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Biryani for the racists

Published Jul 13, 2011 06:40am


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Photo credit: Daisy Botha.

As I wrote last week, several hundred men and women from the English Defence League (EDL) arrived in the quintessentially English city of Cambridge on Saturday, to march through the streets in demonstration. Cambridge is a hotbed of ‘Islamic terrorism’ they say – they carried signs that read “no more mosques”. 

Despite a huge turnout for the “Unite Cambridge” counter-demonstration, the photographs of the event, which you will find on the internet, were largely of the EDL. We see images of drunken, flag-waving, skin-heads being manhandled by the police, as bemused foreign students looked on in disbelief. But this, in no way represents what happened that day. These images not only undermine the phenomenal unity that emerged in the city at the weekend, but it also sensationalises the grievances of the EDL.

Talking to members of the EDL on Saturday, I soon learnt that many of them had served in the military or had members of close family or friends who had been killed or injured in conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq. Wars that they had been led to believe, were all about protecting Great Britain from Islamists. Re-integration into civilian life is tough at the best of times, but with a shifting ethnic demographic back home, and an economic downturn, it is not surprising that many of these people have difficulty managing change and understanding where their identity fits in with this. Whilst their ethos was undermined by foul language and cheap larger, their pain and anger was clear to see. Money is spent on listening to the grievances of young British Muslims for fear of them becoming radicalised, I couldn’t help wonder whether anyone was listening to members of the EDL?

But whilst some middle-class Cambridge people were shouting abuse down megaphones at these wounded souls, one group were embracing the visitors to their city with moving courage. I spoke with members of the local mosque a few days before the rally – people were scared they said, they felt unprepared for confrontation. I encouraged them to see this event as an opportunity. Within a few days they had completely turned the situation around. A decision was taken to open the mosque to the public to coincide with the Asian Mela that was happening in the city on Sunday. Leaflets were printed and Biryani for 400 English Defence League protesters was prepared.

One member of the Cambridge Muslim Council posted on his Facebook, “What a great favour the EDL did us today; we got to make so many new friends, people who visited the mosque, shared a meal, and had lots of interesting conversations”. And I agree with another member of the community who said it was right that the city should reject what the EDL stands for, but that this alone is not enough, “it needs to be combined with dialogue, and listening to their grievances”. The Muslims of Cambridge even managed to address aggressive behavior from fellow Muslims.

Cambridge residents were horrified to see gangs of young Asian men arrive in Cambridge to “defend” the Muslims. Their demeanor was much like some of the EDL – aggressive and loutish. But they were swiftly pulled aside by the Cambridge community – and although they had been up for a fight, some returned to the mosque later that day to shakes hands and apologise. “It is great what you guys are doing”. The Cambridge Muslim Council believed that what really changed their minds was that they saw the huge non-Muslim turnout at the mosque; they saw people who were not Muslim but came to show their support.

And perhaps because bizarrely, my life’s work appears to be about showing commonality between Cambridge and Karachi you might have guessed that I would be looking for a situation in Karachi that might resemble what happened in Cambridge at the weekend. 

In a week that has seen Karachi fraught with violence, and media channels announcing the rising death-tolls like a cricket-score on Twitter, it might be worth remembering the “unity” that can exist in the city. In October last year the day after a particularly foul attack on a Sufi Shrine in which six people were killed, approximately 3000 young people – individuals and members of over 20 civil society organizations gathered together for Chal Utha Pakistan (Rise and Walk Pakistan). The walk raised over five Lac Rupees for flood relief and a further Rs1.6 million in sponsorship from the private sector. Like the Cambridge demonstration of unity, attendance at the event was boosted by Facebook and other social networks. And like the Cambridge event, it turned something ugly into an opportunity to celebrate unity.

“It was intended that the event be postponed because of the security situation”, said Faraz Khan who runs Stimulus in Karachi, “this was a testament to the spirit and resilience of people of Karachi and Pakistan. The youth turned up, we played music, they were laughing. Youthful, happy, educated, loving girls and boys...true Pakistan was lovely...” Unlike many Pakistanis I have met, Faraz truly believes that it’s only a matter of time before, what he calls “the fabric of goodness” resurfaces in Pakistan through the true spirit of communication.

The huge population of young people (over 50 per cent under 20) provides hope to Faraz and another well known activist – Junooni Salman Ahmed, who has recently launched a social awareness campaign A.R.T - Aman (Peace and regional harmony), Rozi (economic security) and Taleem (Education). He writes that this is a non-political, non-partisan and non-violent movement which Pakistani women and men of all ages and inclinations can agree upon.

“Our goal is to bring about a fundamental change in the contract between the individual and the state” says Salman, and interestingly, he is not the only one to contact me recently to mention that hope for Pakistan lies in the individual. 

Perhaps we need to hear more about events like Chal Utha Pakistan, which demonstrate resilience and the turning of something negative into an opportunity to show unity. And I am certainly moved and engaged by the story of the Muslim community in Cambridge this weekend. I will never forget a show of unity in Tel Aviv I attended some 20 years ago. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs turned up in their thousands, but the media only covered the angry shouts of a handful of right-wing Jews as they counter-demonstrated. As a young woman, I was angry and confused.  So once more, I call on media channels to focus on dramatic examples of cooperation, and not go for cheap sensationalism. Last week I complained at the Cambridge News irresponsible headlines, but this week I congratulate them on their balanced content “English Defence League march ends after failed bid to target mosque” which shows images of both demonstrations and a positive video.   Sadly the EDL never got their Biryani, but the thought was there, another member of the mosque said that “there is some positive relationship with them because of this gesture”. Unity is one thing, reaching out that step further is to be applauded.

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy.  She writes regularly for Muslim Voices and the World Bank blog, and a book about her time in Iraq is being launched in October 2011.  More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found on


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (36) Closed

Mansur Khan (Namibia Jul 13, 2011 12:24pm
Good article..Good comparison...Good observation...the Media must take responsibilty to UTHA PAKISTAN...they have the chance and can influence the man on the street
mansoor mubeen Jul 13, 2011 12:45pm
great job. well done. may God keep you and your family always blessed with health, wealth and happiness. amen.
JInx Jack Jul 13, 2011 01:15pm
very good article, In the end we are all just human despite what our religion or creed is, but its the pre-convinced images of people created by the urge to sell more newspaper by the media. It is sad really to see the small differences enlarged to such an extent that no-one can shake hands for a march of peace between such a large gulf.
rahul from india Jul 13, 2011 01:17pm
Well if u watch the documentary 'undercover mosque' filmed in britain, you will understand the kind of things happen in one of the famous and biggest mosques in Britain. They teach hatred against the white people, gays, hindus and all those who are not muslim. These mosques funded by British govt. to increase the interfaith harmony. And they are visited by prince charles himself. Recently Germany also locked the mosque which was suspected of teaching center of terrorism. I'm just wondering what will happen when a big church or a temple is bulit in Saudi Arabia.
Cambridgian Jul 13, 2011 02:18pm
Rahul, Let's not take isolated examples and generalise them. I'm sure the same could be done with Hindu temples in India. If everytime that a member of a community did something silly, the whole community got punished for that, there would be nobody left on earth, no Jews, no Christians, no Muslims, no Sikhs, no Hindus, no Irish, no Sri Lankan, NoBody. As to picking on Saudi Arabia, that's also unfair to Muslims, as most Muslim countries have Churches and Synagogues.
syed mohammad adil Jul 13, 2011 02:44pm
@ Mr. Rahul.. In retrospect, you should see the documentary on Gujarat violence... How Narinder Modi induced violence on Indian Muslims.. You would be ashamed of being an Indian after watching the documentary.
Alex P Jul 13, 2011 02:52pm
Interesting that you describe your home as the 'quintessentially English city of Cambridge'. As a resident of Birmingham it would not be inaccurate to describe my home town, the second city of the UK as the 'quintessentially Pakistani Muslim city of Birmingham' a growing fate shared by many of the UK's major towns and cities. The city has divided into a series of ethnic ghettos, many of which I would feel unsafe to walk through. The Muslim community dominates many of these areas and is hostile to non-muslims of all communities, be they Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Jews or Afro-Carribeans. In fact tensions became so bad in the last few years between the Muslims and Afro-Carribeans that there were widescale race riots where two people were killed. So please ensure you make the most of living in your 'quintessentially English city' as with the proliferation of Mosques taking place in Cambridge it won't be long until it suffers the same fate of Islamisation as my home town. The English people have never consented to this demographic takeover and hence the EDL are the only group that allow people to voice their opposition and disgust.
Patrik Jul 13, 2011 03:48pm
Rahul You can be arrested and jailed for even carrying a non-muslim religious book(bible, Gita etc) when you enter Saudi. Forget about a Church or Temple !. Yes, These guys get very loud about demanding their religious rights but a have no problem denying these to everyone else. In my son's schooll in west london, all children are taught about different religions and festivals to promote social harmony between diffrent ethnic and religious grups living in the area. This was all working fine until parents of muslim children aked that their children be excluded from participating in 'non muslim activites' like celebratintg Christmas or Diwali festivites. The Christians Hindus and jews had no problems with their children participating in EID festivities !. It is this kind of behaviour that reinforces anti-muslim sentiment and these children when they grow up will always see muslims as 'different' whose fault is that ?
Akshay Jul 13, 2011 04:20pm
Awami Lota Jul 13, 2011 04:26pm
One can't expect from a Hindu to allow Muslim to slaughter cow, publicly, as cow are considered to be the sacred in their belief. Similarly when Muslim, in their zone of preaching (Mosque) or in an Islamic State, do hatred discussion on Gay "Culture" or dislike them, its solely because, it's in their belief to dislike Gay Culture. Why people from other religion interfere in something that is purely religious for us?
Faction Jul 13, 2011 04:29pm
Yes, keep your head in the clouds in your fantasy world where Muslims are the voice of reason, and the extremists are a few bad apples, just like any other religion. Better get your burka ready though, just in case. Word has it that uncovered women are just asking for it, and unless you have four witnesses...
Ejaz Jul 13, 2011 04:30pm
To Hope (Keats): In the long vista of the years to roll, Let me not see our country’s honour fade: O let me see our land retain her soul, Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom’s shade. From thy bright eyes unusual brightness shed— Beneath thy pinions canopy my head!
Shashwat Mishra Jul 13, 2011 04:32pm
@ Syed....yes riot violence was shameful and heinous. Yes I am ashamed that injustice happened. But I want to ask many Hindus lived in Pakistan post partition? How may are there now? 1/3rd or 1/4th or even less of the original population? In India, the number of Muslims has been growing. How many temples have been destroyed in Pakistan? Muslims keep harping on Babri Masjid. One mosque razed by fanatics. How many temples has your government razed? Pakistan in an Islamic state. India is secular. You love saying that it is alway someone else's fault. US, India, anyone but Muslim Fundamentalists. Whenever Muslims are in minority, they cannot conform to the majority, the majority must conform to them. Don't worry though, eventually the world will be Islamized.
amjid Jul 13, 2011 04:46pm
Mr Rahul. you are talking about mosque. let take an example that to sacrifice cow is religious obligation in Islam and you Hindu would allow Muslims to sacrifice cow in Hindu temple
Jack Jul 13, 2011 04:55pm
Actually no-one is arrested for carrying any book! Check you sources again, cause i Live in Saudi! and I have never seen any non-muslim getting arrested get nt going to prayer or hell even keeping a idol at home. they have the freedom to do whatever they want in their homes!
Gemma Saunders Jul 13, 2011 05:22pm
Because promoting homophobia is a criminal offence in the UK as is spreading all of your other hatred around! The British people are generally a tolerant bunch, but if you expect to come to this country and spread hatred that tolerance will rapidly evaporate. I really do fear for the future of the Muslim community in the UK because anger is building not just amongst the working classes but the traditionally more tolerant middle classes.
InziHaq Jul 13, 2011 05:26pm
VK Jul 13, 2011 05:40pm
Being an Indian Hindu I criticize and condemn what ever happened to Muslims in Gujrat....It was wrong to target all teh muslims in Gujrat for Godhra train burning incident and I strongly feel that all those who charred muslims to death in Gujrat shall be hanged. Now no you have the courage to say something about all those who committed the Mumbai attacks ????
teluka65 Jul 13, 2011 05:47pm
Tell me when the rest of the world is moving forward and embracing new ideas ,why are you muslims still clinging onto your religion without improving your living status ? Religion is a belief. It cannot feed you. It is time you muslims wake up and face reality.
G.A. Jul 13, 2011 05:52pm
@Shashwat Mishra - I throw the question back at you: Exactly how many temples have been razed in Pakistan?Please enlighten us with names and locations. In the meantime I suggest you lookup Katasraj, Nani Mandir, Punja Sahib in Hasanabdal and the Sikh temple right next to Baddhahi Mosque in Lahore. Have you already forgotten the ransom paid by Pakistani people to rescue six Indian Hindus and their rescue by Pakistan Navy only 3 weeks ago?
Caroline Jaine Jul 13, 2011 08:54pm
I am horrified that on an article about shining a spotlight on unity people would chose to have an argument about who is worst...which nationality or religion has committed the worst atrocities. I know I said we should air grievances and listen, but surely this is not a useful way of doing this for anyone?.
Caroline Jaine Jul 13, 2011 09:00pm
Thanks for commenting Gemma, there any many issues that need to be talked about publicly. I agree a healthy discussion on homophobia (and on gender issues generally) is surely amongst them. There are some myths to bust and some values to be challenged. The Muslims in Britain are not going to vanish. I'd be keen to hear your ideas for how this might be constructively handled.
Uj31 Jul 13, 2011 09:09pm
I lived in Saudi Arabia for 18 years and i never saw anyone getting arrested for a book or wearing their religious symbols around their necks. You can read your book in public but cant show the symbols. You cant practice judaism, christianity or hinduism in public. But the same goes for shia muslims too. They have it worse than anyone else. So its not only christians or hindus suffering from the strict laws of the saudis, its also the muslim sects.
Bilal Khan Jul 13, 2011 09:18pm
VK .. Do we need to repeat this on each and every forum and to each and every single Hindi again and again ? Or do you not know that our PM, President and Govt condemned those attacks when they occurred .. I don't know why would a sane person even ask for such question .. First of all every muslim knows that even in War you are not allowed to kill an unarmed person let alone in markets and bazaars .. Every muslim also knows that suicide is 'STRICTLY' prohibited and any one committing it will have a place in hell but that doesn't stop any misguided person committing these crimes. Those who were behind Mumbai attacks should be given capital punishment.
BRR Jul 13, 2011 09:58pm
While providing Biryani for people who protest may be good political move, calling them racist is a jump to conclusions -- there may have been some of them too, but here we are in the realm of assumptions. Those providing the Briyani could also have been racists indulging in PR. Like the Jamat-ud-Dawa group in Pakistan this week pulling out pliant (so called Hindu supporters) Hindu supporters to prove they do not have any hatred towards hindus - who are they kidding.
a Muslim Jul 13, 2011 10:34pm
Hi VK, it doesn't need courage, I'm a Muslim, and say that yes, those who commited the Mumbai attrocities should be punished, whoever they may be, 100%.
Khan Jul 13, 2011 11:03pm
VK, yes I strongly condemn any attacks on any innocent. Being a Pakistani and muslim, I am ashamed of all the killings in the name of islam.
Salman Jul 13, 2011 11:59pm
Hi Caroline :) I am glad that you are one of the very few westerners who understands Pakistan well enough to publish this article. And the interesting part.... you are not pleasing any particular group... :) More power to you :)
Irfan Ahmad Butt Jul 14, 2011 01:23am
Love for all, Hatred for none...
Zed Jul 14, 2011 04:14am
I think all the discrimination that is directed towards Muslims in the UK has made us more cohesive, therefore no need to worry about our future. Muslims' principal grievance with the western world is about all imbalance they have created in the Middle East and Central Asia, and unless the injustices against people in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir are not solved I think the Muslims have the right to raise their voice against those injustices. So you can not blame us for that, however there will always be a nutter somewhere who would push the boundaries when voicing their opinion. At that point the western people think (forgive me if I over generalise), "aha... this guy is the representative for the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world" Media does not always present a balanced view of events, and I guess that is the point the author makes here, i.e. might not the world turn out to be an vastly different place altogether if only the media could help break stereotypes.
Arshad Jul 14, 2011 04:40am
Couple of points that are implicit in your comment: 1. too much immigration: If you vent your anger at the immigrants for immigrating to the UK then you are barking up the wrong tree. With the exception of illegals (whom you and I being a legal immigrant, have a good reason to despise) all the people come here under a law which your government, which you voted for, has put in place. So any questions should really be directed to your government. Besides securing those work permits and HMSP visas is not cheap- so really the UK is not doing any charity letting all those people in. 2. People in different communities not getting along with each other: I am sure there is more than one party that should share the blame for that, but I will talk from my own experience. When I came to the UK for the first time I told myself that I will do in Rome (read London) as the Romans (read Londoners) do. But no matter how far I extended my hand of friendship (and I did stretch it out of my comfort zone) no one would grab it, except non Brits. So after 7 years here I have zero English friends even thought there are 60 million of them around. So if you try and exclude different looking people from your lives, then they will live parallel lives to yours and never integrate.
BRR Jul 14, 2011 12:54pm
Strange that you expect the media to provide all these services when its primary mission is to document facts, shed light on issues, educate the masses (so to speak) on things that matter, etc. But it is not the role/ responsibility of media to "help break stereotypes". People themselves, by their actions (that speak louder than words) need to do that.
Bharat Jul 14, 2011 03:09pm
There are two emotions that govern our lives - Greed and fear. And this is all about fear. Note that the Muslims in Cambridge were fearful, when they heard about the EDL. Note also that the real reason for the rise of the EDL is their fear of Islam. the only way to conquer fear is with love as the Muslims did in Cambridge. I hope that this spreads
Sharma Anil Jul 14, 2011 04:19pm
That is bad, EDL should have been given Biriyaani !
Patak Jul 17, 2011 06:28am
Which planet are you living on Caroline? Come down to planet earth. If you want to sit in your ivory tower and strut around as a peace maker, that's your privilege, but there are people living in the world who are being killed by bigots and terrorists. You've said your piece, now let others respond without your sanctimonious sub texts please.
AHMED Jul 25, 2011 11:00am
All these statements and rejoinders are pointless. If teeth and tongue can co-exist, why not Hindus and Muslims.