“What are you doing here?” is a query I have become accustomed to. Sometimes, it is meant as an insult; sometimes, as a 'compliment'. The use of single quotes will become clear soon. Recently I got a response to my piece No multiculturalism please, we’re British.

It was a stimulating note that some of you will find interesting. I shall reproduce most of it without the name of the writer or of the recipients, all of them extremely accomplished. My reply that follows has stuck to only a couple of basic points. I need to add that the writer is not a Hindu or a Muslim. Why do I need to? Because of slots, slots, slots we are ready to put people into.

The note

Hi Farzana Versey,

Yours was an admirable response to Brit PM Cameron's attack on multiculturalism.

You write with a knowledge and confidence of a British citizen whereas you live in that squalid, venal place (India) where nothing noteworthy happens and there is little intellectual life. No wonder thoughtful South Asians prefer to write in foreign journals.

Ms Versey, you focused on the views of a single writer, Douglas Murray, described as Director of The Centre for Social Cohesion. First of all, as a London resident, I can assure you that the CSC is a virtually unknown body. It happens to be an offshoot of the rightwing ThinkTank called Civitas which has focused on the impacts of immigration into UK. Then came the London bombings (by disaffected Muslims) in July 2005. That led to the birth of the CSC in 2007. It started with a Report in 2008, claiming that Islamic societies at Universities tend to enocurage extremism. The claim was based on a survey which (according to the President of the National Union of Students) was based on 'vague and misleading questions and their answers were then misinterpreted'.

Mr Murray, neo-conservative by outlook, called for a bar on immigration from Muslim countries and asked that "conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board". Notice that Murray chose to write in the WSJ, a rightwing journal owned by arch-capitalist and anti-Muslim, Rupert Mudoch.

Most of the other Brit ThinkTanks are also wary of Muslims. For example, the better known Policy Exchange (PX) is obsesssed with Muslim 'extremism'. A wide ranging Report in 2007 called Living Apart Together said that multiculturism and government failure to assert British values has encouraged young Muslims to adopt anti-western views.Later the same year, another Report claimed that 'extremist literature' was being circulated in mosques and called for great regulation. Policy director Anthony Browne called for a clamp down on arranged marriiages, deportation of controversial imamas and a ban on hijabs in school. A founding chair of PX is now the education secretary Michael Gove in Cameron's government. Another ThinkTank is the Social Affairs Unit that publishes the monthly mag called Standpoint, today's version of the old CIA sponsored mag, Encounter. This also keeps ranting against Muslims.

Why this fixation with Muslims?

Farzana, you have answered this question in your last line "Fear of the Other'

Yes, given the 9/11 tragedy and the Iraq & Afghan wars, the West is well aware that Muslims are intelligent and fearless. And increasingly, they are proving to be an intellectual match with the West. In Britain, the co-Chair of Cameron's Tory Party is a highly personable and articulate Pakistani woman Baroness Warsi. In the media world, there is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist for the Independent; Mehdi Hasan, columnist for the centre-left monthly New Statesman.Salma Yacoob is the attractive and fluent leader of the Respect Party founded by George Galloway. Among the men are Zia-ud-din Sardar, Tariq ali, Tariq Ramadan and of course Salman Rushdie.

And the Hindus? Somehow, the intellectual [discusion and debate] doesn't seem to attract them. As far as I know, there is just a single Hindu public intellectual in Britain - he is Prof-Lord Bhikku Parekh of political science and highly regarded. The West considers the Hindus a safe lot - rather cowardly and submissive, pre-occupied with their rituals and businesses.

I wish you {some other names were also mentioned, including a couple of recipients} were in Britain to utilise your talents to maximum effect. This country is dripping with intellectual stimulus that would keep you alert and occupied, and engaged with both your own community and mainstream organisations.

Best wishes

My reply


To begin with, a pre-emptive apology to all: This is my first click on 'reply all' and it might well not be repeated.

Thank you for your kind words, X, but I do write for Indian journals and cut my teeth in the Indian media over two decades ago and persisted. I guess a lot of 'noteworthy' things do happen in South Asia, which is why you have a slew of 'nostalgic' literature by the diaspora too. It is another matter that I am not acceptable to the mainstream media anymore, but that is a personal battle.

This is a digression from the theme of the article and your note, but for all of us you mention I am reasonably certain India/South Asia is challenging to navigate and that is where the intellectual stimulus comes from, even if it is emails forwarded that ask for a John Howard-like character to make India a 'clean' place.

I responded to one individual - Douglas Murray - because he was justifying an Establishment ogre. There are indeed other organisations and there is a wariness about Muslims. Two years ago one of these incidents had prompted me to write a piece Taming the Islamic Shrew.

While there is a fixation with Muslims, I see it as unfortunate that we have to respond. Fortunately, some of us go beyond the obsession with one subject, and I am most certainly not qualified to speak on behalf of Islam. Hindus in the UK do not need to indulge in faith-oriented intellectual activity because there is no specific falsification of their beliefs, although they do rise in revolt when an ad depicts a deity. Why view their work through the prism of how the British or any system sees them? I also make a specific distinction between Hindus and Hindutva just as I expect a distinction to be made between Muslims and Islamists. One of the most hardcore rightwing Hindutva intellectuals is Koenraad Elst.

When I do visit the UK again, I would most certainly be stimulated to write. But only after checking out the latest addition of an Indian waxwork at Madame Tussaud's!

We are like this only...

Thanks again and please excuse this intrusion in your Inbox.

Best regards,

- - -

I was responding, but it has raised the question as to whether we are what we are because of where we live.

“You don’t sound Indian enough.” How often have I heard this and how often do I want to ask how nationality can be measured. The sound of my words may not carry the baggage of the soil, but the undergrowth has to do with the environment. I don’t wish to take the quick way out and say I am a global citizen, for I know the globe is one round blob but everyone is chasing everyone else to be the next superpower, the next big franchise deal and even the next Paris Hilton. And I don’t want to flash my India card deliberately, too, only because it will give me a niche market. If it is generic to what I am saying, then yes. If it flows as part of the flood of emotions, then yes.

But I’d be damned if I’d let it act as a dam.