Dawn : Pakistani students in UK

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pakistani students in UK

Dawn Editorial | April 29, 2009

‘Operation Pathway’ was perhaps destined for failure the moment the UK’s top counter-terrorism officer was photographed with files providing details of planned police raids on Pakistani students. The officer concerned was forced to resign and the police action, which had been in the works for months, was moved forward at short notice. The result: mass arrests but no solid evidence.

Even so, that did not stop UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown from crowing about how the police had foiled a major terrorist plot. What terrorist plot? There may have been one but we will never really know, will we, considering how badly the inquiry was bungled? Physical searches of flats and houses yielded nothing, and neither did scrutiny of seized computers. In the end, all charges were dropped but yet the students are not at liberty.

They have been remanded to the custody of the UK Border Agency pending their deportation. Can Mr Brown, who was in Pakistan the other day, answer this one simple question: what is their crime? Every single student rounded up by the police was in the UK on a valid visa. Not one shred of evidence that could stand up in court could be produced against any of the young men now in custody. Is this justice? No, it is not.

Britain’s civil liberties record is not spotless, particularly in its dealings with the IRA, but the country does stand out as a bastion of basic rights in the western world. Every country has the right to act decisively when it feels that its security interests are being threatened. The UK cannot be deprived of that privilege. But when it knows that it has made a mistake, the British government, and yes it’s prime minister, should have the decency to show remorse and apologise for the incarceration of Pakistani citizens whose only fault perhaps was that they weren’t white.

The UK needs to sort out its race issues. Racism in Britain is both institutional and in your face. Few middle-class persons of colour who spend any prolonged period of time in Great Britain can come away saying that they were not discriminated against in one way or another. This is an issue that Britain needs to address on an urgent basis. Meanwhile, teenagers of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin do not turn the other cheek at any given affront like their predecessors did.

The race riots of 2001 showed once and for all that there is now a generation of South Asians in Britain that will not simply cower and simper. But there is a downside to this dubious empowerment as well. Alienated from the mainstream, many Muslim Britons are more than willing to lend an ear to the obscurantists.