Are British Pakistanis uncivil and lacking basic common courtesy?
According to a leaked email by Paul Sabapathy CBE, the former Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, the British Pakistani community must be taught basic ‘common courtesy and civility’, after he attended the August 14th celebration in Birmingham.
His comments caused uproar amongst the British Pakistani community, who demanded an apology from him, which he promptly offered, followed by a hasty resignation after serving eight years in this post. He was the first member of the Asian community who held a prestigious post.
At the event celebrating independence, he was apparently dealt in a manner which was unbecoming and disrespectful after which he vented in an email saying,
“Pakistanis are lovely people individually but there is a lot of work to do to teach them basic common courtesy and civility.”
He further stated that,
“They talk to themselves and do not engage with the wider community. They are living in the UK not Pakistan. Whilst being rightly proud of their Pakistani culture and heritage, they need to explain better and engage more with their non-Pakistani brothers and sisters if they want their children to succeed as British Pakistani citizens.”
If British Pakistanis were so inept at integrating, then how do you explain Sadiq Khan, the son of a Pakistani bus driver who has been chosen for the London mayoral election, or Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who was up until last year, the first British Pakistani to serve in the British cabinet, or even Amir Khan, the world famous boxer who has successfully managed to balance his duties as a British Pakistani.
Such offensive remarks are clearly inflammatory and do nothing to uproot the deep-seated prejudice and stereotyping that the Pakistani community faces everyday whilst living in Britain. Mr Sabapathy should have realised that August 14th is a joyous occasion for Pakistanis and perhaps things were far more raucous and lively for him.
Also, the fact that Mr Sabapathy is of the Indian descent (he was born in Chennai) may have added to the sting of seeing Pakistanis celebrate their Independence Day. Personally, having lived in England for 17 years and trying my very best to understand the idea of integration, I was severely disappointed with the sweeping generalisations that Mr Sabapathy has made, without recourse to any statistics or verifiable evidence.
Despite my attempts to practice my career, study, and participate in the wider community, if the rest of society sees me as uncouth and uncivil, then little can be done to change that. Such comments only further ingrain what many are trying to change.
On the other hand, when I visited the Pakistani embassy in Kensington, London or even sat on an airplane that was about to descend Islamabad airport (seatbelts quickly come off upon landing), I can see that we have scant regard for decorum or propriety, often paying little attention to the importance of queuing in an orderly fashion or safety concerns.
There is definitely a lot of work to be done on the way the Pakistani community appears to the wider public. However, the younger generation and the educated are making substantial inroads into the dangerous mentality that many British Pakistanis have to face from wider communities.
Another distinctive feature about the British Pakistani community is that it seems to show very little concern regarding the majority’s perception of them. We simply don’t care if people see us as uncivil or disobedient. The Indian community, on the other hand, is very keen to integrate and dispose of their cultural nuances, in order to meld into the British society, and consider education and a high-paying job as their ultimate goals.
Nevertheless, change is inevitable as Pakistanis continue to seek quality education for their children, but encountering degrading comments won’t help alleviate a difficult situation. Perhaps Mr Sabapathy will now spend his time actively showing common courtesy and respect to the members of the Pakistani community.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.