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Friday, May 09, 2008

Londonistan and end of an era

I have no doubt that Dr. Moeed Pirzada reflects the mood of many Muslims as he sees the end of Ken Livingston as Mayor of London. Let’s begin with the title of his article. “Londonistan” is apparently his preferred appellation for the city of London, which is in England, not Pakistan. It is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe with a long and rich history lasting literally two thousand years. Its culture is ancient. Yet he views it as it has been transformed over the last 50 years, a place where immigrant have established separatist enclaves maintaining and fostering cultures that are diametrically opposed to the Western culture that the city represent.

His lament begins:

KEN Livingstone’s defeat at the hands of Boris Johnson in the elections for the Mayor of Greater London, last week, was the end of an era. It was a development bigger than the city of London or UK with ominous implications for Muslim communities across Europe. Yet few of us in the Muslim media, across the world, so easily carried away with the nonsense of Geert Wilders, paused to reflect on the enormity of what happened.

The enormity of what happened? Well, in a way that’s true; just as someone had to break the news of Stalingrad to Hitler.

And here’s the key, the Rosetta stone, of understanding of the man and his culture:

Some events help to understand ourselves. Living all those years in London I never felt it was part of my identity.

And that is the problem. The Islamic world is arguably the most hidebound, traditional and tribal society in the world. It is famous for crushing of dissent from religious and cultural orthodoxy, enforcing its traditions and beliefs with torture and death. Members of this culture immigrated to Western countries determined not to adapt to their host country. Ken Livingston – and most Western leaders – indulged them in their creation of separatism. Not asking them to become Englishmen or Londoners, but reinforcing them in their fantasy that they could shape their hosts in their own image; thus creating Londonistan: a city that did not ever become part of his identity.

Let me be the leader of those who celebrate immigrants. I am an immigrant myself. And I understand that many immigrants suffer from a certain amount of homesickness. They may, for a little while maintain some customs, celebrate some holidays, prepare food like they ate in the “old country,” and speak of friends or family left behind.

But what was the purpose of this long and final journey if not to improve one’s position, to learn some new ways, to accept new challenges and reach for new opportunities? Why move around the world from Karachi to London if not to move from a failed or backward society to a better one?

There are reasons why one society prospers and another stagnates and the answer is not the natural resources. It is the people and their culture that determines whether a society prospers or fails. But it is entirely possible to impose the culture of a failed society onto a successful culture if the latter has lost its nerve and forgotten why it was successful.

That was the tragedy of Londonistan. And the defeat of Ken Livingston who made this transformation possible and led to Moeed Pirzada’s lament is reason for hope.

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