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  • An Interview With Yasmin Hai

    by Shariq
    1st May, 2009 at 9:31 am    

    A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to get to interview Yasmin Hai about her memoir, ‘The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter: Becoming British’. We discussed a range of issues from what has happened to her childhood friends who were more ensconced in the ‘community’, the interaction between class and identity and the role of the media in covering racial issues. The interview is after the jump and my review of her book can be found here.

    Who did you write the book for? Whether it was for yourself or whether you had a particular audience in mind when writing it?

    The main reason that I wanted to write it was that I was a journalist at the time working at Channel 4, it could have been BBC, a very similar environment and I just felt slightly frustrated at the way that they were tackling the Muslim story. I had always felt frustrated and that especially post 9/11 they were contributing to the tensions.

    At the same time I felt that as Muslims we want to explain away the problems, and there is a problem there which needs to be dealt with. A lot of my friends who I’d grown up with and had been very assimilated, had become radicals at which I’d become quite alarmed.

    It was an opportunity in a way to explore why they had become like that, because I’d been living with them day to day it was difficult to analyse and you need to step back to analyse and get a broader perspective. It was an opportunity to look at that and I felt that it wasn’t the communities which were creating these monsters and that the real story was being missed, because a lot of these people hadn’t been brought up with the Quran.

    I had been working on a documentary and interviewing a Mullah who said that he gets anxious when the born agains or the converts come. That’s when he gets anxious. anyone who had been brought up with the Quran and for whom it was part of their family life, he was never really concerned about them and they didn’t do mad things.

    I had never really thought about making my father a central character, but when you’re writing a memoir, I thought I could get away with it, and especially being brought up as an Asian I didn’t want to deal with a lot of my family life, especially as my father was anti-religion.

    But then I realised that I was the one who was being held up as a model Muslim citizen, but from amongst my (Asian) friends, I was the one who was really conflicted.

    You could get an impression of reading the book that you are the epitome of how you’re supposed to integrate, well educated, with a successful career. I was wondering that of your group of bhaji friends, how many are content/repressed.

    Well the PR which has always gone out was that they were all very, very happy. One of the reasons that I wrote the book is that I actually really envied my Muslim friends lifestyle. They were married and had children and at the time I wasn’t. I didn’t come from a middle-class Muslim family.

    Well I did and I didn’t. I was very caught up in the gossip of a working class Muslim community and didn’t see myself as very different. I compared myself to them and thought I had the freedom to do this and this and this, but at the same time what type of happiness is that giving me, because in the back of my head I did think that getting married and having children is something that you should achieve and aspire to.

    I was having a conversation with one of my friends who is a mother. She had an arranged married at twenty. And from the outside her life looked great. Children, house etc. I happened to mention it to her, one day, how envious I was of her and the other bhajis who got married early. And she said, it’s not what you think it is. And now looking at it, of my friends, one of them’s divorced, another has gone off with another man and left her children in Karachi, another has become a proper hijabi and another one got divorced and is now living on her own.

    You said you grew up in a working class muslim community. Do you think that the people who deal with this subject appreciate how class plays a difference in shaping people’s identities

    I think that Class is such a major issue in all of this. I don’t think its working or middle class. Its more the people who move from working to middle class. Who have opportunities and yet haven’t reached an understanding of the nuanced and subtleties of culture here and they don’t feel like they can be part of the middle class of this country, but don’t want to move back to the working class either.

    I was cross with Peter Bergen, a friend of mine, because he coined the term Bradfordistan which makes all the Muslims seem the same. Journalists like to talk about people like Omar Saeed and how they come from a middle class background. But often they made their money running a fish and chips shop and were now are suddenly being called middle class but they aren’t necessarily.

    Do you think the London bias in the media plays a part in the coverage because people are generally of the same background.

    If you look at most Muslims in the media they come from middle class backgrounds and have grown up around lots of white people. I used to get put on these stories and a lot of my Asian friends were embarrassed by being put onto ethnic stories. I had always wanted to do ethnic stories, even though most of work was overseas.

    The people who are most depicted badly are the white working class. Time and time again I hear journalists talk about them and how they distort things.

    Do you think that we’re in a good state with regards to multi-culturalism

    First of all different definitions with some who think its a license to opt out and others who look at it in terms of tolerance and plurality. I think that we were in a better place before 9/11. People of colour now have a feeling where they should just shut up and if they talk then they will be accused of being anti-British.

    Do you think that this is a policy or media Failure?

    ON the other hand I think that the way multi-culturalism was played out on a local level was problem, for instance the way in which Bradford became totally segregated. Comparing it to the 1970′s for instance about the type of clothes people used to wear. Although I don’t know Bradford that well, but that’s how it seems to an outsider.

    Do you think we’ve made real progress on anti-racism or a lot of it is underneath the surface

    I think its still there but people don’t say it openly. Its as if they’ve tolerated multi-culturalism without really understanding. I don’t think they’ve got it but I don’t see how its going to change apart from generations and mixing but maybe not if people start sending their children to religious schools.

    What do you make of the free speech issues which have arisen since Salman Rushdie such as the Danish Cartoons and Geert Wilders.

    Of course there are Muslims who are going to be angry and there is a whole machine in place to exploit that anger. But similarly there are Muslims who will disagree with them and their form of protest. But you will never find these Muslim voices speaking in the media. Instead white voices will be invited to counter the Muslim radical machine. The media plays it up as a culture clash.

    I wondered whether your siblings have similar values to yourself or took different paths. I think its interesting in the context of the role of family background.

    The book was always going to be a memoir through a prism of identity and I haven’t really discussed the big problems within the family.

    My brother is Mr Joe Bloggs, very Conservative who thinks all this race talk is rubbish and there is no racism in britain. He doesn’t like religion but I think he’s a product of his times when a lot of Asian boys growing up in the seventies around the NF, later found themselves in religion or went into denial

    My sister is a real Asian Wag. We’re all integrated and were brought up to be independent thinkers and we’re sort of outsiders.

    I’ve always argued with my colleagues that instead of doing surveys which say so many people support terrorism, they should stand on the street and ask people if they are Muslim. Because a lot of people don’t seem like they are Muslim. For instance, they’ll think that I’m Hindu. Things haven’t really changed in the last 5 years because firstly its bad copy and also because its boring taking the PC line.

    I was interested about your stories of going up north and in particular Naima, who shows that even in segregated communities you see different characters.

    Even to this day, when I think of the image of the docile, subservient Asian woman, I can’t think of one. Maybe behind the scenes they are controlled but I don’t know of one. On the hand maybe I am buying into our propaganda and can’t see how oppressive it is to women and that we don’t have any genuine power. (we oppress ourselves by buying into the system and maybe I’m not appreciating it.

    The Naima story fascinated me because she had a daughter who was five years old who when the mother went to make tea, showed me a pair of jeans under the bed which she wore to parties but that her father couldn’t know about it.

    Do you think there needs to be govt policy to break up those areas or should we be more accepting.

    All the middle class Asians have moved out of Bradford. Ideally, I’d like to see some social engineering but that obviously there are reasons why that’s problematic.

    So going back on rebellion, how much do you think parents have to do with it and how much society.

    I think its 80 to 90 percent parents. The parents never knew what the children were doing. They were really ignorant and I’m writing a novel now on the amount of dysfunctionality. A lot of people I knew didn’t want to be part of their culture, because their parents were so stupid because of which they found their way towards this ‘pure Islam’.

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    Filed in: British Identity,Current affairs,Islamists

    2 Comments below   |  

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    1. pickles

      New blog post: An Interview With Yasmin Hai

    1. Raja Sahib — on 2nd May, 2009 at 8:52 pm  

      Excellent. What a gripping interview. “Eik damm original”

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