SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

The Politics of Pragmatism: the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets

Dr Ashraf Hoque

Date: 21 January 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 21 January 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G52

Type of Event: Seminar

The Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets is one built on historical pragmatism. From first arriving to these shores, to settling and making community, to the election of local politicians, Bangladeshis in the East End have sought to engage inter-community networks with a view to ‘getting things done’. In recent months, the community has come under fierce criticism in the media and in parliamentary debates due to the activities of the borough’s eccentric Bangladeshi executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman. He and his party – Tower Hamlets First – have been accused of favouring Bangladeshi community organisations in the distribution of council grants. This is the latest in a series of unsavoury accusations directed towards the mayor and his team since he came into office in 2010. Thirty per cent of the borough’s population is of Bangladeshi heritage, and have been largely responsible for helping the mayor secure two successful elections, despite these numerous controversies. Although positioning himself as an ‘Old Labour’ leftist, the mayor openly courts the East London-based Islamic Forum for Europe (IFE), an Islamist organisation with ideological links with the Far-Right Bangladeshi political party, Jamaat-e-Islami - an association that ultimately led to his expulsion from the Labour party in the run-up to the 2010 council elections. In spite of such seemingly moral and ideological ambivalence, ‘Lutfur’ remains as popular as ever.

Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork, this paper attempts to explore the history of Bangladeshi participation in local politics in Tower Hamlets, with the aim of shedding light on the current political dynamics in the borough. The paper argues that the distinct style of politics operating there has its roots in South Asia, yet is deeply informed and shaped by the community's experience in diaspora. In the process, the community have successfully ensnared an efficacious alternative to mainstream politics in Britain.

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Ashraf Hoque The Politics of Pragmatism: the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets


About the Speaker

Ashraf Hoque is a research associate at the Department of Anthropology, UCL. He is a member of the core research team of the UCL Democratic Cultures of South Asia project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the UK and Bangladesh. His interests include the study of migration and diaspora, legal and political anthropology, and the anthropology of Islam.

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

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