David Cameron’s Tories have become enamored with the British-Pakistani banker Sajid Javid. The danger of this cannot be understated. Unlike Cameron’s other token efforts, like Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Javid actually has a chance of being successful. He is a well-heeled politician who knows how to adapt his market-driven conservatism to the increasingly xenophobic setting of British society.
I actually had some admiration of Warsi for boldly making such decisions as remarrying after a divorce. I have none for Javid. We have all grown up knowing Pakistanis like him, who will make any cynical move to consolidate their hard-earned success either as recent immigrants, or second-generation ones.
For them, politics is not a mechanism for representative governance and social service. It is a means to elevate personal standing and prestige. Frequently, this happens at the expense of everyone else. That is how upwardly-mobile minorities work. More than anyone else, they integrate themselves with a compulsive accumulation of social standing and capital that has little regard for moral responsibility.
Javid is no exception. After graduating from the University of Exeter, and becoming a member of the Conservative Party, he joined Chase Manhattan Bank and was appointed the youngest vice-president in its history in 1994 at age 25. He became a managing director at Deutsche Bank in 2004, and in 2005, the head of the ominously-named Global Emerging Markets Structuring. After a few more promotions, he left the company in 2009, along with a three million pound salary, in order to pursue a career in politics.
He quickly got his chance. Julie Kirkbride of Bromsgrove announced that she would step down in light of the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal, which led to his speedy election in May 2010. He and Rehman Chishti immediately made headlines as the first Pakistani Conservative MPs (Chishti actually ran as a Labour Party candidate in 2005, but switched in 2006 to the more victorious side.)
Javid was clearly the rising star, though. Numerous analysts and politicians vocalized their excitement about the man, who has been called “more Thatcherite than Thatcher.” His rapid rise has led to speculation about his inner-circle ties to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne. The flurry of promotions he has received since 2009, mostly through Osbourne’s office and ending with his current position as Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport (once again, through an expense scandal, this one tied to Maria Miller) has all but confirmed this high-level alliance.
He has now ranked 55th on Iain Dale’s list of “Top 100 most influential figures from the Right.” Javid is also the subject of widespread right-wing speculation that he may be Britain’s first non-white Prime Minister. Dale seems to agree. When he ranked Javid in 2012, before the Cabinet appointment, he wrote that “[Javid’s] fast rise up the greasy pole into George Osborne’s inner circle is not only proof of this man’s ambition but also his talent.”
Ambition for what, though? I really do have to ask why Javid even cares. Throughout his career, we have seen very few, if any, genuinely principled stands from the man, especially since so many of his posts have been clouded in financial divination.
Javid is a political blank slate in that he constantly seems ready to be filled with the latest Conservative Party position, rather than having the originality to take his own. Even the conviction of being “more Thatcherite than Thatcher” doesn’t actually mean anything apart from a vague philosophy of loving the private sector. The strongest position he has taken in the past five years has been in support of scalpers (“ticket touts,”) who he called entrepreneurs.
When he recognized that his Muslim roots would be a liability for Israeli lobby groups in 2012, Javid went to a lunch and stated on the record that “after the UK, [he would choose] Israel,” because it offered him “the warm embrace of freedom and liberty.”
When Cameron wanted to intervene in Syria, and needed someone to blame about the annexation of Crimea, Javid enthusiastically rattled the post-imperial sabers with a statement about left-wing hesitance.
When he was asked further about his Muslim heritage, he trotted out the spiritual credentials of his Christian wife, and also had the audacity to say that “we should recognize that Christianity is the religion of our country,” stabbing his entire community in the back.
Of course, there are broader existential issues at play here. Why would any politician seek power if they do not have a truly ideological vision? The typical answer is usually something along the lines of “that’s just how they are.” This is the sort of exhausted acquiescence that can be applied to any inaccessible authority figure, be they MPs, or disinterested fathers. It isn’t an explanation. It is a bitter sigh of annoyance.
Publicly, it seems like Javid is set to become a British-Pakistani version of Paul Ryan (who is more Reaganist than Reagan,) with the only apparent motivation being the honor of climbing the hierarchy, and the communal praise of insular and ultra-rich Thatcherite fanatics.
Perhaps there is more going on. Growing up as the child of a bus driver in a working-class Pakistani household, Javid obviously learned how to seize a part of the world for himself by giving people exactly what they wanted. This is the unstated skill of those who achieve the immigrant dream. Successful Asians very cynically recognize what institutions demand, and sacrifice a great deal of blood, sweat, and toil in order to extract their approval.
Frequently, the main engine is a demanding parent, who instills the repressed violence so badly that it begins mentally propagating itself (this is what Amy Chua idiotically glorifies in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.) It doesn’t have to be, though. Everyone knows that marrying a British woman makes you seem more integrated. It is just a matter of who actually does it.
I often see Pakistanis of my newly middle class social bracket who deeply adore people like Javid, and similar figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Perhaps it is admiration. Perhaps it is jealousy. Maybe the uncritical position of being more Thatcherite than Thatcher attracts other zealots who are eager to expand their wealth and influence, with the benefit of violently forgetting their more impoverished pasts. It could be any combination of factors.
I am far more disturbed at the British reaction to him, though. Andrew Rawnsley has written an article in The Guardian Observer that contains an extremely troubling line: “in his rapid rise, there is some encouragement about Britain. Social mobility has been gasping for breath, but it is not entirely dead.”
This is denial, plain and simple, and is not surprising to read in an article that dismisses the very well-substantiated argument that Cameron has a history of bringing in token Asians whenever a scandal occurs. Rawnsley brings up Javid’s qualifications, but just because a token is talented, doesn’t make them any less of a token. Especially when they are appointed to cultural posts after having a successful banking career.
Regardless, as members of the upwardly-mobile community of Pakistani professionals and their descendents, it is our responsibility to remember the wider psychological consequences of what we are doing. Statements like this don’t occur in a vacuum, they’re a part of a narrative that we constantly reinforce. Namely, that we are the minority that is able to seize the opportunities of the market-driven West.
It ends up being the case that we arrogantly claim that we are more skilled than the slightly-more-native residents of countries like Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States, as Chua frequently does. The result is that we are adding to a nightmarish ethical situation where disadvantaged groups (especially if they’re black) hold themselves personally at fault for “not getting their act together.”
We end up admiring Javid, and raising our kids like Chua, and in the process, become projections for Westerners who desperately need to believe that their societies are meritocracies, rather than barely-concealed oligarchies that are marginalizing increasingly enraged populations.
We cannot pretend to have achieved the immigrant dream if we rise to the top and then reproduce the myth that a perpetually collapsing system of social and economic governance does, in fact, work. Unless that was always the point.