Understanding interminority racism

Internalising the hatred of others, because you’ve become a designated group in someone’s mind, is not proof that there’s something inherently wrong with you. “Mirpuris”, for want of an adequate identity label, (I would prefer the term British-born Azad Kashmiris or British-Paharis) are being scapegoated by a particular group of Pakistanis, who think they are a cut above their poorer, less educated peers – “the lessor Pakistanis”. There is a huge body of knowledge that can show how these fractures emerge within and between groups, it has a lot to do with structural inequalities, and not because one group is inherently superior to another group because of a primordial identity.

Azad Kashmiris are not unique.

What is happening to them, has already happened to lots of communities around the world. Groups that are tolerated today, not so long ago were being flogged for being socially backwards, culturally regressive, racially and religiously flawed. The Irish (imagined as a national group), Jamaicans (imagined as a racial group), Jews (imagined as a religious group) have all been problematised. Their constructed social profiles, conflated with inaccurate notions around race, ethnicity or class – (Jamaicans are not actually a race; the Irish are not a national group and Jews cannot be reduced to a religion), have always turned out to be false, and the product of profound prejudice, subtle or overt.

Not a lot has changed today, and the way things are going, I don’t think we’re ever going to be free of stereotypical prejudice, racist or classist bigotry, so long as we have people who want to write themselves into other people’s lived experiences.

The people doing the problematising are anecdotalists, who in their day jobs are journalists supposedly objective, sympathetically exploring the social landscape with subjective questions. They are incapable of asking the right questions, because of how they view people prejudicially; prejudice is pre-judgement, that’s where the word comes from, lots of people are prejudicial without even realising it. As quickly as the ink dries on their anecdotes, they are hailed as social commentators. In the rear view mirror of their opinions, flows an endless line of native informants ready to applaud them. The anecdotalist, for his part, celebrates his informant’s qualities, “Majid, you’re different (social class), you’re not like all the rest (the majority). You live on my (well-to-do) street. So tell me about the gangs in your group.” 

The native informant rejoices triumphantly, “I am different (social class)! Bloody hell, I don’t even look ethnic (racial group), look at the contours of my face!? I’m like you James. I’m modern (progressive) and I have such wonderful values, haven’t you noticed how straight my spine is when I speak perfect English? No chav-speak here (social class)!”

He then lowers his head, and whispers, “the grooming gangs are from Alum Rock and Bradford (this is the idea that bad people come from bad areas). I’ll fill in the blanks. …My parents didn’t move there…, ” he says reassuringly, “they went straight to Whitesviille, it used to be a small immigrant colony. It’s been gentrified now! Alum Rock is just disgusting. It’s pure Chav country, everyone is brown and they just don’t want to integrate!”

A case study in subtle prejudice; al-Britannia, My Country by James Fergusson 

Make of the cringeworthy ironies what you want. Make of the humour what you want. But there’s a serious point I’m trying to make even if it offends my readers who think we all live in a perfect place where daily humiliations and infractions of our code never happen. Read Al-Britannia, My Country by James Ferguson, carefully I add, to get some sense of underlying misconceptions in the narrative he creates. He is parroting bigoted views when he seeks to describe “Mirpuris” from the vantage of “Pakistanis” despite being very sympathetic to Muslims, a certain kind of Muslims though. He’s not contextualising a “community” as a neutral outsider, but he is constructing a false image of a group identity through social class prejudices, reinforced through gatekeepers (native informants), who want to be the poster for good immigrants. This irony knows no bounds, not least because Pakistanis in general originate from a country that sits at the bottom of human development indices, whilst Mirpuris come from Azad Kashmir, a country that exists on the fringe of Pakistan’s new-patrimonial social and political order. If ironies weren’t so funny, Mirpuris make up less than a percent of the Pakistani population, currently at 220 million people. Pakistan is very poor, almost bankrupt becasue of how it has been governed. Its rulers are incredibly corrupt – that’s the widespread opinion of analysts across the world. Some think it’s going to violently implode like it did in 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh.

Let’s hope they’re wrong.

But abroad, Pakistanis think because they come from cities, some of the most impoverished in the world, and not villages (this is the whole urban vs rural divide that has become a running theme in lots of writings), they automatically occupy a higher rung on a social class ladder which predestines them to achieve great things outside Pakistan. They then actively differentiate themselves from all the “other” Pakistanis – lessor kind of Pakistanis, a “mass” of undefined sum-parts going about its business unaware of how interminority racism works, these are self-apppointed ‘representatives’ who become gatekeepers to the most dispossessed members of an official group identity on paper, not by design, but by circumstance of opportunity. They claim fraternity perversely with the group they can’t stand, exploiting its numerical presence (minority representation), whilst actively separating from its members, to join a more respectable mainstream – at least in their own minds.

Everything Fergusson says about Mirpuris is more or less negative – he has nothing good to say about this particular group, and I’m mindful of the Index and the entries under “Mirpuris”, page 380. So, who exactly were the people filling in the blanks, and why are the descriptions negative?

Isn’t that odd? A little strange? Perhaps, a tad unbalanced? Go and see for yourself, check out the Index, and then read the related paragraphs to understand what I’m saying. One example will suffice for the purposes of this post, I cite it here to capture poignantly the split-personalities involved in the demagoguery.

At page 198, when describing a Pakistani comedian, Shazia Mirza, he quoted verbatim a provocative statement – “I know Pakistanis who think of Mirpuris as self-ghettoising, cousin shagging Neanderthals”. 

I can’t explain how offensive this statement is, but I’ll try to explain the slur through a comparison. If someone said, “I know Scots who think of Glaswegians as self-ghettoising, cousin shagging Neanderthals”, that would be the end of a person’s social respectability; “political correctness” would demand that he forfeit his TV job immediately! This is what I mean by social prejudice and interminority racism within the context of marginalisation; it’s okay to insult Slovakian Roma through clever sociological descriptions – “structural discrimination has predisposed them to begging, and pickpocketing, it’s not their fault!” Now try and replicate such antics against British Jews, who have been the victims of centuries of European pogroms and the Holocaust. You’ll soon find out how comical you really are! The word ghetto is borne of the Jewish lived experience in Europe, it may carry negative connotations when applied to deprived innercities with disproportionate levels of criminality, but it captures something very rotten about our shared human suffering.

Aside from the selective civility, billions of people have been married to their cousins, and they’re not all Muslims. They include members of the British Royal Family and historical personalities like Darwin and Einstein, who were married to their first cousins respectively. Thus I sincerely ask, would it be okay for someone to describe the great founder of evolutionary theory of natural selection, Mr Charles Darwin “as a cousin shagging Neanderthal”? 

I’ve spoken to a chap who personally knows Shazia, apparently she’s not from Rawalpindi or Lahore, which kind of makes Fergusson’s comparison even more suspect. He’s adamant that she would never use this kind of degrading language; apparently Fergusson came to Shazia with a rehearsed script. He may have put these words in her mouth, he tells me. I don’t know. But, I know how he describes her physical appearance contrasting her to the rest of the “Asians” of the “North”,

“…with her long, languorous face and heavily lidded eyes, she seemed a sophisticated citified kind of Pakistani, quite different to the working-class Asians I had been spending time with in the ex-mill towns of the north. She had been brought up in the “very white” Birmingham suburb of Harborne (let’s not pity the good folk of Harborne against Birmingham), by parents who were very “definitely not rural Mirpuris” but from Lahore or Rawalpindi.” Page 199. 

I don’t think Fergusson has been to Rawalpindi or Lahore. I don’t think he’s even been to Harborne. He knows nothing about how Rawalpindi folk are disparaged by the “citified” folk of Islamabad – the term “Pindu” (villager) usually comes up in their prejudicial descriptions of the lessor citified folk of Pindi. Social class for a lot of Pakistanis is a wonky ladder. It’s not an equaliser, but a badge of immense inequality.

Someone built a couple of high-rises in Islamabad – the Centaurus; the complex housed a hotel, offices, shops and apartments. It became a tourist attraction. To keep the Pindoos of Pindi out (lessor-citified people), an entrance fee was charged. Imagine, in the heart of sophisticated Pakistan, you need to pay an entrance fee to get into a rather ordinary looking building (relative to western standards of course), which became proof for Islamabad folk that they were now on some global map. Let me give my readers some perspective; these sophisticated socialites dress up to grace fast-food chains like MacDonalds and KFC. Buying a Big Mac is not merely a privilege in Pakistan, it’s proof that you’re of “modern” stock, evidence that you’re a somebody, and not a nobody. I’m not making this crap up, there’s huge disconnect and hatred between various social and ethnic groups in Pakistan. I’m trying to explain the rituals of wanting to belong to a particular group so badly, all the while, you begin hating everything about your authentic roots, because you think this is the way of getting social respectability from one’s peers. 

Islamabad isn’t exactly a middle-class utopia of liberal values though. It’s a horrible place for lots of minorities and women. Not so long ago, the Pakistan Army – a very corrupt institution I should point out, hid Bin Laden in Abbottobad – a garrison town. The Generals took money from America to find him to understand the level of duplicity in Pakistan’s corridors of power. Having funded and trained the Taliban to sow discord in Afghanistan when they were pliable clients, they then sought to liberate the Red Mosque from the unruly extremists they nurtured. Chickens had come home to roost. The Red Mosque Complex was located in the heart of Islamabad. From its pulpits, an entire generation was radicalised by extremist preachers. Crucially, the pillars of extremism were not bussed in from neighbouring Rawalpindi, they came from the heart of the city, as they still do in Karachi and Lahore. They’ve adopted Urdu (not to be conflated with ethnic Urdu speakers across Pakistan), the symbol of the citified Pakistani, whilst hating everything about their rural past, expunging the actual memories of their forebears – lessor humans in their own minds. Islamist fundamentalism is thus a product of the Pakistani City, it’s a product of modernity. It has no relationship with the actual lived experiences of rural folk, when Islam used to be devotion, and not identity politics – that older universe of meaning had always been rooted in Sufism. The leap from Sufism to Liberalism would be smaller than the leap from Urban Islamism to British values. Urban Islamism is currently trying to expunge Sufism from Pakistan’s rural areas; its cadre are intolerant and can become violent. They are control freaks, and to use a memorable expression of a fellow Brummy, “they’re proper authoritarian muppets!”

Fergusson doesn’t know what he is talking about. His ignorance is just breathtaking. Aside from objectifying Shazia according to his own weird idiosyncratic beauty standards – (apparently, heavily lidded eyes makes a women look sophisticated), filtered through sensibilities possibly peculiar to him, he doesn’t seem to care about how he would make “working class Asians” from “the north” feel, as if there is something wrong with them, which there isn’t. And, yet he wants to share demeaning anecdotes as facts because he’s hung out with likeminded people telling him what he wants to hear. These social commentators are looking for confirmation bias, they don’t want to burst self-affirming bubbles but reinforce the old stereotypes that lazy people can relate to, so they don’t have to become self-introspective. 

His book is an attempt to show that British-Muslims are diverse, so he tries to create a false narrative of pitying one group of conservative retrogrades against another batch of progressive liberals, which they’re not. I take offence to liberalism being reduced to some fake identity of progressive Muslims (“the moderates”), who think by claiming an imaginary social status they can “other” their working class peers. This is not about gay marriage, or the personal autonomy of females, but about people claiming values they do not embody.

Fergusson tells his white readers, “hey readers don’t hate on the respectable people like us, just hate on the “working-class” Muslims from Bradford, who look and behave a certain way, I will construct the image for you. There’s a whole sociology behind their behaviour even as I feed into negative and grotesque stereotypes to make my anecdotal descriptions stick!”

How he physically describes Shazia and her background, contrasting her to the “working-class” “Asians” he met in the “old ex-mill towns” of the “north” is revealing of profound stereotypical bias. The fact he can utter such a false contrast tells us a lot about how he categorises people in his mind. These anecdotalists are a major problem packaging prejudice as insights, to an unsuspecting audience claiming to be neutral observers with benign intentions.

But there’s something more troubling than just his physical description of seemingly sophisticated women. When describing the so-called “citified Pakistanis” “from Lahore and Rawalpindi”, the complete opposite of the “rural Mirpuris” (and by that I mean all British-Pakistanis from rural places, this is how the village-citified identity is imagined wrongly), he leaves us with inconsistencies and contradictions. 

Following on from the same paragraph I quoted, he says of Shazia’s parents, “Her father used to drive her to school every day, taking her right to the school gates to avoid any possibility of socialising beyond them”.

Of Shazia’s mother, he had this to say, “She used to enjoy swimming but her mother stopped her when she was 13 because the costumes were unseemly”. 

And let’s not forget a running theme for a lot of these commentators on Islam, the sexual repression of Muslim women, he had this to say, “she hung posters of Tom Selleck and Don Johnson on her bedroom wall but there was no chance of even talking to a real boy, let alone kissing one.” He then quotes Shazia, if he didn’t put these words in her mouth, “the Muslim girls she taught, she recalled never talked about Islam or foreign policy or anything. All they ever talked about was boys”.

I thought Shazia was brought up in a “very white” “middle-class” area of Birmingham by parents who were “definitely not rural Mirpuris” but “from Lahore or Rawalpindi”? So how are they different from the working-class Mirpuris bought up in non-white working class areas, who deny their daughters freedoms and everything else taken for granted by our “enlightened elite” whose culture and white surroundings predispose brown and black people to a benign form of liberalism? 

This way of thinking is hogwash.

Fergusson’s book tells his readers nothing about the actual realities of our communities, and the struggles of ordinary people. He merely speaks to one coterie of Muslims, accessible to him because of his own prejudices, and relies on their agency to describe all the others. He claims to be a neutral bystander, when he clearly isn’t. Racists and bigots exist in all communities, white people do not have a monopoly over racism I can assure my readers. We have a fair few of them amongst the BME, they end up working for the BBC and the Guardian, and they love virtue signalling. I’m not having a go at these important outlets of honest journalism, I’m quite trusting of these “sources”, but some of their writers are just dubious when they start problematising communities because of the topical issues of the day.

I still recall one article on 7/7, the Guardian writer spoke of Mirpur’s culture that resulted in some of “us” becoming suicide bombers. She referred to Mirpuris as the “Orphans of Islam”. These are totally bogus propositions and utterly offensive. I know the identities of the people giving her the low-down on members of my community. What she didn’t know at the time was 3 of the 7/7 British-Pakistani bombers, (the parents at least), originated from Punjab Province, Pakistan and not Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. In other words, they were Pakistani Punjabis, and not Mirpuris (Azad Kashmiris). Bunting slandered an entire community on the basis of mistaken identities. 15 years on, this factually incorrect article has never been corrected, or expunged from the site, which just shows you how bad the problem of interminority racism actually is, and the nature of subtle prejudice when it intersects with marginalised communities.

Imagine, these are the sorts of people today queuing up to attack Trump in print and media because Trump is a bigot! But, they’re not bigots when they look down at “Chavs”, no, no, they’re enlightened and good progressives. Eventually, the dispossessed masses become so tired of these privileged samaritans, that the values of liberalism are unjustly flogged because of the false association – the very thing that could redeem us all. Ordinary folk believe in conspiracy theories because of naked hypocrisy on the part of those who become the champions of liberal thought hypocritically.

For Azad Kashmiris or British Paharis, (It’s time we use our own identity labels), you’ve been warned. Be doubly careful when production companies turn up on your doorstep wanting to do documentaries on your communities, or writers humbly requesting your hospitality so they can write their books and slur your communities. Demagoguery is one of the oldest vices in history, and the Left occasionally partakes in it. They have preconceived ideas about your social worth, and they are looking for confirmation bias. If you don’t fit their stereotypes, they won’t be interested in what you have to say because of their pre-judgements. This is how they sell their “ideas” to their audiences through confirmation bias. None of these opportunists have the intellectual investiture of people of conscience, whose caveats would be a profound warning for anecdotalists to not create elaborate stories because of subtle prejudice as opposed to reporting facts sincerely – a noble vocation. We used to call this vocation, journalism, and conviction journalists are people of conscience, and fortunately for us in the UK, they still exist in large numbers, and they work for the BBC and the Guardian. The Fergussons of this World and their bandwagons of Native Informants reinforce the old problems, looking for the old villains, imagining the good guys to be just like them.

They’ll make money, get the claps, receive the awards – black, brown and white bodies will embrace each other symbiotically – and then they’ll all return to the progressive bubbles they come from living their separate multicultural lives. In the meantime, they’ve just added another layer of shite to your real problems. And then they get offended, outraged, incensed that someone from Alum Rock, or Bradford would dare say to them, “we’re not orphans of Islam, you’ve been demonising “Muslims”, “Rednecks”, “Chavs”, “the working class” for decades. We’re just the latest incarnation. We’re not cousin shagging Neanderthals either. The only grunts I hear, come from your direction!” And it’s then they turn vindictive and bitter, in earnest assassinating the characters of the “hate-mongers”, because they had the nerve to speak truth to them, and not some remote dictator sitting in Syria or Russia!

As for my from “working class” “inbred cousins” – “the primordial Mirpuris”, you’ve been warned! If on the other hand, you still think there’s no problem with the Pakistani gatekeepers, then you too can wash your hands of all this and fly a Pakistani flag from your social media profile…!

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Equality & Human Rights Campaigner, Researcher, Content Copywriter and Traveller. Blogger at Portmir Foundation. Liberal by values, a centrist of sorts, opposed to authoritarianism – States must exist for the welfare of people, all of them, whatever their beliefs or lifestyles. People are not “things” to be owned, exploited, manipulated and casually ignored. Political propaganda is not history, ethnicity, geography or religion.

I love languages and cultures – want to study as many as I can; proficient in some. Opposed to social and political injustice anywhere in the world.

I believe ‘life’ is a work in progress, nothing is fixed even our thoughts! Feel free to contact me – always prepared to widen my intellectual horizons and stand corrected – don’t insult me though. Be grown up. Tell me why you think I’m wrong. If you make sense, I’ll change my views.

My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship; if you disagree with any of us, and you espouse liberal values, write your own opinion piece, and we’ll publish it even if we disagree with it. It has to be factual and original. You can contact us at info@portmir.org.uk.