RACIST killing became defining moment for pioneering MP, writes Tom Peterkin
My Remarkable Journey by Mohammad Sarwar | Birlinn, £20
Given the title of Mohammad Sarwar’s autobiography, readers are entitled to expect a book that departs from the mundane.
Happily, My Remarkable Journey does its best to live up to its billing, revealing a life far richer and more varied than the constituents of the former Labour member for Glasgow Govan probably realised.
Opening in dramatic fashion, the memoirs of Britain’s first Muslim MP recall the abduction and murder of 15-year-old Kriss Donald by an Asian gang in 2004. Describing the racial tensions then simmering in Glasgow, Sarwar outlines the role he played in bringing the perpetrators, who had fled to his native Pakistan, to justice. His autobiography is testament to the diplomatic skills and persistence he used on visits to Pakistan to persuade politicians to help him in his cause. It also records his profound admiration for Kriss’s mother Angela, whose plea for people not to target the Asian community did much to defuse the tense atmosphere at the time.
The horrifying events surrounding Kriss’s death were to become a defining moment of Sarwar’s political activities in Scotland. But his life beyond these shores gives his memoirs an added dimension – from his parents’ flight from persecution following the partition of India to his return to his homeland to become Governor of Punjab.
Descriptions of his upbringing in rural Punjab are evocative. His parents’ desire for the family to get on is a strong theme. His father left the family behind when Sarwar was six to seek work in the UK. Sarwar was to be reunited with his father years later in Glasgow, a period of his life that saw him build a cash-and-carry business from humble beginnings in a rat-infested corner shop.
His entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic withstood financial hardship and the casual racism of the era. Gratitude is expressed to the Glaswegians who encouraged the family business as he recounts the sort of struggle that must have been experienced by many other Asians who settled in Scotland.
Of interest to politicos of a certain age will be Sarwar’s account of the News Of The World sting which led to his arrest on bribery charges as he was due to make his maiden speech in the House of Commons. Sarwar gives a detailed account of his version of the events leading up to a court case that saw him cleared of any wrong-doing. His bitterness at his treatment by the now defunct tabloid may remain, but ultimately it is overshadowed by the achievements of his life.