• 20 Jan - 26 Jan, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

There is an old trick which all federal and provincial governments in Pakistan have practiced since time immemorial. It is known as a reshuffle where what happens is that inconsequential people in the government are shuffled around and replaced by other equally inconsequential people and the public is given the impression that a ‘fresh’ government has come into being. In actual fact and deed, nothing whatsoever changes because the external restraints and restraint on resources remain exactly where they were.

We have just had such a cabinet ‘reshuffle’ here in the UK. Junior and a lot of less important ministers have been tossed around to produce a new mix, none of which is going to make the slightest difference to anyone except those who have been appointed to these posts. The more important ministers were not changed, either because the prime minister was not strong enough to move them out or because they flatly refused to go. The education secretary Justine Greening was one of them and she therefore had to resign. She has been replaced by Damian Hinds who may be a man to watch. He is said to be ‘prime ministerial material’, whatever that implies, and could be headed for the big job one day.

The rest of the reshuffle, described by one newspaper as the reshuffle that wasn’t a reshuffle, was neither here nor there. It was necessitated by the departure of Damian Green, the First Secretary of State and ex-officio Deputy Prime Minister, who had to leave when it was alleged that he lied about inappropriate images on his official computer. Senior members of the government here do not linger around clinging to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; nor do they evade administrative or judicial reckoning by simply not attending. Such easy ways out are, unfortunately, not available here. But perhaps one day, the English will learn these tricks from Pakistan as well. They have already learnt the old Pakistani ‘reshuffle’ trick and it is heartening to see that the influence of Pakistan on British life goes so much deeper than chicken tikka masala and now has permeated on to the political arena.

French ‘secularism’

This is not to say that only the big shots affect the lives of ordinary people. Not at all. Take the instance of the decision taken by the mayor of Beaucaire, a small town in France. Julian Sanchez, who is from the far-right Front National party, rescinded a scheme allowing Muslim children to have alternate meals instead of pork for school dinners. The school has about 150 Muslim students who have now lost their right to ‘substitution meals’ instead of pork when it is on the main menu. He has done this under the name of ‘secularism’ but very few are actually buying that and the move is being seen for what it is – a pretty open anti-Muslim move.

Mr Sanchez, however, insists that he is not Islamophobic, instead insisting that the introduction of pork free meals by his predecessor was an ‘anti-Republican’ move and a ‘provocation’ because it introduced ‘religion into the school’. In other words, the security and stability of the second largest economy in Europe was threatened by non-pork school meals! He wondered what the problem with pork was and added: “If there was a medical problem I could understand it but there is no medical problem.”

Parents had decided to hold “a Republican picnic” to protest the move, but the mayor does not look as if he is for turning. “The idea is that we parents, whether Muslim or not, do not put our child in the canteen on Monday since it is the day when there is pork. Instead, we will all eat together in the town hall square,” a parent said.

The mayor’s comment on this move could not be recorded but it does not seem as if he is a man for turning. The incident itself is a minor one and not many western media outlets have picked it up, but it shows the depth of anti-Muslim feeling in some quarters in Europe.

I am reminded here of an incident that happened while I was travelling by coach from Madrid to Granada in Spain a few years ago. A young student, sitting next to me, struck up a conversation with me. He was studying English and therefore thought that a conversation with someone from England would be helpful. Suddenly, at one point he cut off to show me a high mountain peak which we could see from the window of the coach. He explained to me with a naughty twinkle in his eye that when the Muslims were driven out of Spain, that mountain peak was used as the place from which many Muslims were thrown down to their death by Spanish Christians. He was smiling as he said that; it had never crossed his mind that he was speaking to a Muslim!