October 06, 2018
PAKISTANI immigrants to Europe tend to get a bad
press. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised by my brief encounter in
Stockholm three weeks ago with a dozen or so well-settled, ordinary
working-class Pakistanis. Some had migrated from Mirpur (AJK), others from KP
and Sindh. Their attitudes and lifestyles challenge the common negative
stereotypes of Pakistani migrants in Europe.
Do you speak and read Swedish reasonably well? Are
local laws fair and non-discriminatory? Do your children go to Swedish schools
and do they have Swedish friends? Can you feel this to be your own country?
Receiving positive responses, I slowly moved on to the most sensitive of
questions and held my breath: Would you be okay if your daughter were to date a
Swedish guy? Marry him? And, finally, is Sweden where someday you might choose
to die and be buried?
Except for the very last question (where some wavered)
all other answers were again affirmative. Significantly, these were not
well-heeled upper-class folks who readily form a globalised community. Instead,
they were bus drivers, hospital staff, and other blue-collar workers in love
with their adopted country. They were trying hard to deal with the
Were such attitudes more common the sickeningly
familiar caricature of the backward, anti-freedom, unassimilable Pakistani
migrant would vanish. But this wasn’t so clear once I probed further: could you
kindly guess how many other Pak-Swedes are also largely positive about their
Opinions varied but the consensus was clear — only a
minority of first-generation Pak-Swedes, like this particular group, is fully
at ease. Since they acknowledge getting a fair deal in their new country, what
alienates the majority? Answer: discomfort with the bay hayaee (sexual laxity)
of locals and their deen say doori (non-adherence to religion — any religion).
As with other Pakistani immigrants in Europe, some stridently reject the core
values of their host country and condemn the ‘immoral’ lifestyles of the
Why do Pakistanis enjoying the West’s pluralism stay
silent about pluralism within Pakistan?
This unctuous piety is sometimes dubious — it stands
against a pioneering research study putting sexuality as a key motivation for
young Pakistani men to emigrate. In his book: Masculinity, Sexuality, and
Illegal Immigration – Human Smuggling from Pakistan to Europe, Ali Nobil Ahmad,
a fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, finds the pull of
deep-seated psychological forces no less important than the push of economic
After interviewing dozens of young immigrant men from
lower-middle-class backgrounds, Ahmad concludes that lure of adventure and
libidinal frustration drives even relatively economically secure migrants.
Risking life and limb, they hope to escape a conservative society where every
form of contact with women is forbidden — other than a family-arranged marriage
— into a world where pleasures of the flesh are tauntingly visible through
advertising and the global media. Parents often marry them off before they
depart but the problem doesn’t end there.
The sweet fruits of the Promised Land are enjoyed for
a while but long term adaptation to the metropolises of Europe is difficult for
many. Most perplexing is the freedom enjoyed by Western women, with whom
liaisons are short term. To shut out their ‘corrupting influence’, families
arrange for cousin marriages or import brides. These are routine in Britain’s
poorest areas where immigrants have ghettoised.
Growing conservatism and poor schooling in the homeland
has made Pakistani immigrants less absorbable globally. As Pakistan steadily
becomes less liberal and goes the Al Huda way, the changes are visible in
habits and dress. The burqa issue resounds throughout Europe. That welcome for
unassimilable immigrants has dried out is unsurprising.
A highly visible trend among Pakistanis is greater
immersion in one’s own religious community. Even in North America where
Pakistanis are generally wealthier than whites, the social life of most
expatriates — the richest ones excepted — organises itself around mosques and
Islamic centres. Toronto, for example, is a city divided among Deobandis,
Barelvis, Shias, Bohras, and Ismailis who have built their own places of
worship and largely interact only among themselves. Ahmadis have a
worship-cum-housing complex spread over 35 acres.
Isolation from the mainstream has extracted a price in
the general well-being of immigrants, particularly for Pakistan-origin Brits.
Muslim school students — of which a full 40 per cent are Pakistanis — have been
documented as underachievers. Muhammad Anwar, a social scientist and author of
British Muslims and State Policies argues that Pakistani-Brits generally have
education achievement levels lying at the low end of all ethnic minorities in Britain.
On the other hand, immigrants who share values with
the host country can rise high. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and home
secretary, Sajid Javid, are obvious examples. Expectedly, wealthier,
upper-class Pakistanis are familiar with Western cultural mores. Educated in
top-notch schools, they find the West hospitable. This year, as every year,
thousands will make their way to universities across North America, Europe, and
Australia. Others will rely on immigration sponsorship by family members who
are already citizens.
Most, whether wealthy or poor, will try their hardest
to never return home and many will succeed in becoming first-generation
immigrants. Some dream of wealth, others of personal fulfilment. Still others
want to escape a suffocating social and physical environment. Most will be
preoccupied in making a new life for themselves.
But exceptions aside — such as the few I met in
Stockholm — Pakistani immigrants to the West don’t insist on changing things
back in the homeland. That Pakistan needs to end discrimination against its
ethnic minorities, women, and non-Muslims is heard but rarely, and that too
only from Baloch, Sindhi and Kashmiri nationalist groups. One could have
expected broader participation because immigrants benefit from open pluralist
societies that, by law, must treat all citizens equally. This, of course, is
why Pakistanis choose to immigrate.
If first-generation immigrants lack activism, perhaps
the second generation will compensate someday. When such voices for justice are
heard loud and clear — and if they are joined by immigrant communities from
other countries in demanding changes back home — multiple noxious xenophobic
movements in the West will collapse like a pricked balloon. Let’s hope.
The author teaches physics
in Lahore and Islamabad.
analyses is generally true of all Muslim communities, though
Pakistanis stand out more so by their 'skweeky wheel' and selfish
behaviour and overtly public display of piety.
for the acceptance of pluralism of the West, that is – the Others
tolerating Us more than Us tolerating Others – is a “one way”
traffic particularly in the first generation, as the onus is placed
on the Others, since it is their Law. “...
pluralist societies that, by
must treat all citizens equally.” Here it suits Us fine thank you.
blame for this must be attributed to the larger enrolment of Muslims
students in the madrasa type (Religious) schools; mainly from lower
economic and poorly educated strata.
schools themselves are generally administered by unqualified and/or
sectarian religious imported people and teachers who have never
delved into the the big picture pluralism meaning of Quranic verses
2-4 and say 2-213 let alone 2-269 - “ ...but none will grasp
the Message but those who posses understanding” to obtain the
overflowing benefits of wisdom of pluralism and true knowledge.