‘Dear Birmingham,’ writes Karamat Iqbal, ‘thank you for being my home for the past forty plus years. Thank you also for welcoming my father and others in our family and community during the fifties. You as a city welcomed them, us, because you needed their labour and they came willingly because they needed jobs. As we have learnt, it has benefited the city in many ways. It has certainly benefited our community, both here and back in Pakistan. I grew up in a brick house, the first in our village, thanks to the money earned in Birmingham.’
Iqbal’s new book is an extended thank-you letter, almost an extended love letter. It is not, however, just one long outpouring of gratitude and affection. The city which he holds dear can be disappointing and deplorable, a hell-hole as well as a haven, a place of negligence and neglect as well as a nest, woeful as well as wonderful. Iqbal loves his fellow citizens of all backgrounds. But also he wants change, and wants it radically, deeply, urgently. He wants and seeks justice and equality, and wants them for all communities in Birmingham – not only the newer communities which have settled there in the last sixty years but also those whose forebears settled in the city rather earlier.
He interweaves the story of his own family with that of Pakistani Birmingham since the 1950s to the present day. He salutes the early pioneers, recalls crude street racism, draws attention to continuing negligence and neglect, and sets out principles, proposals and action points for the future. His book is reviewed at http://leftcentral.org.uk/2013/06/27/justice-and-equality-in-a-great-city-book-review-dear-birmingham-by-karamat-iqbal/#more-3535.