Hassan Butt, a 25 year old from Manchester, helped recruit Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. Like most of the London bombers, he is a British Pakistani who journeyed from rootlessness to radical Islamby Aatish Taseer / August 28, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
It is not hard to imagine what the Leeds suburb of Beeston was like before it became known that three of London’s tube bombers worked or lived there. For someone like me— a Punjabi with parents from each side of the India/Pakistan border—the streets of Beeston reveal a pre-partition mixture of Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs. Despite the commotion caused by half the world’s media, men in shalwar kurta (traditional dress from the subcontinent) stand around on street corners chatting as if in a bazaar in Lahore. They oppose Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war, they “hate” America, they might even think that the west has united in a fight against Muslims, but these are not the faces of extremism. Their involvement in 7/7 is a generational one: they have raised the people who are the genus of Islamic extremism in this country—the second-generation British Pakistanis.
One appears next to his father on the street corner. Unlike his father, there is nothing about his appearance that indicates he is a Punjabi Muslim. He is wearing long Arab robes and keeps a beard cut to Islamic specifications. I ask him why he is dressed the way he is. “It’s my traditional dress,” he says in English. “Isn’t your father in traditional dress?” I ask. “Yes, but this is Islamic dress,” he clarifies. His father looks embarrassed. A man standing next to me jokes of how he complained to his neighbour that his son never did any work, and the neighbour said, “You think that’s bad, mine’s grown a beard and become a bloody maulvi [priest].”
As a half-Indian, half-Pakistani with a strong connection to this country, I have observed the gulf between what it means to be British Pakistani and British Indian. To be Indian is to come from a safe, ancient country and, more recently, from an emerging power. In contrast, to be Pakistani is to begin with a depleted idea of nationhood. In the 55 years that Pakistan has been a country, it has been a dangerous, violent place, defined by hatred of the other…