How ‘British’ are you? | Pakistan Today

How ‘British’ are you?

  • And who decides?

It’s unsurprising that the loudest calls for stripping the notorious ‘ISIS bride’ of her British citizenship are coming from brown British people. White people’s innocence remains largely unquestioned in the wake of a crime by a white person. It’s Her Majesty’s non-white subjects who feel the need to shout out their innocence from the rooftops of their small houses in London. They must remind us of how much they abhor religious fanaticism and terrorism, lest their brown bodies be confused with those of ISIS sympathisers.

Shamima Begum is a 19-year old British girl who moved from London to Syria four years ago to join ISIS. Of the long list of investigations and punishments that this audacity merits, having one’s basic citizenship revoked is both outrageous and unprecedented. For a developed country that already feels laughably out of touch from the modern world, considering its obsession with royalty and all the associated pageantry; the idea of ‘banishing’ subjects from the kingdom does nothing to clear that name.

This is, after all, a country so clearly chin-deep in righteousness, that it revoked the citizenship of Colonel Reginald Dyer after he washed his hands in the blood of nearly a thousand innocent protesters at Jalianwala. I’m being sarcastic, of course. Dyer not only returned home, but was praised by many for his valour and the capacity to make tough decisions. Rudyard Kipling – the author of Jungle Book – raised £26,000 for Colonel Dyer, “The man who saved India”.

It wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to draw comparisons to the East India Company’s modus operandi, when we see British-Muslims defending the government’s plan to revoke Shamima’s citizenship. There aren’t nearly enough people on the tiny little island off the coast of European mainland to subjugate a billion people of numerous regions, ethnicities, and races. That subjugation must be subcontracted to the peoples themselves, with the promise of some reward.

Shamima Begum is a 19-year old British girl who moved from London to Syria four years ago to join ISIS

Consider Sajid Javid, for instance – the second Pakistani in the UK holding high public office as pretend-evidence of the country’s post-racial reality. Javid is a right-wing politician whose purpose seemingly is to push anti-immigrant policies; policies which in whiter hands would be the definition of ‘bad optics’. This is a pro-Israeli politician who does not believe in being “held back” by political-correctness – except when charging the opposing labour party with antisemitism, usually for antagonising hawkish Israeli policies. This is a man who voted against banning detention for pregnant immigrants. This is a man who wants immigrants to pass a “British values” test; which, I imagine, involves gauging their apathy towards Britain’s colonial crimes.

It was entirely expected for Sajid Javid from the Home Office to pass an order removing Shamima Begum’s British citizenship.

The ‘Sajid Javid’ effect is visible online on nearly social media group. In the last two days, I’ve encountered well over a dozen British Muslims making frenzied demands for Shamima’s banishment. The mob comes fully armed with misconceptions and lies about Shamima’s citizenship status. In an allegedly multilcultural country, brown people’s status of citizenship can often be quite confusing. For clarity though, Shamima Begum is a British-born woman. Although her parents are Bangladeshi, the young woman herself has never held a Bangladeshi passport in her life. She is not a dual national, and even if she were, her imaginary Bangladeshi nationality would have nothing to do with her Britishness. The girl was merely 15 when she joined ISIS.

One needn’t explore too deep to discover that beneath this passionate disgust for Shamima lies a desperate need to be distinguished from her. Let there be no confusion among the easily confused, that we are the ‘good’ brown people who have no tolerance for whatever ISIS represents.

So profound is this desperation, that we do not allow ourselves to forget our humanity, let alone the politico-legal facts of the matter. For the racially-charged objective of stripping Shamima of her citizenship, the British government may need to invent a legal apparatus as such a move would be unprecedented. Involvement in terrorist activities does not render a person stateless. One may be a British terrorist or a Bangladeshi terrorist, but still a terrorist of someplace.

Sajid Javid, in his magnanimity, has decided that Shamima’s baby – unlike Shamima – can be a British citizen. How can a baby born on Syrian soil be more ‘British’ than the British-born mother who birthed him? Those are not the legal technicalities many right-leaning British-Muslims are interested in. What matters is a chance to demonstrate their own revulsion to Islamic terrorism.

Perhaps the self-flagellating British-Pakistani community has a point. Perhaps we are at fault and worthy of discriminatory treatment. Our greatest sin, however, is not our proclivity for religious radicalism, but how easily impressed we are with the cut-throat neocolonial order. Oh, what we wouldn’t do to get into their good graces. Which destitute pregnant immigrant wouldn’t we throw under the bus for a shot at becoming the Home Secretary?

Who are these right-wing British-Pakistanis, if not fresh-off-the-boat immigrants firing cannonballs at the next boat of brown immigrants approaching the pier? Shamima may or not remain British, but how British was she to begin with?

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.



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