Amir Khan can only embrace his Pakistani identity because he’s climbed the greasy class pole

Khan is only allowed to express his Pakistani identity in public because he’s ‘made it’. But working-class Muslims have not earned that same right to freedom of expression

Allan Hennessy
Friday 03 June 2016 12:00
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Amir Khan, unlike working-class British Muslims, is now able to embrace his Pakistani heritage
Amir Khan, unlike working-class British Muslims, is now able to embrace his Pakistani heritage

After 12 years on the boxing scene and a number of sporting accolades, Amir Khan has earned a right that most British Muslims can only dream of: freedom of expression, religion and thought.

Khan, who rose to prominence in 2004 when he won Silver for Great Britain at the Olympic games in Athens, is now looking into the possibility of representing Pakistan, the country of his father's birth, in Rio this summer.

Of course, Khan should not be criticised for now embracing his heritage; that much is to be applauded. Most British Pakistanis or Muslims are not so fortunate: they, too, are caught in between two cultures and nationalities.

Khan – now a successful boxer – is able to embrace his Pakistani heritage in public. It is lamentable that British Muslims are only allowed to embrace their heritage once they have climbed the greasy pole. We must first assimilate before we can break free.

Here in Britain, we only want the ‘good foreigners’. We have no time for the downtrodden and weary. Someone like Amir Khan is only allowed to express his Pakistani identity in public because he has ‘made it’. By contrast, working-class Muslims – certainly those who have not won a silver medal at the Olympics and a plethora of boxing titles – have not earned a right to freedom of expression.

Yet even Khan will not have it easy if he decides to box for Pakistan. He will no doubt receive a torrent of abuse calling him ungrateful, accusing him of betrayal and treason. ‘This country has given you so much!’ they will shout at him, blissfully unaware that even British Muslims who reach dizzying heights of success are in a perpetual state of liminality, caught between two worlds.

Indeed, one does wonder whether Khan would have ‘made it’ if he started his career fighting for Pakistan. The answer? Probably not. Pakistani boxing does not receive the same coverage, sponsorship or following as British boxing. Sportsmen and women abandon their heritage if that is what it takes to make it in the sport. Culture becomes capital; a mere commodity; a means to an end.

But even when they ‘make it’, British Muslim sportspersons are still ‘second-class athletes’. Take, for example, the response to Mo Farah’s double gold in the London Olympics. Farah received a wave of abuse, calling his British-ness into question, commenting on his skin colour and even joking about how he got to this country ‘on a dingy’. Our BME British athletes do not have it easy.

Nevertheless, a second-class athlete has it better than the second-class citizen.

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