With half of British Muslims describing their background as Pakistani, events on the subcontinent resonate hereby Shiraz Maher / January 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
It was only a matter of time before British Islamists began celebrating the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. “Allah Akbar! Best news I’ve heard in a long time! May Allah destroy all the agents of the [infidels]. What a beautiful day!” wrote “Abu Junayd” from Slough on a forum that hosts mainly British members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) and the now defunct al-Muhajiroun. With contributors from Australia, Indonesia and the middle east, the site provides a valuable barometer for a strain of global Islamist thinking.
Another comment came from long-standing HT member Showkat Ali, who had previously issued veiled threats against Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, and celebrated the stabbing of former jihadist Hassan Butt. “We shouldn’t grieve for Benazir,” declared the trainee teacher from Milton Keynes. “Muslims should not shed any tears for the tyrants and oppressors who have spent their lives looting and pillaging the wealth of the ummah whilst serving the interests of the [infidel] colonialists in the west.”
Sustained unrest in Pakistan, and its strategic importance to the west, has ensured it remains the single most important country in the war on terror, eclipsing Iraq and Afghanistan. And with nearly half of British Muslims describing their ethnic background as Pakistani, turbulence in the subcontinent resonates here.
The situation was complicated by the launch in Britain of digital television in 1997, which swelled the number of foreign language broadcasters. Around 50 specialist channels now offer alternatives to the BBC and CNN, creating “digital ghettos” which ensure that diaspora communities are never too far removed from events “back home.”
Bhutto told the BBC shortly before her return to Pakistan that despite spending seven years in self-imposed exile – much of it in London – her physical absence from the subcontinent was largely immaterial. Asian broadcasters, the internet and the low cost of international phone calls rates ensured she was always abreast of developments.
The importance of diaspora media was made starkly clear when General Musharraf imposed martial law in November. Along with his curbs on domestic press freedom, he moved against the Dubai-based Pakistani broadcasters GEO and ARY by pressuring the Emirate to close their offices. His message was clear: stifling criticism among the Pakistani community abroad was as important as silencing domestic dissent.
The resonance of events in the subcontinent among Britain’s Islamists is indicative of shifts in the composition of its leadership that occurred in…