The alienated expat Pakistani

The truth is that expat Pakistanis, alienated in the West, are equally alienated in Pakistan when they visit home.


Khaled Ahmed April 02, 2011

It is said in Europe that, out of the migrant populations living there, Muslims are the least integrated, and that includes Pakistanis. The West believes in equal rights for migrant workers, unlike the UAE and other Arab host states where Pakistanis work under disabilities of one sort or another.

No host population is without prejudice against migrants. That is why Islam praises the Ansar of Madinah for welcoming the first Muslim migrants. In the West, where civilisation is based on pluralism and equal rights, Pakistanis should be happy, but they are not. Who is at fault? Those who have studied migration say the migrant must make an effort to integrate with the host population despite laws that safeguard his ‘separateness’.

Identity that appears to be different gives rise to violence equally among animals and human beings. The migrant is vulnerable despite the law. Even democracy is unable to help if those who nurse prejudice on the basis of ‘difference’ capture votes and can legislate against the community they don’t like. That is why the expat Pakistani is advised to make an attempt to assimilate close to local identities. But the truth is that, compared to Hindu migrants, the Pakistani is less able to do so; in fact, he emphasises his separateness and is generally alienated.

Violence is natural after migration. The migrant, too, is known to become violent when discriminated against. He can resort to terrorism, which is what has happened. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the ninth secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in his book The Islamic World in the New Century (Hurst 2010) says: “West’s relations with the Muslims have been impaired following the actions of misguided extremists who were responsible for the tragic terrorist attacks in New York and Washington (2001), Madrid (2004) and London (2005), together with the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in November 2004 and other heinous crimes. Regrettably the blame fell collectively on Muslims and the situation was exploited by the extremists on both sides to vilify the peaceful image of Islam” (p.147).

Francis Fukuyama, Bernard L Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, delivered the 2005 Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on ‘Democracy in the World’. He said: “There is no doubt, of course, that the Muslim world is dysfunctional in many ways, and that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been the sources of an extremist and hateful ideology. I would contend, however, that the more serious longer-term challenge facing liberal democracies today concerns the integration of immigrant minorities — particularly those from Muslim countries — as citizens of pluralistic democracies”.

He believes that a solution is at hand if one recognises that the old multicultural model is a failure in such countries as the Netherlands and Britain, and that it needs to be replaced by more energetic efforts to integrate non-western populations into a common liberal culture. The old multicultural model was based on group recognition and group rights. Out of a misplaced sense of respect for cultural differences, it ceded entirely too much authority to cultural communities to define rules of behaviour for their own members.

The truth is that expat Pakistanis, alienated in the West, are equally alienated in Pakistan when they visit home, because their identity has been moulded into a universalist hard one, and they are disappointed to see a Pakistani society that is too relaxed about its own identity. The expat’s retreat into a new identity in Europe equally separates him from the community in Pakistan, finding resonance only with alienated centres of Islamic teachings based on jihadism.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 03rd, 2011.

COMMENTS (28)

Hedgefunder | 10 years ago | Reply @John: So now at least i know, that you too are well travelled and have resided in different parts of world! so enlighten me please, what's your interest in pakistan or the south east asia region ??? As you already know my professional and personal interest in the region concerned.
Afzal A. Neseem | 10 years ago | Reply An insightful article. I am a Pakistani American and a practicing Muslim.My experience is that in spite of negative effects of terrorist attack 0f 9/11, I have complete freedom of belief and,other things not withstanding,enjoy effective protection of law.Most of the people I come across are friendly and helpful.Unlike the attitude towards people of different faiths and schools of thought in Pakistan,people here do not wear their religion on their sleeves.They would be happy for immigrants to integrate in the American society but are tolerant of people with different religions and cultures.There is a very great deal which Pakistanis with open minds can learn from ordinary American citizens.
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