In recent months I’ve been supporting in one way or another the Birmingham Social Inclusion Process. As part of its project, the Social Inclusion Process has a website – Fair Brum – which regularly posts about how the project is developing and moving forward.
A few weeks ago however, I was perplexed – and if honest, annoyed – by post on the website entitled, “The Notting Hill of Birmingham”.
The post focuses on the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham and how in recent years, the area has changed. As the author of the post – Deborah Tillsley – puts it:
“…it still wasn’t somewhere I would immediately consider when looking for somewhere to live…[however, since having] recently visited a project run by ‘Saheli Women’, and spoke to residents of Balsall Heath. My previous misgivings have now changed completely.”
As it goes on, residents described the area as ‘a hidden gem’ and – wait for it – ‘the Notting Hill of Birmingham’. Deborah describes these comments as “two of the really positive descriptions that came from the residents”. But in what way is this positive and what exactly was meant by ‘the Notting Hill of Birmingham’?
Following the publication of my report, ‘“We Live Together and Can Stay Together”: Muslim voices in the aftermath of the Birmingham riots’ last week, BBC News online has written a feature about it. I have reproduced the feature below although if you prefer to read the original – written by Sitala Peek – you can do so by clicking here:
Muslims ‘shown in positive light’ after Birmingham riots
Sitala Peek BBC News, Birmingham
The Birmingham riots in August, culminating in the deaths of three men while they were protecting their community stores from looters, were a dark chapter in the city’s history.
However, one unexpected benefit of the disorder may have been a positive change in the way British Muslims are viewed by society, according to one academic.
Dr Chris Allen, an expert on Islamophobia at the University of Birmingham, said Muslims had historically been portrayed in a negative light by the British media, resulting in widespread mistrust.
That prejudice was turned on its head by the actions of a grieving father, Tariq Jahan, who publicly appealed for calm, just hours after his son was killed in the riots, he said.
Mr Jahan’s response has been credited by police for helping to restore calm to the city.
After conducting surveys with Birmingham Muslims about the riots Dr Allen said some Muslims felt the world now had a better understanding of them.
He said: “While some groups were rioting in the city centre many from the Muslim and Sikh community had chosen to take to the streets on the outskirts to protect their local community and the businesses that operate in them.”
“The sheer magnitude of that one day makes it near impossible to respond to such a simple yet deeply profound question. Suggesting that 9/11 changed everything cannot adequately be communicated without resorting to exaggeration; suggesting that it did not, sounds little more than flippant or dismissive.
I have today published a short report – aimed primarily at those working at the community level – that brings together a range of different Muslim voices from across Birmingham and the West Midlands in an attempt to better understand and explain the riots and more so, the actions and response of Muslims in the city to them.
Entitled, ‘“We Live Together and Can Stay Together”: Muslim voices in the aftermath of the Birmingham riots’ I believe that the findings challenge some of the many negative perceptions that have become commonplace about Muslims and the religion of Islam in today’s society.
You can read the report for free by clicking here.
For those preferring a ‘taster’ before accessing the full report. I have reproduced the opening chapter – ‘Remarks’ – below:
It’s so difficult to get a grip and understand what’s been going onover the past four nights across Britain. There’s a lot of ‘white noise’ out there and trying to navigate a way through that is becoming increasingly difficult.
Today’s Leader column in the Independent makes some sense to me and so I’ve reproduced some of it below. The full article can be read here:
This is a Katrina moment for the political classes in general and indeed for the entire country. Just as the US government failed to shore up the levees above the city of New Orleans when it had a chance, successive British administrations have failed to repair the social levees that ought to protect our society from this kind of aggression. At the weekend, those levees burst, and we have been witnessing the ugly results.
We know enough about these riots and those perpetrating them to know what they are not. This is not a political protest. The rioters have no agenda. It is not centrally directed. The goal is acquisitive looting or brainless destruction. The original riot in Tottenham on Saturday seems to have been sparked by a community’s sense of grievance against the police. But what happened in Woolwich, Toxteth and Bristol on Monday night is clearly not an anti-police protest. Much of it is copycat rioting. Criminal gangs and antisocial youths have seized on an opportunity to run amok, knowing that the police cannot be everywhere at once.
Nor is this a response to public-sector austerity. Reports of the Government’s cuts might have added to the air of desperation in many poor communities. But the fact is that most cuts have not been implemented yet. This is not a riot driven by new media either. BlackBerrys and Twitter – neither of which existed during the inner-city civil disturbances of the 1980s – have doubtless played a role in fanning the flames. But new media is hardly a sufficient explanation for this antisocial spasm. This is also not a race riot, in the manner of Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth or Broadwater Farm in the 1980s, either. The rioters of 2011 are racially mixed. And there is no overwhelming collective grievance against the police for racial harassment as there was three decades ago.
Whilst it might seem strange to make such a link but watching the riots in London and elsewhere the pastfew nights made me recall something I wrote following the death of Jade Goody. At the time, I wrote about how British society had been shaped by:
“…a decade of New Labour superficiality; the growth of the cult of celebrity; the veneration of its most shallow idols; the adoration of excess and greed; the voyeurism of schadenfreude; the cultural antipathy towards intellectualism; and the nihilistic and myopic rejection of social and personal morality…”
I spoke of how Jade Goody’s:
“…followers will look up to her, aspire to the material trappings that so clearly failed to bring her happiness, and to wish that they too were like her. More so, they will wish that their children were like her”
Look beyond the tragicomic death of a Z-list ‘celebrity’ and much of what we have been watching unfold in Tottenham, Ealing, Clapham, Croydon and everywhere else is symptomatic of the very same things: the reality of today’s Britain.
We are witnessing groups of young people driven by the ‘adoration of excess and greed’ opportunistically and irresponsibly loot and destroy, perpetrated by those who are the products of a ‘nihilistic and myopic society’ that decades before rejected ‘social and personal morality’. These young people – like the vast majority of their peers – believe that the wholesale acquisition of the latest material trappings – the Adidas trainers, the Blackberry mobiles, the Samsung flat screen tvs and more – will make their lives better, happier, sexier, more attractive and whatever else they are fed by the advertisers in their relentless drive to shift the latest iPad 2, 3 4, 5 and 6. If the sales continue, to infinity and beyond.