I started working on my memoirs in the late 2000s just to make sure that I remembered key things and events that one day I would stitch together, and the lockdown period gave me the stimulus I needed to finish it, as I had a lot of time to reflect on my life while thinking about what a deadly pandemic is likely to do to humanity. Over the years, I have read many memoirs concerning key British Muslim figures, and I was always curious as to how the narrative within them was constructed, and I wanted to provide something myself, but while it would be a story that would not be unfamiliar to many, the additional value that I could add is that, as an academic working on these issues myself, I could provide a degree of reflexivity and also objectivity that may not be found elsewhere. Therefore, I was motivated to try and tell a story about the life experiences of British Muslims and British Azad Kashmiris, reflecting not only on actual lived experiences but also on what they mean in sociological and political terms, having had the chance to understand and reflect on these issues over these years.
While discussing racism and inequality at length, the underlying message of the book is that no matter what people or institutions do to prevent you from getting on, if the will and determination are there and the ability to cut through nonsense is sustained, it is possible to achieve one’s goals. It is a study of how many times we get knocked down repeatedly, but if you keep your heart and mind in the right place, it is possible to get back up from the past and move forward stronger. There are all times when we, as human beings, have the agency within our own hands to make the difference that we seek. This agency needs to be cultivated, primed, and targeted at breaking down the barriers that seek to prevent ordinary people from achieving the achievements that they aspire to. What is noticeably clear in my analysis of society, economy, and politics in the UK over the last forty years is how this is rigged to prevent ordinary people from getting the same opportunities as those who have existing privileges can mobilise with aplomb but also prevent them from being accessible to others, thus making it impossible to get ahead for the many at the expense of the few who continue to do so.
The book is divided into two halves, with the first describing my story and the second being a series of observations. For example, in more recent periods, the Brexit and Trump eras have raised urgent questions about nationalism, authoritarianism, and populism. I also elaborate on observations based on my extended visits to Jakarta, Islamabad, Jerusalem, and New York City. I like to get to the underbelly of a particular city or nation to work out what is alive underneath all that external presentation, and it is very much the case that every society has a dark side to it, and invariably my observations allow me to comment on these societies to work out some of the interrelationships between these common experiences. Inevitably, there is an inherent streak concerning globalisation, neoliberal economics, identity politics, and the idea that there are races or cultures that are somehow superior to others, which ends up normalising neoliberal economic paradigms such that racial capitalism remains the dominant motif in contemporary global society. I hope the book has the desired impact, and I hope that people read it with interest and that it also encourages other writers and thinkers to produce their stories about being an Azad Kashmiri in Britain and all the implications it raises for questions of identity, status, belonging, and becoming.