A report from the Muslim Council of Britain’s website about the closed Parliamentary meeting last week to discuss the establishment of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia. Read the article below or by clicking here:
‘The formation of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia would be a crucial step and one that would inspire confidence in Muslim communities’
The Muslim Council of Britain hosted a special closed-meeting to discuss the growing spate of attacks in all its forms against British Muslims on March 3rd at the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons.
Channel 4 tonight aired the first episode of ‘The Family’, introducing the British public to the Grewals. It is the first time that a British Indian family has undergone the rigours – and scrutiny – of reality tv.
The first episode introduced us to the three generations of Grewals who all live in their five-bedroom pebble-dashed house directly under the Heathrow flight path in Windsor. There’s Sarbjit and Arvinder (mum and dad) who have been together for 35 years; eldest son Sunny together with his fiance Shay; pregnant daughter Kaki and her husband Jeet; and youngest son Tindy.
The series begun with the Grewals planning a traditional Indian wedding for Sunny and Shay. But rather than take a fetishistic view that accentuated the family’s otherness, the show focused on the fact that the Grewals are like so many other ‘normal’ families in today’s Britain. And with this, viewers were introduced to the fact that there was a dark cloud hanging over the wedding preparations because of the breakdown in the relationship between Shay and her own mother. It’s strong and emotional but essentially normal: something that everyone that has had family problems or tensions will identify with.
At the same time though, and as with most families, the stress and strains of everyday life are lightened by the banter between Sarbjit and Arvinder, the self-proclaimed “man-of-the-house”. One particularly wonderful image was of Sarbjit playing shoot’em up games on a laptop whilst she and her husband were having their heair dyed.
As The Guide in Saturday’s Guardian put it, the show is filmed with a lot of love. And no doubt as the series unfolds, so a lot of love will be shown to the Grewals, the latest in a long line of great British families.
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk.
Having gone through four ‘waves’ of security including showing my passport to get into the ICC and watching a guest in front of me being forced to drink half the contents of his ‘Buxton Spring’ water (because it might have contained some ‘chemicals’ so I was told later…!!!), the first thing that struck me was that it was unbelievably corporate. There were few that were not in ‘suits’ and as I said to one of my colleagues accompanying me, if we wanted to be taken seriously we must buy some ‘big pin stripes’ (pin stripe suits that is). As the event went on, this became even more apparent – most of the guests were from trade and industry backgrounds something that was apparent in much of the reporting that followed the event, many describing it as being one where the Cabinet met with business leaders.
At the final security check-in (that’s now five times), I was handed a card. On the card I was told that I had to tick one of the boxes. These boxes – health, education, crime, the economy or employment & skills – were followed by a space to add your name, table number and question. Outside of these five boxes, it was obvious that you had no chance of getting your question heard. Where was equalities in all of this, where was the space to ask about living in Birmingham, where were the questions (and the people) about ‘normal’ things…???
We I went to my table, I found out I was with Hazel Blears (amazingly small but someone I warmed to immediately). The rest of my table was made up of representatives from the manufacturing industry – all wearing suits. As such, the discussion was skewed towards growing and supporting businesses including inspiring young people and providing them with the skills to be ‘work ready’ (their term not mine).
This enabled me to get an angle and I suggested that if we are to inspire and provide skills, then we need to get a level playing field established for all. Yet in a time of economic downturn, funding equalities projects and our commitment to equalities, may be one of the first ‘luxuries’ to be slashed. How can we ensure that the work to address inequalities and discrimination wouldn’t be ‘lost’ along the way?
Hazel Blears responded by saying that it was necessary for equalities policies and programmes to be seen as valuable to all, not just minority or excluded minorities. She gave an example of the value that the REACH programme was making in trying to address the educational attainment of young black males but also highlighted the problems currently being faced by young white males. She added that Government couldn’t do everything themselves and so needed the support of parents, families, communities and organisations to make equalities work and to bring about the change needed to level the playing field.
As an insight to the level of engagement with equalities issues and how important these were to the people round the table, the representative from the Chamber of Commerce stated that whilst this was fine, we had to focus on ‘work readiness’ because many of the businesses they represented were employing people that didn’t have the necessary skills required. The reason why this was a problem for him and those he represented was because they could not ‘get rid of them’ (his words not mine) once they found out that they didn’t have the right skills and/ or knowledge.
Surely, this is a rallying cry for more protection and a need for businesses to improve the recruitment process rather than reduce the legislative protection rightly afforded to employees? Since this comment I’ve been nouyed by the rhetoric and stance taken by the TUC at their conference. Thankfully, it seems that some are still focusing on the protection of the employee rather than the maximising of the profit.
At the end, Hazel Blears acknowledged our contribution and said that she would respond to all the issues that were raised whether on the card or in person round the table. If and when I get this, I’ll publish it here on the web.
Ever the opportunist, I took the opportunity to give everyone around the table a copy of Speak Out magazine including the minister herself.
The event then opened up and selected questions were put to various ministers around the room.
Jacqui Smith said that addressing the ‘guns and gangs’ issue in Birmingham was going well and that positive development were well underway. Gordon Brown spoke of wanting a local, regional and national campaign – involving footballers – that sends out the message that carrying knives is wrong.
Ed Balls said that academies were often in the most deprived parts of the country and that they were making serious in-roads into increasing the attainment levels of those who were previously expected to fail. He said that the Government were breaking the cycle of poverty and low education.
Alan Johnson said that the role of carers was vital but were also placing new and quite unprecedented demands on the benefits system not least because people were living longer. James Purnell said that the Government were considering the costs and financial Implications of providing care for the elderly along the lines of childcare whilst stating that this sounded extremely expensive.
Hilary Benn compared the technological advances that were occurring in Britain today as being similar to the advances being made during the Industrial revolution. He said this would add towards improving the environment and halting climate change.
John Denham said that £1 billion was being invested into the creation of better skills for adult learners and this too would improve on climate change (???).
David Miliband stated the foreign policy would increasingly focus on the battle for resources and the issues of climate change.
Liam Byrne said that the West Midlands had a strong heritage of development and innovation. But more importantly had been the unity between industry and culture. Through this partnership, the regeneration and rejuvenation of the West Midlands was gathering steam citing the development of Stratford upon Avon. He also cited the shortly to be announced the establishment of Channel 4’s new digital media studios in the city. He concluded that in Birmingham and the West Midlands, “we have more in common than what sets us apart”.
Alistair Darling said that the US purchasing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was a sign of good governance: of government standing behind the economy to stabilise it. This is what the British Government was also doing with the economy. He was also confident that the UK would get through the current economic downturn and come out of it even stronger.
Gordon Brown opened and closed the event but in all honesty, I lost a little interest – it wasn’t that engaging and if you want to read his speech, then click here.
On the whole, slightly disappointing in the way that Government sees consultation and in the way that it was skewed towards trade and industry, but an interesting insight into British politics and the personalities that make up the Cabinet.
Would I do it again if invited…???
Of course…EVERYONE given the opportunity to speak or engage with politicians and politics at whatever level should take the opportunity. You never know, you may actually make a difference.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.
Thought that Channel 4′s ‘Make me a Muslim’ was a bad idea…??? (read my previous entry on the show here)
Thought that Muslim ‘Wife Swap’ was a terrible experiment that was even worse than expected…???
Well now – and I admit, it’s a little late in reaching the blog – but the Islam Channel is launching a new interfaith quiz entitled, “Faith Off” (if the press release is correct, it should be on air now…!!!). Here’s how the Channel describes the show:
A new TV game show seeks to broaden the public’s knowledge of religion, and to foster understanding between different faiths.
Faith Off is to be broadcast weekly on the Islam Channel from mid-June.
It will be hosted by Muslim comedian Jeff Mirza, and will involve contestants from six major faith groups, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.
Contestants will be divided into two teams of four, and will be tested on both general and religious knowledge.
Specialist rounds, in a nod to popular sports quiz show ‘A Question of Sport’, include ‘home or away’, where contestants can choose to answer questions on their own religion or a different religion, and ‘guess the religious personality’, with contestants having to identify high profile religious figures such as the Pope and the Dalai Lama based on blurred or difficult to see pictures.
The show aims to be great fun with a serious purpose.
On the fun side, it will include all the traditional elements of a TV quiz show – loud push buzzers, flashing lights, contestants from the general public.
On a more serious note, the show aims to educate the general public about different religious traditions, and to promote understanding between diverse groups of people.
Before each programme is filmed, contestants spend two hours together getting to know each other.
So why is it such a bad idea…??? Well it ‘nods’ to A Question of Sport for a start, but even going beyond that, the idea of a ‘guess the religious personality’ round seems desperately flawed from the start. I mean, apart from the Dalai Lama and the Pope (both of whom the press release identifies as examples), who else is there that fits this billing – Cliff Richard, Osama Bin Laden…???
And what about Buddhist and Sikh ‘religious personalities’ – do they even exist ???
Maybe the show will go for A Question of Sport’s picture board round where pictures of different religious figures are shown. Then again, if the show offers a picture of the Prophet Muhammad it could be that angry mobs taking to the street will conjure a whole new Satanic Verses affair/ Danish cartoons furore, something the show obviously doesn’t want to achieve.
What really irritates me about this show however is the fact that it states that the show has a ‘serious side’. Why…? Why does it need to…?? Does A Question of Sport feel the need to do have a ‘serious side’ or is a quiz show just about having ‘fun’…???
The problem with many ‘Muslim’ initiatives is that they limit themselves and their creativity – not wanting to push the ‘norms’ that a few impose on the rest in the communities or not wanting to go against the increasingly farcical Government agenda, namely that ‘interfaith’ is good and that people from different faiths/ backgrounds need to come together (click here to read the Government’s latest interfaith strategy).
Believing that a ‘fun’ quiz show that includes “loud push buzzers, flashing lights, contestants from the general public” (I’m almost wetting myself in anticipation) has a value in being able to do this is as misguided as it was for those individual Muslims that entered either ‘Wife Swap’ or ‘Make me a Muslim’.
Why do I say that this is misguided…am I being a bit harsh?
Well no because what seems to have been overlooked by the organisers of the show is that it is only going to be shown on the Islam channel: a channel that I would suggest has viewers from ONE community, i.e. the MUSLIM community. How then, despite the press release suggesting otherwise, is the show to bring people together…???
Maybe – just maybe – it is about time that Muslims step out from underneath the comfort and relative safety of the ‘interfaith blanket’ and begin to be ‘normal’, ‘fun’ and ‘serious’ with the wider public and not just an isolated few within their own community.
“Faith Off”…? Maybe that’s just mis-spelt…!!!
Following Channel 4′s ‘Dispatches’ programme – “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim” – being aired last Monday, and given the fact that the brochure accompanying the programme ‘thanks’ me for my support and contribution to the show’s making, you can now download pdf copies of all the relevant polls and documents using the links below.
If you’re interested in reading more about this programme, you can do so at:
You can also watch the programme using Channel 4′s ’4 On Demand’ service, available at:
Following Ken’s defeat in the London elections just over a week ago, I thought that I would re-publish one of my post’s from 22 January 2008. In it, I raise the question about how useful the open letter to the Guardian by various Muslim organisations was for Ken’s campaign. If nothing more, it might at least begin to make people think again about some of the ideas that I raised at the time…
Having been ‘courted’ by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) a few years ago, I remain privvy to their web forums and discussions (please though don’t tell them). An interesting thread of late has been the debate about whether or not Muslims and Muslim organisations should publicly endorse political parties and their representatives. In this particular instance, the thread referred to the public backing recently given to Ken Livingstone via an open letter to the Guardian. The debate has at times been quite heated and is split approximately 60/40 between those who do think that Muslims should offer public endorsements and those who do not (respectively? Is this grammatically required here – let me know).
Within the ‘do not’ camp is where I would firmly position myself. Without dismissing anyone on the list or indeed the organisations they represent, it would seem to me that in the current climate, having such groups as those listed endorsing you could be the final nail in the coffin (a la the Guardian, possibly) or at the very least, a long slow kiss of death infecting the recipient with a terminal illness that brings about a lengthy and protracted demise (a la the backlash Red Ken received following the visit of Yusuf al-Qaradawi). Beyond mere ‘should we’, ‘shouldn’t we’ discussions however, such ringing endorsements embed more serious problems, in my opinion at least.
First, championing ‘Muslim-only’ issues will continue to reinforce the stereotypical view that Muslims are inward looking isolationists, concerned only about themselves. Whilst the Guardian letter notes that Livingstone would be good ‘for all Londoners’, it does feel like this is something of an afterthought and that benefiting all Londoners – rather than just those of a Muslim persuasion – is incidental to the endorsees overall objective.
This is also problematic in other ways. A few weeks ago in Birmingham, a prominent Muslim organisation spoke at a conference about the educational under-achievement of young Muslims. What was problematic for me was that the speaker never once mentioned that other communities were experiencing the same levels of under-achievement, preferring instead to argue that this was – in some way, albeit never explained – evidence of Islamophobia in today’s Britain. Aside from dismissing the argument about Islamophobia (it’s clearly not), this was a lost opportunity as recent reports and statistics have shown that educational under-achievement is anything but a ‘Muslim-only’ (for ‘Muslim’ read Pakistani and Bangladesi only) issue. Instead, it is a serious issue that affects black and more recently white, lower socio-economic communities also. Little, if indeed any, evidence therefore exists to suggest that educational under-achievement is in any way related to any particular religion or religious identity. In doing so, not only did the Muslims at the conference – and beyond – miss the opportunity to find common ground with other communities finding themselves in a similar position but they also reinforced the widespread stereotypical view that they are both isolationist and exclusivist.
Secondly, the open letter somewhat inappropriately for a local election states that:
‘[Livingstone’s] stands and policies have constantly championed justice in the Middle East and around the world, freedom for the Palestinians and withdrawal of occupying troops from Iraq’
Having lived in London for more than twenty years and having family still living there in one form or another, I’m not sure how this would convince floating ‘non-Muslim’ Londoners to think about voting for him. Most Londoners – I presume and include Muslim Londoners in this also – would not have at the top of their list of concerns neither justice in the Middle East nor freedom for Palestinians. Both of course are extremely worthy and noble things to strive for but being brutally realistic, not something that is in the forefront of the average ‘man/ woman on the street’.
However, I am certain that if asked, those same Londoners would probably be more concerned with the levels of crime, the cleanliness of their streets and the affordability of housing rather more so than justice somewhere else in the world. This is not to state that championing such causes are unprincipled or that similarly influential public figures should not take such approaches, but instead merely to suggest that knowing your audience and getting the tone, pitch and content right is much more important than offering a rallying cry for (some) Muslims alone. Because of this, it wouldn’t take long for the average ‘man/ woman on the street’ to have the stereotype easily reinforced that Muslims are more concerned about what goes on ‘over there’ in ‘their countries’ than what goes on ‘over here’ in ‘our country’. Hopefully, the BNP won’t quote me on this.
Finally, since the visit of al-Qaradawi to London and the welcome afforded by Livingstone, many of the current mayor’s detractors have used his pro-Muslim bias as a weapon to beat him with. Whether this is fair or not I am genuinely unsure, but given the debacle around the ‘Search for Common Ground’ report that I contributed to last year and the fall-out from that (which formed a significant part of Martin Bright’s attack on Livingstone in Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last night), you would have thought that heightening awareness of Ken’s pro-Muslim tendencies or the links he has with certain Muslim organisations – many of which have elsewhere fallen out of favour with all and sundry – might have warranted more thought from those concerned. As a friend of mine put it to me earlier today, such a faux pas could easily be interpreted as little more than “a ‘reward’ to Ken for inviting Yusuf over” by all those concerned.
Since the open letter to the Guardian, Boris Johnson has responded by saying that he was “not remotely worried” by the statement of support:
“My grandfather was a Muslim and so was my great-grandfather. I am proud of my Muslim ancestry…But I want to talk about the interests of Londoners. I don’t care what religion they are. I want to look after people from all communities”.
Without endorsing Boris whatsoever – personally, I’ve been a fan of Red Ken for years and if I were living in London and there was an election tomorrow, I would vote for him without question – I do find myself agreeing with him as it would seem that what he is voicing here is the crux of the matter: namely that “I want to look after people from all communities”. Whether he does or not is another matter and we may well get the opportunity to find out sooner rather than later, but what the endorsees and their open letter have done is to put the ball firmly into Boris’ court and to provide Livingstone’s growing army of detractors with even more ammunition to use against him.
Let’s hope that recent reports are wrong when they state that Boris is now only 1% behind Ken in the opinion polls and that any further open letters (read ‘glowing endorsements’) are written so that they are seen to benefit all and not just Muslims. If they don’t, then will someone please get them put on hold or are at least thought about before any such decisions are made.