Some British Asian gay Muslims are embracing a new identity, based as much on race and religion as on sexual orientation with a number trying to do it with the help of their local imams.
Unlike Britain’s wider gay community, the Asian gay scene is still largely underground. They may go to gay clubs or support groups, but most remain in the closet. But the fear of rejection, humiliation and in some cases physical harm from their own communities keeps many Muslim gays isolated.
Asif Qureshi, a key worker at The Naz Project, a London-based support group working with British Asian gay men said: “In my experience, the number of Asian gays coming out has almost tripled over the last three years.”
Muslim teenagers in the UK are much more assimilated with the nation than their counterparts growing up in other European countries, new research claims. Young British Asians are less radical, do better in school and suffer less discrimination than Muslim youngsters brought up in France and Germany, according to the survey.
Researchers at Lancaster University claim that their poll, based on 2,500 young adults aged 16 to 25, is proof that multiculturalism is working. For the study, young second generation Pakistanis and Indians who were also Muslims living in Blackburn and Rochdale were compared with Moroccan and Algerian youngsters in France and Turks and former Yugoslavs in Germany.
It showed British Asian youngsters are remarkably similar to their white contemporaries; they enjoy watching soaps like EastEnders and Coronation Street, are most likely to read The Mirror or The Sun newspaper and are turned off by politics. Although there is a ‘moral panic’ about young muslims, the British ‘multicultural’ approach of accommodating immigrants actually works better than the French or German approaches, it is claimed.
The research is to be published in a new book, co-authored by Professor Roger Penn of Lancaster, titled Children of International Migrants in Europe.
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BRITISH Muslims gave a hostile reception yesterday to suggestions that ethnic minorities should be identified by the country they emigrated from. Hazel Blears, the home office minister tasked with tackling Islamic extremism in Britain, said she would discuss with community leaders whether “British-Asian” or “Indian-British” may be preferable terms to simply “Muslim” or “British”. She compared the terminology to that used in America, where “Italian-American” and “Irish-American” are commonly used labels. Downing Street played down the significance of the move, which it said was intended as a point of discussion rather than a concrete proposal or policy position. But Mrs Blear’s comments provoked an outcry from Muslims. Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the idea “simply makes no sense”. He added: “It’s quite misguided to try to emphasise ethnicity alongside Britishness. People’s ethnic background becomes less important over time. “For example, my own parents came from India to Bolton, in Lancashire, in the 1960s. “I have visited India once when I was five years old and can barely speak their first language, Gujarati. My son Adam is five and doesn’t know a single word of it. “It is absolutely absurd to discuss my being less than 100% British.” Mr Bunglawala added that he would be happy to be identified as a British Muslim and that he believed most of the Muslim community would feel happy with being labelled by their faith, rather than ethnicity. Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, added: “What is being proposed is divisive . . . it would create a lower strata of British. It gives people labels and dilutes their citizenship compared to original, white British people. It is not helpful in creating the togetherness that they have been talking about.” However, Mona Siddiqui, a senior lecturer in Islamic studies at Glasgow University, claimed that “British-Asian” more accurately reflected the identity of first and second-generation British immigrants from the Indian sub-continent. She said: “I think people have over-reacted to this suggestion because of the current climate around labelling and ethnic profiling. “I think ‘ethnic minority’ is such a vague term that it should be binned, but I don’t see the problem with being identified as British-Asian. The term is broad enough to recognise that some people are British while not being white, Anglo-Saxon. “The issue over whether people should be identified as Muslim, Hindu or Sikh is a different debate. For some people, religious labelling could be seen as a new form of racism.” Ms Blears indicated that the idea was part a set of proposals to be floated at meetings that she is holding around the country to discuss how best to steer young Muslims away from radicalism. She said: “In America, they do seem to have the idea that you’re an Italian-American or you’re an Irish-American, and that’s quite interesting. “I am going to talk to people and ask how does that feel? It is about your identity and I think it’s really important.”
By ANDREW WOODCOCK BRITAIN’S ethnic minority communities might be given new names in an effort to strengthen their ties to this country. Home Office minister Hazel Blears is to ask representatives of Muslim and other minorities whether they would prefer to be known by US-style hyphenated terms such as Asian-British, Pakistani-British or Indian-British, rather than simply ‘Asians’. The idea is one of a set of proposals to be floated at meetings that Ms Blears is holding around the country to discuss how to steer young Muslims away from radicalism. Ms Blears – appointed head of a new Government commission on integrating minorities by Prime Minister Tony Blair – said today: “In America, they do seem to have the idea that you’re an Italian-American or you’re an Irish-American, and that’s quite interesting. “I am going to talk to people and ask ‘how does that feel?’ It is about your identity and I think it’s really important.” She added: “If you want a society that is really welded together, there are certain things that unite us because you are British, but you can be a bit different too.” The proposal is seen as an indication that the Government is considering claims that some second-generation Asians find it difficult to identify with Britain or the country of their roots. Mrs Blears was backed by the Commission for Racial Equality but it also warned of problems ahead. A spokesman said: “She’s hit the nail on the head when she says it’s about how people feel and refer to themselves. “But one person might be happy being classified as one thing and someone of the same race or religion might not.” Muslim groups also responded with caution to the idea, while Conservatives branded it “fatuous”. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “What of the second generations? Why should they be defined as other than British? “These forms of identity based on ethnic background have been tried in the past and have failed.” And Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament said: “Nobody cares for labels. We have to create a stakeholding society and an inclusive society.” Shadow home affairs spokesman Edward Garnier said: “This is a fatuous idea. “I’ve got a growing number of Asian British people in my constituency. They think of themselves as British. They don’t need a Government minister to tell them how to describe themselves.” And Greg Mulholland, the Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, where the July 7 bombs were created, said a rebranding exercise would “not be remotely helpful”. “I think it’s another gimmick. I’m afraid we need some rather more intelligent and far-reaching solutions.” Councillor Shami Khan, a leading member of Edinburgh’s Pakistan community, said the proposals might go some way towards helping to integrate migrants into the community. He added: “We have to keep our culture but, at the end of the day, by coming here, people are accepting the British way of life and must adopt a British value and must have a respect for that citizenship. “I think this is a good idea and if you call people from South East Asia “British-Asian” that’s okay. I feel Scottish-Asian and I have a loyalty to Britain. “But what we really need to do is to teach people about citizenship and loyalty to this country.”
By Martin Wainwright Forget Superman, Wonderwoman and even the Incredibles. The new kid on the block from one of America’s “big two” comic publishers is a teenage Muslim from Bradford, where his father runs a successful chain of corner shops. Bucking the trend for largely negative portrayals of young Asians, particularly in the United States, Ali is an eager livewire whose arranged bride, Sofia, the source of much angst in early frames, turns out to be equally quick-witted, as well as a babe. The 40-page first episode of the story, Vimanarama, went on sale in Britain yesterday, after a launch on Tuesday in the US, where critics gave it a warm reception. Reviews commented on the cartoons’ “infectious sense of wonder” and gripping plot, “whether it’s in the rain-soaked streets of Bradford or in the brightly lit underworld at the end of the book”. The initially unlikely setting is down to the story’s British author, Grant Morrison, a major name in comic writing, particularly in the specialist field sold through outlets such as Forbidden Planet and Where the Wild Things Are shops. A Glaswegian, his 25-year career includes stories for Marvel Comics’ The X-Men and for Batman and Superman, whose publishers DC Comics have brought out Vimanarama. Morrison turned to Britain’s Asian community for a storyline during the aftermath of the World Trade Centre disaster, when the media were full of debate and discussion about Islam and the West. In a recent interview with comics website Newsarama, he said: “There are devout Muslims in the book and couldn’t-care-less Muslims, so everyone gets a shout.” But the story is primarily a ripping yarn, with Ali and Sofia discovering a subterranean world beneath Bradford when a crate of turkish delight cracks open a hidden entrance in one of the family’s shops. Promotional material from DC Comics sums up the plot as “a modern-day Arabian Nights in the form of a Bollywood romantic comedy set on a celestial stage”. The contents include fossilised demons, a 15,000-year-old Asian superman, and too many frames of pouring rain on Bradford streets for the local tourist board’s taste. While the comic has been welcomed as a positive promotion for the city, a spokeswoman said: “They seem to have got our weather mixed up with Manchester’s.” The story – in three parts costing _1.95 each – faithfully portrays the variety in the local British Asian community, with some women decorously wearing headdresses while others have jeans and trainers. American readers are given occasional cross-cultural references in case the setting all becomes too foreign: one double-page image by the story’s illustrator, Philip Bond, has the 19-year-old hero speeding into action on a mountain bike in front of a line of British Asian cheerleaders in short skirts and bobby socks. Morrison says that he immersed himself in research about Islamic history and theology, which figures in crisp word-bubble exchanges and the exotic population of the secret underworld. But the core of the story, he told Newsarama, should appeal to “anyone who’s ever been a teenager in the grip of immense and ridiculous forces beyond one’s control and understanding. Which is surely everybody who gets past the age of 12.”
By AMIT ROY London: A growing number of young people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin have been so traumatised by the aftermath of 9/11 that they now prefer to identify themselves as “British Muslims” rather than as “British Asian”, a provocative BBC radio documentary claimed on Tuesday night. The programme on BBC Radio 4, Don’t Call Me Asian, was presented by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who began by admitting: “A few years ago I, too, would have described myself as a British Asian. But these days I am just as likely to say that I am a British Muslim.” He explained: “I remember that the reason I used Asian was because it offered less ammunition to racists than saying or admitting I was Pakistani.” In his quest to prove that others have also rejected the term “British Asian” and now want to be defined exclusively by their religion, Manzoor interviewed a number of young people. One man of Pakistani origin insisted: “I think the word Asian is dead. Recent events globally and for me personally have made me re-examine what my identity is and hence I call myself British Muslim. Previously I would call myself Asian or Pakistani.” When Manzoor interviewed young Hindus who apparently no longer want to be called British Asian, an Indian girl commented: “Initially, if I had to fill out a form I would say British Asian. Events like September 11 have shaken us all up and we don’t wish to be under that banner of Asian any more.” A young Bangladeshi woman at university revealed that she self-consciously tried out a hijab at home and then started wearing it outside. “I became more conscious of who I was and what I did and how that affected every area of my life,” she said. Aftab Hussain, who works for a theatre company, found himself quizzed by his non-Muslim friends, “Why does Islam say this or that?” He eventually found himself “having to go away and learn about my religion. It has made young people more proactive about being Muslim”. Mohammed Mamdani, the founder of Muslim Youth Helpline, told Manzoor: “Many young Muslims are in a very fearful state where they don’t know how they fit into a society which constantly refers to their religion in terms of terrorism or radicalisation. This is also propagating the marginalisation and alienation of young Muslims”. According to Tariq Madood, professor of sociology at Bristol University, media portrayal of young Muslims hasn’t helped. “If there are disturbances at Bradford and the BBC is describing them as ‘Asian youths’, Hindus and Sikhs will get up and say, ‘Well, actually, what is the point of calling them Asian youths when they are Pakistani Muslims?’ ” Madood went on: “People want to be more assertive of the identities that they themselves choose to prioritise and this is partly because they want to promote their own good image and partly to disassociate themselves from what they see as the bad images with which they are being confused.” Manzoor interviewed young people attending the annual conference of the National Hindu Federation in London, where a young woman told him that she was travelling on the underground when “I was asked by a young white male whether I was Muslim and whether my people were responsible for September 11. And I said, I am not Muslim and my people weren’t responsible for September 11. So going on from there I do want my own identity now”. But a more representative sample of young Asians, taken, say, at a music concert, would probably find only one out of 100 keen to be defined purely in religious terms. At Oldham College in a city rocked by riots over three years ago, a youth of Pakistani origin argued: “We are Asian and that’s what we are. I call myself British Asian.” Manzoor interviewed the academic Lord Bhikhu Parekh, who disapproved of the tendency for people to define themselves only as Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. “The tendency of a community to define itself entirely in religious terms and to collapse its complete complex identity – political, cultural and others – into a single, one-dimensional religious identity is a very worrying phenomenon,” he said. “No individual is simply a Muslim. He is also a Pakistani or an Indian, he is also a male, he is also a professor, and then for him to say, ‘All those things don’t matter at all, the only thing that matters about me is that I am a Muslim,’ is in itself worrying. That leads to a great impoverishment of an individual’s capacity to understand himself or herself.” “If somebody were to say to me he defines himself as a Muslim and therefore he sees me as a Hindu, I would feel he was not only impoverishing himself but he was doing a lot of harm by abridging my identity. It then becomes difficult to operate in a relatively secular society,” Parekh added.