A need for nuance in reporting

The media and most often the national press are a constant feature of conversations which delve into what is wrong with modern society.

Reporters are seen as a product of white suburbia whose privileged upbringings are so far removed from the lives of ordinary folk that bias and misinformation flows from every sinew of their being.

More often then not those, whose communities, rituals and lives deviate from the prosaic middle-England template bear the brunt of generalisations, inaccuracies and blatant lies in the reporting of their affairs.

What right have they (reporters) to cast their postulates and prejudices on others?, are one amongst many rebuttals. Racism, bigotry and more recently Islamophobia are the favoured labels which are routinely mentioned in attempting to make sense of the vitriol.

After a year at journalism school from which some of my peers will become the next wave of reporters that break the news, I know that such simple aspersions are not always correct.

Instead we may want to look at the inherent nature of what makes reporting different from other forms of writing and mass information. More profoundly where exactly does nuance come into it or does it even?

The American humorist Finley Peter Dunne once said that; “a newspaper comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” In other words there is a good guy and a bad guy and we are on the side of the good guy.

This narrative of good and bad has made journalism and reporting a domain where the requirement of nuance it seems is not required. Any hint of it is seen as irrelevant and convoluting the simplistic narrative that the readers want.

The ‘want of the readers’ is problematic concept in itself but given that journalists are so often responsible in setting the agenda for debate perhaps the time is nigh for a change in output.

Reading the news it seems is no longer a way to keep abreast of world events or even entertainment. The twitter age of live debate has made news a weapon to prove any range of given views and biases.

Links are thrown about like grenades to provide evidence for even the most extreme and disingenuous of positions.

The rise of the far right and their successes in the mainstream has been accompanied by a constant use of news reports to entrench their positions. Abuse of every unimaginable kind is meted out about certain communities and towards some personalities, accompanied by a news link which provides the facade of respectability.

Given that modern Britain is no longer the exclusive domain of any one race or belief perhaps the time for the good versus bad should also be laid to rest.

A more diverse society with a multitude of beliefs requires a more contextualised news agenda so the work of reporters and journalists is not so easily used by those wishing to satisfy their prejudices.

Given that many journalists are prone to seeing themselves as a vital cog in the wheel of truth and democracy they should not be too reluctant in using a little nuance in their work.

The most recent piece of polemic that is the Trojan Horse fiasco in Birmingham is an example of what is blighting reporting today.

Some may hail it as great success of contemporary reporting, but as the following piece by Assed Baig suggests not all is as it seems. Much of the hysteria falls at the lap of those who decided to break a story without any regards for the evidence and without any concern for the context in which it is alleged to have played out.

In true comic book narrative the enemy has been identified and his only purpose is to reek havoc in the lives of the innocent who now need saviours, the journalist being the first among them.

It is fair to say that as society has increasingly diversified in its ethnic and religious makeup and the once strange has become more mainstream, methods of reporting have stood still.

The online battle for clicks and readership has exacerbated the problem further in creating ever more shocking headlines however far removed from the actual story they may be.

This is strange only in that the online platform as well as broadcast is perhaps a more ideal medium in rectifying the problems that come about through limited space on print pages.

Journalists may at present be protected by their self defined role as guardians of free speech but it is not irrational for those constantly a target of polemic to begin treating them as political or ideological enemies.

People and communities are not asking for favouritism just some honest and intelligent observation and consideration.

These are not so much high minded ideals but ones reporters should not be afraid to adhere to.

Perhaps then the media would be at the forefront of conversations that speak of hope and good in the world.

Women in Journalism: Thoughts and Reflections

Despite the increase in the number of women entering journalism and the advancement of some women within media hierarchies it can be said that mainstream media content has seen little change.

The reproduction of traditional stereotypes continues to dominate coverage. Why is this and how has the status quo been maintained? There is no simple explanation and several factors working in tandem have brought this about.

Gender Stereotyping: A double edged sword

One of the major reasons why women in the media have failed to change the traditional gender stereotypes is due to a realisation of the power and advantages that traditional female stereotypes are able to bring.

Rebekah Brooks was arguably the most powerful women in Britain since Margaret Thatcher.  Her status as the editor of the Sun newspaper gave her a unique opportunity to alter the media landscape by eradicating of the most potent symbol of sexism within the print media, the infamous Page Three.

And yet on Brooks’ first day as editor, the Page Three girl was Rebekah Parmar-Teasdale; the caption to the picture was “Rebekah from Wapping.” This is an important moment that deserves some reflection. The fact that Brooks projected her new found status and power through Page 3 hints at the contradictory nature of gender stereotypes in relation to a woman’s position in the media.

Catrin Nye a specials reporter at the BBC describes this best when she says that, “sexism in the media is like a double edged sword. On the inside (within the organisation and newsroom), it exists and you can be treated according to the typical stereotypes that society views women with. Yet being a woman has been useful on the outside through my job as a reporter. As a woman people are more ready to speak to me, tell me things that they wouldn’t tell men. In a way the power that a woman has through attraction is greater.”

The pressures of commercialism

The Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown says that “all publications depend on images of female beauty to sell papers. That is the depressing truth about human beings-men particularly.”

In this light it may be said that Brooks and other women at the higher levels of the media are somewhat constrained in the choices they can make. The USP of The Sun and what it is most known for by its readers is Page Three. How then do you go about just dismantling this at the inevitable expense of readership numbers?

According to Yasmin Alibhai Brown there is no short term fix but there is some hope. “Having very strong, feminist columnists – who were not in the papers before- are able to influence opinions and do so. I mean Zoe Williams, Tanya Gold, myself, India Knight and others. I think more women coming into the industry and rising up does change a culture, but very slowly.”

The relationship between commercialism and women’s representation in the media is also seen in another feature amongst the modern battleground for readership. Many newspapers have particular sections of their papers and online platforms dedicated to women’s issues. The Mail Online’s Femail section and Guardian’s Women section are examples of this.

This has created a space for women to write and broadcast their issues without ‘diluting’ the mainstream coverage still dominated by men. Although this can attract more female readers to create the larger consumer base it does so without upsetting the mainstream male hegemony.

Advancement! What advancement?

Roy Greenslade mentions in relation to a study carried out by Women in Journalism (WiJ) that “it was clear from the study that women are less likely to be in senior positions.” Greenslade shows how in the print media, “eight out of the top ten newspapers have almost twice as many male editors as women editors”, whilst anecdotal evidence also points to this trend across media platforms.

An example of this is radio where twenty per cent of solo radio broadcasters were female. During peak time shows this decreased to twelve and a half per cent. Whilst discrimination may play a part in this another phenomenon that is at play here deserves some consideration. The fact that there are fewer women in senior roles compared in proportion to those that come into the industry can be explained among other things through the life choices women face.

This is particularly the case when they approach an age where enough experience has been gained to command senior roles that would allow for content and agendas to be altered.

Catrin Nye again provides an interesting case study in this regard. At thirty years of age she has been working in the mainstream media for eleven years. Having worked her way up she is now at a stage where the next five years she is faced with choices that could hinder her progression.

“If I want children, realistically I’m going to have to have them between now and thirty five. This is going to have an impact on my career in terms of progression but as a woman it’s the choice I’m faced with.” Whilst this is not the only reason behind the lack of progression it is a factor that certainly contributes and must be acknowledged.

Page 3 on crack cocaine

The relative success of the right wing media in comparison to its leftist counterpart has also impacted heavily upon the lack of change in terms of content pertaining to gender stereotypes.

The Murdoch tabloid press as well as its broadcast arm alongside the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have adapted far better to the decline in print and rise of online in terms of maintaining readership numbers.

The fact that the online platform lends itself far more to picture heavy content has allowed for the continuation of sexy imagery to attract readers, viewers or even voyeurs. This not only maintains audience numbers but boosts the stereotypical gender content, a Page 3 on crack cocaine one may say.

Also these papers are traditionally far less inclined to the feminist ethos than their leftist rivals, meaning the exposure of content that may challenge traditional stereotypes is somewhat limited.

A failure of feminism

So there is no single reason why traditional gender stereotypes continue to dominate media content. The number of males in comparison to females in mainstream media outlets across all platforms is undoubtedly a factor, as is the commercial alchemy that is sex and beauty. In an industry that continually battles against falling commercial revenue, traditional stereotypes are being used as somewhat of a last resort to stem the tide.

Biology and lifestyle choices are also a determining element that ultimately contributes to the lack of women occupying positions which allow for the necessary change to take place.

But amongst all of this the failure of modern feminism in determining its own unique template of power has been detrimental. The obsession with proving your worth as a woman is too often equated with copying what the man has done previously. This process brings about more of the same and will continue to do so.

Being a student again

In his very readable work The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson gives a surprising candidate for the worlds most addictive thing; “the monthly wage.”

Ferguson’s explanation is set in the context of entrepreneurship versus the comfort and certainty of a regular income. He explains that the reason relatively few chase success as go-it alone pioneers, is because many don’t want to risk giving up the security that a monthly pay packet brings.

Those who do break the habit are more often chasing greater financial rewards or are pushed on by a reckless self-zeal in realising success long dreamt of, in an occupation of choice.

As one of the more mature students on my course I am perhaps entitled to include myself in this latter category. This I do having given up the monthly wage drug to pursue a postgraduate qualification in journalism.

Four years after completing my higher education studies with an MA in History, I have decided to return to the realm of those learning as opposed to earning. It has not been a spontaneous decision but one planned out over several years. Only two weeks in however the anxiety and withdrawal symptoms are very real.

To go from four years of a steadily increasing bank balance to one that is rapidly dwindling in the space of a few weeks with more pain to come, is a disconcerting experience.

To further exacerbate the tension the increasingly desperate state of a journalism industry has already been fired home by several prominent figures within the department and more widely by those working within the industry itself.

This is not a new phenomenon however and dwindling revenues have been a feature of journalism for several decades, better explained by those more experienced. At 26 and after four years in the “real world” of work and money going back to the beginning is not the easiest task.

The financial hit is only part of the bigger psychological readjustment that has to be made.  The issue here is that worldly experience which is priceless in almost all other situations can be a hindrance on vocational courses such as journalism although not always.

Experience for me has brought about a greater awareness of personal space, social etiquettes and a deeper understanding of issues that make in my own mind at least a news piece rather shallow and devoid of necessary context.

Unfortunately the existence of a reporter is justified by having to break some of these noble barriers to get the story however mundane. More importantly to get it fast. Experience also dampens the reckless energy that allows for the digging of information with little regard for ethical pitfalls however slight they maybe.

My consolation comes in knowing that by leaving the world of certainty for a less straight forward path of adventures and pitfalls aplenty, I have demonstrated to myself at least that I also possess a modicum of that reckless streak.

The challenge for me and many a mature student on vocational courses is to find it sooner rather than later.

PAKWASH: Method in the Madness

At the height of the spot fixing scandal which dominated sporting headlines during the Pakistan Cricket team’s tour of England in 2010, one of the many commentators on the debacle labelled Pakistan as “probably the most interesting sports team in the world.” If the double edged compliment needed any vindication then team Pakistan has provided it in the most definitive manner.

Just eighteen months on from the most shameful episode in its sporting history the country’s Cricketers have proved once again why despite their endless digressions, they are still able to transfix their many supporters.

England or “the number one test team” as many in the English media prefer to call them these days were similarly mesmerized. It was a given that Andrew Strauss’ all conquering team would face a major challenge in conditions in which they’ve historically struggled but even they couldn’t have expected what was about to take place.

England’s attempt to master what Steve Waugh famously labelled the final frontier (Indian-Subcontinent playing conditions) in the quest for cricketing immortality has been decimated at the first hurdle. The shell shocked expressions of the English dressing room after the 3-0 series loss spoke volumes of what these potential cricketing Gods had been through in the past three weeks.

The fact that Pakistan became the first team since 1907 to win a test match having been bowled out in the first innings for less than 100 is testament to their hold over their English counterparts since the series commenced.

It was as if bowling England out for 72 in the second test to clinch the series was not satisfying enough that Pakistan decided to toy with their fragile opponents. England’s excessive focus on Ajmal and his doosra’s meant they didn’t see the carnage that the unassuming Abdur Rehman with his orthodox left arm spin was to unleash on them. In the brief periods where the spin twins seemed to lose a little of their potency in stepped the workhorse Umar Gul to get his just rewards. Pakistan’s cricket during the series was relentless as if the team had something to prove.

The likeable Ramiz Raja had urged the Pakistan players before the series to “assume that they are waging a war” when they take on England. If Sun Tzu’s immortal philosophy of “all warfare is based on deception”, is to be taken as the idiom of war then Pakistan paid heed to Raja’s call.

Even before the series began the announcement that Pakistan’s spin wizard Saeed Ajmal had a new mystery delivery, the “theesra” had the desired affect. The mind games worked forcing England onto the back foot in a literal sense and making their downfall inevitable.

In all other conditions England remain a superior team to Pakistan and if the batting had not capitulated so spectacularly England would have won the series. That is not too take anything away from Pakistan who despite the absence of multiple star names have gelled spectacularly as a team. The leadership of the unflappable Misbah-ul-Haq has been the right tonic to eek out a solid work ethic from the men in green something previous Pakistani teams are not known for.

Many had predicted that Pakistan Cricket would take at least a decade to emerge from the shadow of the spot fixing scandal but predicting anything with Pakistan is a futile exercise. The country’s cricket culture has an ingrained sense of surprising even the greatest cynics. The future may still hold more surprises and with the incomparable Shahid Afridi still an integral part of the limited overs set up nothing is for certain.

If Pakistan cricket is forever to be marred by unpredictability then so be it. If however there is some method in all the madness then cricket’s present nomads will be a match for anyone.

Netanyahu should go back to ‘Begin’

Sadat, Carter, and Begin Shake Hands

 As Mahmoud Abbas gets set to officially file an application for statehood at the UN Netanyahu may want to heed a lesson from one of his predecessors in finding the appropriate response.

Whatever the immediate outcome of the Palestinian bid for statehood it is likely the medium to long term implications will consist of increased pressure on Israel to find an acceptable solution to the impasse.

Concessions on the part of Netanyahu and the Israelis would be a wise move for Israel’s long term security. 

Despite repeated Palestinian threats in calling off the peace process and now an official bid before the UN, Netanyahu has been reluctant to take such a step. The domestic political repercussions are seemingly too great for Netanyahu as pro-settler parties dominate his ruling coalition.

This may seem classical political compromise at least internally on Netanyahu’s part but as Israel’s own history shows a more shrewd move would be to seize the opportunity and compromise with the enemy.

When Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai in 1979, the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin could barely bring himself to look at his Egyptian counterpart. 

Begin possessed a super temporal view of history and considered the Sinai Peninsula as God’s gift to the Jewish people; something that was dictated by and enshrined in the Bible. 

Conceding the territory to Anwar Sadat’s Egypt was a huge step down for Begin. After all this was a man who had resigned from government in 1970 when America applied pressure on the Jewish State to step down from its ambitions for a Greater Israel.

Begin’s response was to form an alliance with right-wingers and establish the Likud (Consolidation). The party would go on to end the Left’s thirty-year dominance of Israeli politics by sweeping to victory in 1977.

The new Prime Minister described his victory in Biblical terms as ‘a turning point in the history of the Jewish people.’ He would protect what he saw as Israel’s God given right.

Yet 1979 saw a different Begin who although troubled by his concession saw in it the greater good for the future of his nation. For all the religious rhetoric on which he had secured his victory, Begin fulfilled his role as a Prime Minister as opposed to a saviour. The politician within him came to the fore and concession was the order of the day.

On this front at least history has proved him to have made the correct call. Israel has had one less enemy in the shape of Egypt and the two nations have enjoyed mostly cordial relations ever since.   

What was perhaps most remarkable about Begin’s concession is the fact that he was of a generation that had brought the state of Israel into existence. The ‘blood, sweat and tears’, scenario was personal. The next generation of Likud politicians should have no such hang ups.

With the party back at the helm of Israeli politics its present leader Binyamin Netanyahu may well take heed from Begin. The uncompromising stance of Netanyahu’s government over the status of Jerusalem and settlements smacks of ideological sentiment and is absent of any political skill. In short it is doing little to secure Israel’s long-term future.  

With the American-Israeli alliance showing signs of fragmentation in the recent past and a new dawn of revolution arising in the Middle East,the Jewish state has never been in greater need of peace with its neighbours. Concessions may well be the order of the day.

To have children is a human choice

Baroness Flather’s comments on immigrants reasons for having large families is typical of the cynical humanist view that reduces all things to material interests.

It was no surprise to me after reading Baroness Flather’s comments that I found her to be an avid supporter of the British Humanist Association. Despite their self-proclaimed standing as representatives of human interests such people often forget what it is to be human in the first place.

To suggest as Baroness Flather has done that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are only interested in having large families so they end up getting a bigger house or extra welfare payments is grotesque and down-right insulting. Many things in life are undoubtedly driven by material interests but the bringing of children into the world is of entirely different reasons.

There are undoubtedly a range of emotions involved in bringing a major dimension of the human project to fruition and essentially the choice is a human one. So why so many children or at least more than an average British household? Tradition and faith has much to do with it. With the majority of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis being of the Muslim faith a large family is seen as a blessing and not as the Baroness would see it as a burden.

The Arabic term for grandmother Jaddah means wealthy. The wealth is implied through the ‘fulfillment’ of life that is brought about when spending an old age amongst the youthful vigor of children and grandchildren. A far cry from the Baroness’ ideal of every old person having a pension, as if it is the only barometer of an acceptable existence in old age.

What good is a weekly payment when you are bereft of the companionship of those you sacrificed so much to nurture yet are shunned to be handled at your most vulnerable by strangers?. Where is the humanity in that?

As far as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and for that matter many others would see it the lot of the elderly in this country is nothing short of disgraceful.

The Baroness also deemed it reasonable to label those who choose to bring many children into the world as uneducated. Perhaps it’s a comparison relative to her own situation where as an immigrant she has managed to make a career as a barrister and acquire a title of privilege. No doubt impressive achievements but if the Baroness sees herself fit look down in disdain at her fellow immigrants from her high perch perhaps she should look closer at the achievements of some of those she so readily takes aim at.

Case study my own mother. Married at sixteen, emigrated to Britain at seventeen. In the intervening thirty years she has endured the tragic loss of her eldest son through drowning and the death of a husband her partner of twenty five years. All the while she has brought up a family of six children and took care of her elderly father in law and her disabled at birth sister in law.

Tomorrow her youngest two daughters set out to study pharmacy at university following in the footsteps of the eldest four who are now either studying at good institutions or in full time employment after graduation.

If motherhood was seen as an exam then it would be no exaggeration to say she passed with flying colours. Yet she is not alone in her achievements and many others parents from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities have fulfilled their responsibilities to those they brought into the world and in extension to society.

Such responsibilities are only fulfilled through love, sacrifice and a selfless attitude that women like the Baroness might want to take heed of. Her education, titles and material success pale into insignificance to such human qualities.

It is through knowledge that we are Merciful

Micro Madrassa in Session

On the tenth anniversary of the twin tower attacks Muslims young and old will be aiming to learn and implement a tradition of mercy that has been ignored by its detractors, its supposed followers and those who committed the atrocities on that fateful day.

Like most I distinctly remember witnessing the moment live on television when the hijacked planes crashed into New York’s Twin towers. Unlike most for me it was a moment of rejoicing. As a fourteen year old Muslim I had grown up watching countless injustices and humiliations inflicted on Muslim populations worldwide. As far as I was concerned the cause of most of that misery was getting its recompense.

Although my ideals at a young age were based on the eye for an eye mentality the justification was easily found being taught by those who have no authority in teaching Islam and very little understanding of its traditions and its central message of compassion.

Despite such individuals being in the few the airplay they have received since the disaster of ten years previous is highly disproportionate. As Islam has fast become the favourite topic of discussion and ridicule these few who have perverted a sacred tradition are shown to be its torch bearers.

It is a distinction they carry with pride and those who have an alternate agenda are willing to give them the platform to confuse a whole generation. This unholy alliance has drowned out the voices of those wishing to present the true tradition that seeks to build character and discipline teaching individuals to live equitable lives and to instil mercy into their being.

In such an age of confusion I count myself fortunate to be able to follow and be guided by the classical tradition of Islam preserved and handed down from teacher to student for over fourteen hundred years.

It is with this aim that on Sunday exactly a decade on from the most infamous event of this Century I will begin my first term at the Micro Madrassa set up and run by the Greensville Trust.

I will do this in the aim of acquiring classical Islamic knowledge that has a chain of transmission going all the way back to its founder. I will not be alone in this pursuit and those who sit with me have one aim in putting into practice what is learnt so one can better him/herself individually and become of greater benefit to themselves, their families and society at large.

In the words of the Madrassa’s founders it is designed as a “neutral space” for the study of Islam away from the ideological differences and sectarianism that has become commonplace amongst centres of Islamic learning in the West and even the Muslim world.

It is precisely this web of confusion that many young Muslims have been caught in, not being able to decipher in their ignorance between sound tradition and heretical innovation.

Ultimately this lack of sound knowledge or of any knowledge has created a culture of hate and revenge. If the last ten years have taught us anything it is that when hate is met with hate and vengeance is the order of the day then one disaster after another follows.

Innocence is butchered in lands that most of us have and will most likely never set foot in, and the sons of our own land are brought home in body bags with much confusion as to what exactly they gave their lives for.

One of the founders and teachers at the Madrassa Shaykh Ibrahim Osi Efa has mentioned the aim of the Madrassa is to produce educated Muslims. In doing this it will no doubt open the eyes of many including myself as to the true nature of the evil that took place on September 11th 2001 and has perpetuated ever since.

What I took for knowledge ten years ago made in my mind an unmerciful act to be a justifiable cause. It is somewhat poignant that the interceding decade has led me to the circles where it is taught as principle that, “knowledge is mercy.”

I’thikaf: Looking beyond Ramadhan

I'thikaf
Man performing I’thikaf during Ramadhan

With the last ten days of Ramadhan approaching it is the ideal opportunity for Birmingham’s Muslim community to permanently contain any rage that could lead to a post festive backlash.

As Birmingham’s Muslim community laid their sons to rest yesterday the sorrow was obvious to see. While the handling of grief that accompanied the death of the three young men has been commendable the real test will come post Ramadhan.

For Muslims the holiest month of the Islamic year is a welcome distraction from the realities of everyday life. It acts as a barrier against the base instincts that accompany most actions throughout the day. On this occasion it has no doubt helped in containing the rage that certain sections of the Muslim community have felt at the killing of three of their own.

Whilst Ramadhan has traditionally been a time for building harmonious relations ‘a season of goodwill to all men’, one might say its last ten days provide the perfect opportunity for individual and collective reflection.

This is predicated through the practice of I’thikaf where following  the example of the Prophet Muhammad an individual spends the last ten days in retreat normally within a Mosque. The time is spent in a mixture of periods of quiet reflection and intense worship. A last stand of sorts against any raging desires that may threaten to spill over once Ramadhan comes to an end.

This year will be my first attempt at achieving that particular goal.

The fast pace of the modern world coupled with an increasing demand for one’s time from  family, society, work and media can leave those with an attachment to religion slightly disillusioned. The dismay can quickly turn to rage against the wider world as a way of advocating zeal for one’s beliefs and rejection and anger can become the order of the day.

From experience the quickest way for any contempt to surface is through one feeling a sense of injustice just as the Muslim’s of Birmingham are experiencing.

It is easy to take a spectators view and lecture or condemn those feeling the anger of losing loved ones in such a horrific tragedy. But Ramadhan is often described in religious circles as the month of patience, a month where this virtue is supposed to be strived for and perfected.

It is said in the classical tradition that the true success of Ramadhan is evident to oneself only after the month. As repeated in many gatherings which i‘ve attended that following Ramadhan if one has improved any aspect of his/her character then that individual has had a successful month.

It may be difficult in the modern age to see the tangible benefits of any religious practice but if we as Muslims born and educated in the West are more inclined to demonstrable and scientific understandings then we should not treat these last ten days any different.

It is exactly how I intend to perform my I’thikaf as an experiment with sincere intentions to change for the better.  In the words of Marcus Aurelius (121-180 BC) “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

If this is the case then I expect the results to be fruitful on an individual and wider social basis.

For Birmingham’s Muslims such fruits would no doubt have positive implications in wider society where the longer term aftermath of a tragedy is conducted with the same dignity as the immediate response.

Pakistan: Was it worth it?

After the escalation of attacks on overseas nationals and the increasing lawlessness, British Pakistani’s have moved on to ask was it worth it?

As Pakistan marks the 64th year of independence the mood among British Pakistani’s is more despondent than celebratory; a stark contrast to over a decade earlier.

It is the 14th August 1998 and the Civic Theatre in Nelson, Lancashire is a throng with celebration. The British Pakistani community like many of its counterparts up and down the length and breadth of the country are celebrating the 51st anniversary of the birth of their motherland. Except this year there is extra cause for celebration.

Pakistan has just a few months earlier detonated its first nuclear devices. The great equaliser had arrived and Pakistani’s were now safe from any threat from the outside. The cake tasted that bit sweeter in the knowledge that the motherland was now secure.

But the safe haven that was envisaged by so many of us from a far has turned into a living nightmare. The same individuals who were filled with joy over a decade previous talk of a war zone and day by day deterioration of institutions and infrastructure. Others have simply given up talking and lost any hope for the nation.

Law and order seems non-existent in many places and now the threat from the outside that seemed to have been eradicated is a daily occurrence in the form of drone attacks.

Only last year members of the Yousuf family who hail from the Nelson community were horrifically gunned down whilst on a trip to Pakistan. Unfortunately their story is not unique in that a number of British Pakistani’s have faced incidents of an unsavoury nature whilst on a visit some of whom like the Yousuf’s have not lived to tell the tale.

According to Foreign & Commonwealth Office statistics, 245 British nationals required consular assistance in Pakistan during the period 1 April 2010 – 31 March 2011 with twenty seven deaths and four hospitalisations occurring.

Writing for Reuters last year Pakistan’s High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan talked of the “human bridge” that exists between Britain and Pakistan following post-World War 2 migration that brought many Pakistani’s to Britain.

The foundations of that human bridge are no doubt weakening as increasing numbers of second and third generation British Pakistani’s see little point or hope of returning to a land that their fathers and grandfathers left, not even to visit.

My last trip was over twenty years previous. At the tender age of two it was hoped by my parents that it would be the start of a regular pilgrimage to keep me attached to my roots. Despite the wish to return several excuses have prevented this from taking place in the interceding years.

Now however the excuses are no more and any immediate thought of return is akin to walking into the eye of the storm. No thank you!

As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office increasingly adds to the list of places to avoid it effectively cuts of large swathes of the nation to visitors. British Pakistani’s may now ask that even if they were to return, where are they to go?

Karachi at present is a battlefield riddled with gang violence and political massacres. The North West of the country has replaced Afghanistan as America’s favourite shooting ground. Balochistan is continually plagued by secessionist movements who are now engaged in a fifth conflict with the state since 1947.

Even the famous abodes of peace that make up Pakistan’s Sufi Shrines (which have acted as historical melting pots for the people of the Indian Sub Continent’s different faiths to come together in harmony) are now in the line of fire.

As the space becomes ever restricted the talk in some academic and mainstream circles amongst students, professionals and even the common folk is retrospective in that perhaps Pakistan wasn’t such a great idea after all.

That was two years ago during my postgraduate study. It’s safe to assume that the ‘perhaps’ is no more.