Ziauddin Sardar’s chronicle of the British Asian experience

Burhan Wazir reviews Balti Britain: A Journey Through the British Asian Experience in The National:

Screenhunter_05_sep_04_1613This British Asian boom arrived at a celebratory time in British history. Many Londoners were enjoying a post-election cigarette after Labour’s systematic destruction of the Conservative party at the polls. In Tony Blair, Child of the Sixties, the country had its first post-war prime minister. His predecessor, John Major, had extolled the virtues of cricket; Blair idolised football. Honest John listened to classical music and jazz. Blair’s musical taste was a typically contemporary pastiche: punk (Sham 69), faux-soul (Simply Red) and American rock (Bruce Springsteen). London was feeling good.

Elsewhere in the country, however, “Cool Britannia” was a mirage increasingly failing to address festering differences between communities. In Britain’s northern inner cities, the spectre of drugs, crime and prostitution (allegedly controlled by Asian gangs) was taking hold. These inequalities were violently exposed in May, June and July of 2001, an election year, when riots ignited in the major Northern cities of Leeds, Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. In Bradford alone, 300 police officers were injured and nearly as many rioters arrested. Damage to the city was estimated at around £7 million (Dh47.5m).

The following year marked more dire milestones for both the Labour Party and race relations in the UK. The British National Party, campaigning on a platform alleging widespread reverse racism in favour of swarms of asylum seekers, won three seats on the Burnley council. It was the party’s biggest electoral victory in more than 20 years. During election week, one resident of Burnley, when asked why he’d voted for the BNP, succinctly put it to this writer when he said, “Cos they wanna get rid of Paki scum like you.”

In his new history of the British Asian experience, Ziauddan Sardar, author of Why do People Hate America? and Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim, forcefully outlines the challenges facing second generation communities. The book takes its name from a Birmingham fast-food creation involving a variety of fiery spices, vegetables and meats. Sardar takes balti to be a symbol of the British Asian diaspora: a fusion of nationalities and sects who, due to economic hardships, resettled in the UK.

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