, it might teach us that our actions will return to us, if not today, then tomorrow. Recently, our actions returned to us in the image of a dying toddler named Aylan. God forbid if tomorrow it is we who would be visited with a calamity that makes refugees of us too.

Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought, that He may make them taste the fruit of some of their doings, so that they may turn back from evil. (Qur’an 30:42)