becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Ziauddin Sardar

Ziauddin Sardar was born in Pakistan. He came to live in Hackney in the late 1950’s, where he grew up and went to school. A writer, broadcaster and cultural critic, he is one of the commissioners for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Though he has written numerous books on many subjects, he explores his identity as a British Asian in Balti Britain. Written in the wake of the bombings of the Twin Towers and the London Tube, the book demonstrates Ziauddin’s urgent quest to find a subtle and true analysis of identity in the face of too many crude stereotypes regarding difference in Britain. This subtle analysis entailed complete truthfulness and led him to acknowledge both positive and painful aspects of his and his family’s history as well as the history of Britain, its empire and our present democracy with all its flaws and potential. His life includes deep experiences of two cultures which both contain the fruits and flaws of ancient traditions and modernity. His exploration leads to a hopeful conclusion that demands that we acknowledge our interdependence and find the courage to know what to hold onto and what to give over to transformation. The book ends with the following words:

Our future must be founded on the continuity of cultural identity. It will be a plural way of being, sharing plural pasts with other communities to shape our collective future. Those who think — or, indeed demand — that we can be British only in one single and static way are, in effect, asking Asians to abandon all that makes them so rich, diverse and dynamic…. British Muslims are required to apologize so often for their existence — for the way they look, dress, wish to educate their children — it is no surprise that many see themselves as victims and cling to ossified tradition. Both defensive forms of apologia distract their energies from critical debate and awareness of potential futures, just as the defensive embrace of Little Englander emotions pulls up the drawbridge across which we must meet to create a better future It is not enough to listen to ourselves speak; we have to listen to how we are heard – it’s the only way to gauge how well we understand and can understand each other.

The pluralistic future would not mean the impairment of British identity… Plurality is intrinsic in your identity as well as mine… A plural future of assured diversity means we will all continue with our identities, culture and histories, and through this continuity determine what change is beneficial. Our task is to make the plural relationships of living together creative; to find what we share, what we hold in common and how best we can make a better future. The sources of acrimony and dissension are most often practical difficulties that have no racial, ethnic or religious implications, though they may have much to do with class and economic equality. We must disentangle the identity question from the fiction spun around social problems.

The last words of the book, which describe the reality of a multicultural Britain are: ‘The best is yet to be.’

References to works mentioned are on the references page.