I have been studying Pakistanis in Dublin for the last four years. It has been enlightening to interact with these people in their various homes and mosques. There are many inspiring Pakistanis in this city, some of them migrants and some of them natives of Ireland, some struggling in the working class and others wealthy professionals living in the suburbs.
Hearing about the attack in April on Pakistanis at the Spar on O’Connell Street in Dublin was, however, a sobering reminder of racism against Pakistanis in Ireland.
In a recent disturbing video shared by the Irish Independent, several young people are seen kicking at the door of the Spar as a Pakistani man tries to barricade it. Shouts of ‘get out of the country you cunts!’ can be heard. Another young man screamed ‘you’re dead!’
As a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Trinity College, and as a supporter of human rights and interfaith dialogue between Catholics and Muslims, I have been keen to report on positive stories that I have encountered in my research. Yet early in my interviews I discovered that some Pakistanis in Dublin face widespread discrimination and live in fear.
When I met with Jafar (a pseudonym) in the fall of 2012, I realized how serious the problem of racism is. I was appalled when he told me about the time he was physically beaten by several white Irish men. When Jafar asked why they had assaulted him, the men responded by stating ‘You’re a Paki. Go back to your country’.
Jafar was a soft-spoken and peaceful man who has worked hard to make a living in Dublin. I could not help but feel sad for the aura of hopelessness he gave off. He appeared to be a broken man inside.
As I interviewed more Pakistanis, I heard even additional stories of violence and assaults. I felt particular empathy for Pakistanis who were born here because they face persecution in their own home. These Irish Pakistanis had moving stories to tell. Some of these young men recounted times of having their car windows smashed and ‘Paki’ spray painted on the hood of their cars. One of them, who said he hears the term ‘Paki’ all of the time, noted that the Irish youth are particularly hostile. Unfortunately, he responds to their slurs by using another derogatory term, ‘knacker’.
For many Pakistani migrants, their situation upon fleeing persecution in Pakistan has not improved since arriving in Ireland. Several of these men talked about the racism and discrimination they face from their co-workers and from customers on their job. One interviewee shared a story of being attacked while working at the restaurant Eddy Rockets. He was blamed for taking the jobs of the Irish and accused of not speaking English, even though he learned to speak the language fluently in Pakistan from a young age.
As Ireland becomes increasingly diverse, the treatment of its ethnic minorities takes on a much greater significance. People who claim that Irish identity is about being white and Catholic have chosen to focus on Pakistanis, who are mostly brown skinned and Muslim, as the antithesis to their self-fulfilling myth.
Ireland portrays itself as a tolerant and multi-cultural society. The Irish recall the idea that they were oppressed for centuries by the English and so are incapable of oppressing others out of sympathy for being persecuted. I hope that the Irish will remember their own history of persecution and stop attacking Pakistanis.