Book Review: “Life and Politics in Mombasa” by Hyder

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Kweli Ikidhiwri Uwongi Hujitenga – “When Truth comes, falsehood disappears” – Swahili saying.

“Life and Politics in Mombasa” is the biography of Hyder Kindy an East African Swahili political leader during the end of the British colonial period in Kenya.

Hyder, was a local African political leader who never will be mentioned in the same breath as Nkrumah, Kaunda, Kenyatta or Mandela, yet his contribution to his country was as equally as important from a local perspective, something the history books and commentators often ignore.

I came across the copy of Hyder Kindy’s memoirs as a gift which was given to me by Hyder’s grandson Soud Hyder, who is a close friend of mine. When Soud gave me the book, I initially was intrigued to understand more about Soud’s grandfather, yet at the same I did think “now when would I read a book about a Swahili figure I have never heard of?” However, because I had worked with Soud Hyder and was often told about his Kenyan Swahili and Omani heritage, I knew it would be a good read to understand something I had no knowledge of. The memoirs of Hyder Kindy would give valuable insight of life of a man of Swahili descent living under the rule of Zanzibar Sultanate during the period of the territory being a British Protectorate. Similarly, because I myself keep a journal, I am often intrigued by diaries and biographies to see how people recollect their ideas and memories which becomes a documentation of history.

Hyder’s memoirs gave a unique view of local politics during Kenya’s road to independence together with some witty anecdotes, tales and stories of success. His biography has examples of principles, humiliation, struggle, tragedy, work and civic duty. Hyder’s life provides a story against the divisions of a complexed ethnic, religious and tribal society in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Richard Stern who gave the foreword to the book sums up the biography by writing “Sheikh Hyder Kindy is a fine story-teller with many fascinating experiences to recount.” From the onset Kindy shows how Mombasa was a plural society yet split between African, Indians, Arabs and the British, while Kindy as a Swahili Muslim was from a community quite often perceived as Arab by the Africans and as African by the Arabs and considered to be less politically valuable for British, hence why Hyder’s had to constantly play a difficult political game to survive.

It was obvious Hyder Kindy came from a family who understood the concept of responsibility and even though he lost his father at a young age he was constantly taught the values of honour and respect from his mother, his step-father and his brothers. I liked the way Kindy would recall his stories yet show a moral purpose at each juncture of his life. For example, he had promised his mother he would pay her his first month salary when he started his job in 1925 as a legal clerk, yet as a young idealistic man he spent his money on his own, however his conscience overcame him and regretted what he had done as he wrote “ever since that time I have tried doubly hard to keep whatever promises I have made,” something which Hyder held true in his life with examples throughout the book.

In 1929 Hyder and his two associates were sentenced to nine months in jail for beating up an influential Arab who had insulted the Swahili community in an article. The case became a political one as it highlighted the differences between the Arabs and Swahili Muslims living on the coastline. Hyder for his actions become a hero for standing up for a people who quite often were made to feel inferior by the Arabs of the East African coastline. Even though with his friends he was incarcerated, Hyder showed how the principles of being honest does pays off. During an incident with a corrupt prison official where Hyder was accused of defying orders and striking the officer in retaliation, Hyder was exonerated for what took place and was rewarded for working inside the prison due to his reputation of being a trustworthy man. Even when Hyder formed various trade unions for workers an example of being a true leader was shown when he refused to take a job as a civil servant at a time when local men were looked over for professional jobs. Only when the authorities gave 75% of his members in the union allocated jobs did Hyder accept the government post. Another example of his principled stance was when he led a union for taxi drivers who were often discriminated against. Even though he led the union for better pay and equality he resigned from his post when he found out some members were violating driving laws when they were told not to.

Hyder sadly had his fair share of tragedy as his first born child Aisha and his first wife Fatma Ali Haji died within three months of each other in 1929. In 1931, Hyder found true love by marrying his second wife Fatma Soud. Hyder was a Swahili, Fatma Soud was of Arab origin, their marriage had defied social norms and structures in British colonial Kenya society as it was unthinkable for a Swahili man to marry an Arab woman. He initially had proposed to Fatma Soud through the traditional way, however as it was rejected by her father, Fatma ran away with Hyder and they both married amongst a few witnesses. A marriage borne out of love for 34 years and eleven children ended in tragedy as Fatma Soud died of heart failure living a heartbroken Hyder who wrote it was painful for him, In Fatma Soud’s honour Hyder wrote a 71 verse Swahili poem which is featured in his memoirs. Hyder also had another wife during his marriage to Fatma, but he divorced her after Fatma died. After Fatma’s death and through the insistence of his children, Hyder married Fatma Shee in 1966 as a life companion.

Through “Life and Politics in Mombasa” Hyder presented a historical narrative of the Swahili community and where they stood amoangst Africans, Arabs and the British during that period. The Swahili were African with an inward influence of the African continent and at outward influence of Arabs and Persians, yet they were never perceived as their own by each side. Hyder demonstrated that as the Swahili people they have no choice but take their destiny into their own hands to stand up for their own rights through engagement an ideal which is so relevant for minority communities in our globalised world today.

IMG_4881.JPGIn 1951 Hyder was in London after he accepted the post of assistant lecturer at SOAS, again this period shows Hyder’s trustworthiness as it was an Arab who recommended the job for Hyder, despite objections from other Arabs, his benefactor remained defiant. The London chapter is where Hyder I feel found his political awakening. Spending time in the city of empire, London in 1951 was a dream for many colonial subjects and what London offered to them was to understand and see what the capital of the empire had to offer. Throughout British colonial history there has been an irony where leading campaigners against the British empire such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru and Kenyatta had spent time in London and how the city of empire was also a hotbed of ideas of change and emancipation within the liberal and metropolitan society. The duration spent in London for Hyder was a period where he met other African intellectuals and activists while he came to terms with what colonial rule had done to not only his country but other distant lands as well.

“Life and Politics in Mombasa” is a series of events and anecdotes of a man who wanted his people to be emancipated from all forms of bigotry and rule and to embrace a true African identity as Kenyans, Muslims or even Swahili. In his life Hyder ran committees, developed a radio station, ran a translation service, worked as a judicial officer, taught in academia, worked as a Mudir (Private Secretary) for an official, an organiser of gatherings, speeches and honourary banquets and a representative of a people as a Senator in the Mombasa legislative.

What “Life and Politics in Mombasa” demonstrates that for every independence leader like Jinnah, Gandhi, Kenyatta, Mandela or even Havel there are hundreds of Hyder Kindy’s who were on the streets working for the same cause locally or regionally. They may not have statues or countless biographies written about them, but their contributions were essential. I may have not have heard of Hyder Kindy and what he offered to his society, but we should seek people like Hyder Kindy out and follow their stories and struggles. My own grandfather Hasanji Patel who I was named after during the period of post partition India worked immensely hard to improve the educational and political standards of his local community. Hasanji Patel was no legislative member nor was he a teacher, yet as a community worker he set up schools and colleges in his area, he was a writer for his regional newspaper, a champion for the poor and vulnerable and a political operator who was respected and revered by many. Yet like Hyder Kindy he was a pillar who for his locality was as important if not more valuable than any national leader. Again, a valuable member of society who often are unsung heroes, yet their contributions will echo for years to come, hence why it is essential to understand them, study them and learn from them.

“Life and Politics in Mombasa” is a journey of a man who made a difference to his people on a micro level yet the legacy has lived on within his family, his locality and his community. Whatever one lives in Mombasa, Manchester or Multan, we have many Hyder Kindy’s who have worked for their community, we often hear about them, I am fortunate in reading about one such giant.

I’m not racist but………………

Today James O’Brien quite rightly highlights the double standards of the Sun newspaper during and after the Brexit campaign and how they fanned the flames of xenophobia and racist attacks.

This is the newspaper which published “Muslims are not like you and I.” Similarly the Sun once went after the BBC by implying “the BBC isn’t friendly to white faces, because they have internships for minorities,” while the newspaper which blindly ignored the growing increase of attacks on minorities, yet today it had the audacity as O’Brien pointed out to condemn the growing xenophobia a day after a story which gloated that Britain got its country back.

Last Friday morning 52% of the electorate voted to take Britain out of the EU, from the 17 odd million who voted leave a small minority it seems took the words “we now got our country back” as literal. This has resulted in attacks on members of the Polish community, Muslims have been verbally and in some cases physically assaulted.

Examples of the attacks included the posting of laminated cards reading “Leave the EU – no more Polish vermin” to members of the Polish community in Huntingdon on Saturday. There were also reports of racist graffiti scrawled on a Polish community centre in Hammersmith, west London. The Muslim Council of Britain said it had compiled a dossier of over 100 hate crimes over the weekend alone since the vote. I myself know of three attacks where Muslim women were racially abused while walking in the streets of the UK, and today police are treating a firebomb incident inside a Halal butchers shop in my home town as a possible hate crime. In Birmingham, members of the far-right English Defence League gathered outside a mosque in Birmingham waving a flag that read: “Rapefugees Not Welcome”, as they shouted “f*****g p**dos” and “Allah, Allah, who the f*** is Allah?”. Police later made two arrests.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it had detected a 57 per cent rise in reports to a police online hate crime reporting site between Thursday and Sunday compared to the corresponding days four weeks ago.

On Twitter there have been calls by bigots to send immigrants home:

Now, call me a cynic, but I do believe that certain elements of the media has allowed this so-called concern to grow into an inferno of fire known as racism. Yes, we expect the right-wing elements and their surrogate far-right friends to spew their filth, after all I don’t expect a condemnation or an apology from Nigel Farage, but the likes of the Sun should not patronise us with their hypocrisy at the same time.

I myself have experienced racism in the UK. Whether it was being called a p*** and being chased by BNP members in the streets of Perry Barr to facing some covert forms of racism in various work places. I do feel it is acceptable to be a racist, a xenophobe and an Islamophobe because it is now the norm. People can have these views as it is readily acceptable on social media and mentioned quite freely and unashamed.  Why? well because our politicians and media has allowed this form  of rhetoric to take place. During the Brexit debate the peddled lies of 80 Million Turks turning up at the UK borders, fear tactics that these hordes of brown Muslim refugees from Syria will destroy our very existence and put British women at risk of being raped were thrown around. So why then should we blame the pensioner who appeared on Channel 4 News a day after the vote in Barnsley saying he had voted to keep the Muslims out.

So what is the solution? Well, firstly the political class need to move their backsides from Westminster and engage with the British public but also condemn what is taking place and ensure bigotry and racism has no place in society. Words are not what is needed but action. Not all the 17 million people who voted Brexit are racists, but sadly many had made their minds up based on the propaganda but also because over the past forty years successive governments have let them down. The UK is not the leafy suburb of Hamstead but it is the grit of Hull and the liberals amongst us need to understand the United Kingdom is not a hub of multicultural free spirit. If their concerns are not met or engaged with the  Labour strongholds across the north and Wales which voted to leave will end up in the hands of Farage and his gang for a generation. The white working class have grievances and are the likliest to suffer in a post Brexit Britain. Unless the Labour party holds honest and pragmatic discussions on immigration and provide the white working class an identity of respect and understanding, it is an electorate that will be lost to a far-right politics of fear.

Similarly there needs to be positive action and engagement outside the echo chambers of social media, interfaith groups and liberal intelligensia forums. We need to understand that change will not come about by groups of  like-minded people holding like minded conversations with like minded viewpoints to find like minded solutions. The concept of debate and winning the battle of ideas is not with your friend who agrees with you but with the neighbour who may disagree with you after all isn’t that what is politics about? Those who believe in a free and fair society of tolerance and respect also need to get out a bit more and engage with people who may not agree with their views.

One genuinely feels that those who influence the filth of hate should be challenged and exposed. More effort is needed to hold these people to account, while organisations like tell MAMA should be supported.

Yahya Birt, the British academic wrote in his piece After Brexit, where do British Muslims go from here?  wrote:”46% of British Muslims live in the bottom 10% most deprived wards in England and so are squarely among the have-nots too,” the battle for the soul of the United Kingdom should not be about race but of opportunity, hence, why politicians need to take the lead to stand up for the betterment of all. Birt went on to write:  “This requires a radical rethink because neither of the two main parties have done enough to prevent our society becoming more unequal despite Britain’s great wealth, thus creating neighbourhoods, towns and even cities of the forgotten and the left behind. And although it is clearly a delicate and controversial subject, the impact of migration on jobs, goods and services must be diagnosed and debated in a responsible way that does not play into race politics. For this change in tone and approach to have any chance of succeeding, BAME and faith communities must now play a prominent role in this debate too.”

If we don’t take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity, we are sure as hell going to get more people saying “‘I’m not racist but……..”

 

 

David, how times have changed.

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Earlier today David Cameron set out  his government’s strategy to defeat the “poison of Islamist extremism,” as he coined in at the school in the great city of Birmingham. Our PM pledged to tackle the extremist ideology and “the failures of integration” which he said had led to hundreds of Britons joining those nutters who call themselves Daesh.

In his speech the PM stated  “It begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview”.

Now David, as a PR man to another PR man, surely you know it is essential to understand the usage of words and values? For example the term ‘Islamist,’ is one word which can be slightly subjective.  After all in 2007 you did state: “Many Muslims I’ve talked to about these issues are deeply offended by the use of the word ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ to describe the terrorist threat we face today We do need greater understanding of the true nature of the terrorist threat. There’s too much complacency about it among non-Muslims, and too much denial of it in the Muslim community. But our efforts are not helped by lazy use of language. Indeed, by using the word ‘Islamist’ to describe the threat, we actually help do the terrorist ideologues’ work for them, confirming to many impressionable young Muslim men that to be a ‘good Muslim’, you have to support their evil campaign..”

So I guess today by using that term ‘Islamist,’ we have actually help to the terrorist idealogues’ work for them.” The term ‘Islamists’ is to broad and open ended. If I am not making sense then please watch this short explainer (yes it is attributed editorially, but I do feel it has wider reaches as well)

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Just a thought. Of course I could elaborate on other aspects of the speech and the fallout, failures and successes, but i’d rather let the experts fight it out.

Of course radicalisation is a problem and it must be dealt with accordingly, but ignoring economic issues, class, identity and the FP terminology is slightly far- fetched. But what do I know, I don’t work for Quilliam Foundation or engage in Prevent funded projects.

Finally, no doubt many experts will be writing, tweeting and commentating in relation to the speech. Personally I would recommend you read  An Open Letter to Britain’s Leading Violent Extremist: David Cameron.

How best to stop radicalisation? – Two views

Recently I came across two very different narratives on how to engage in radicalisation and extremism amongst British Muslims.

One on hand a stark warning from experts, academics and grass rooted individuals who believe Government deradicalisation plan will brand Muslims with beards as terrorists, further elaborating  it as a direct assault on freedom of speech and a move towards a police state. In an unprecedented intervention, 280 academics, lawyers and public figures claim the controversial law will make Britain less safe as it will force radical political discussion underground.  Individuals like Karen Armstrong, Baroness Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University, Rizwaan Sabir, a lecturer in counter-terrorism, who was wrongly arrested under anti-terror laws by Nottingham Police for downloading an al-Qaeda training manual from a US Government website he we was using to research his PHD. The letter states: “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, Prevent will make us less safe.”

However a few days prior to this strongly worded letter another letter appeared in the Guardian titled:  “United, we can protect our young people from extremists” which urged people of all communities, religion, government and non-government to work together to stand united against extremism. With one voice – they launched a collective fightback against those who wish to do us harm, by launching a website called Fightback Starts Here. Looking at the list of people and organisations who support the fightback , they all have one thing in common, they have all been receiving directly, indirectly or through partnerships been in receipt of a Prevent funding since 2005. Organisations on the list who have been in receipt of the funding are the Leicester based Federation of Muslim Organisations, JIMAS, Inspire, Active Change Foundation and St Phillips Centre in Leicester.

In the wake of the 7/7 attacks in London, the Labour Government stepped up the programme spending tens of millions on hundreds of schemes across the country.
But many of these initiatives were regarded by people as little more than using various community organisations who were all dependent on government funding competing with each other to the bidding on behalf of the government. The funds were used on converting the converted and in some cases used as canon fodder to gather intelligence on their local communities.

So who would you rather take advice from? A group of people who are independent of any government direction and agenda who have consistently warned people about the agenda and direction of Prevent and the danger these policies will have in the long run, or take advice from people who have made careers and businesses from Prevent who have it it in their interests to make Prevent work?

I’ll let you decide.

Pioneer and patriach – The Unsung Hero

“Success isn’t what I did, success is getting things done to help others” – probably the greatest piece of advice a great man once told me, who sadly departed from this world to meet his maker earlier this week. It is an irony however, that he himself who gave me this valuable advice, lived his entire life through the prism of that particular quote.

I have been fortunate in meeting some very remarkable and inspiring individuals, whether they were leaders of countries, academic geniuses, enlightened scholars or even humble community leaders, but Ahmed Mohammed Patel (Ahmed nana) was an individual who had such a profound impact on my life, second only to my own late grandfather, that he himself stood above the heads of statesmen and leaders, of whom so much was written.

Ahmed nana was not a world leader, or a captain of industry or even great philanthropist, books, titles and eulogies may not be bestowed upon him, because he may have been an average man living an average life, but for the many few his contribution and legacy will outshine and outlive people for generations.

Born in the village of Kankaria in the mid 1920’s, he was born into a wealthy, influential and politically active Patel family. He was born into a family who had immense influence and to live under the shadows of his grandfather, father and uncle’s would be no mean feat, especially as he was the firstborn grandson of Asmalji Patel.

Ahmed nana’s childhood began with tragedy as his father Mohammed Patel had died after being trampled by a stampede of bulls, Ahmed Nana was only a year old, while his mother Amina was expecting their second child (my grandmother, Fatima). Nevertheless both brother and sister were not deprived the love of a father, as their younger uncle, Yusuf Patel married their widowed young mother Amina and provided stability, love and affection to both Ahmed nana and Fatima. I was always reminded by both siblings that the love, care and teachings he provided to them, a real father could not match it for his own children. It is an irony that the death of Ahmed Nana coincided with the 36th anniversary of the death of Yusuf Patel, while one man died on 6/8/2012 (17th Ramadan 1433 AH) the other died on 6/8/1976 (10th Ramadan 1396 AH).

The greatest quality of which I give tribute to Ahmed nana was how his intentions through his actions were executed after he had arrived in the United Kingdom during the early part of the 1960’s determined the future for so many individuals. Like many men of his generation, he arrived without the knowledge of the language, customs or even understanding of what the United Kingdom stood for, but like most men of his generation he quickly adapted to life and rather than just pursue the solace of the Pound and the British passport he started to think how his family, his people and his community can gain from this opportunity from the villages of India to the mill towns of the United Kingdom, where hopefully lives and fortunes can change.

From the onset Ahmed nana himself did not need to be working in the mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire, living in squalid conditions with other men and face the bitter chill of the British winter as he himself was quite wealthy by most standards in India. As at the age of 9 he inherited his father’s share of his grandfather’s huge estate, but while his family were in Bid, his share of the land was in Kankaria, but nevertheless he had spent his childhood in Bid, and only after his marriage in 1949 to Amina Musaji Patel (his uncle’s daughter) did he officially take up residence in Kankaria.

However, as an immigrant worker in the United Kingdom he knew he had a sense duty to his own family. Not only did this man strive to bring his own wife and eight children to the United Kingdom, which was the basic norm that most men had carried out during the 1960’s and 1970’s, he personally undertook the opportunity to look at ways to see how his extended family could also benefit.

A few years ago it was roughly calculated that due to Ahmed nana at least 250 people currently living in the United Kingdom, of whom many are born and bred as British from my family can trace a connection back to Ahmed nana. Here was a man who was responsible for many individual to come to the United Kingdom from India, and thus start a new life with their own families.
Whether it was working in Manchester to acquire vouchers for his younger brother’s and cousins so they can work in the United Kingdom, or looking at how he could ensure his sister and her children could settle in the United Kingdom or whether through marrying of individuals; the future of many homes were enhanced in both countries due to the effort of one man. One such example was of him sponsoring a poor man from the village of Kankaria, who in India could not even manage to have two meals a day, but sponsoring him and even arranging his marriage the fortunes had changed from despair to hope.

Through the endeavours of one man, people who may have ended up being farmers and housewives in India are now successfu Ulama, Hufaaz, businessmen, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, broadcast journalists and above all content in life. Through the endeavours of one man, people who may have had deep economic problems due to demographic changes within their own family structure in India are now happily living in their own homes across the United Kingdom and beyond. Through the endeavours of one man, his own family not only had contributed to the development of their community in India but many had contributed and still do so in civic life within the United Kingdom.

I, myself enjoyed listening to his stories of family history and his take on the world while he would be making his customary paan, which would be made ready for consumption and then spat out in the old mango tin if there was excessive tobacco within minutes. His hand gestures while he would state an opinion and those stary eyes, which he inherited from his mother, which would be noted if he was displeased (my grandmother herself can use the stare rather well, I must say), were unique traits he would possess.

I recall one incident when he was talking about influence, and he said to me “the Patel of village may have been someone else, but in your grandfather’s home (Hasanji Patel) decisions were made by cups of tea, never assume titles can give influence,” or the time he once had told me “every person has a worth, never think the King is mightier than the beggar.” Profound anecdotes but with clear precise meanings, which would give any master strategic operators like Peter Mandelson or Alistair Campbell a run for their money.

He was a man who held strong beliefs and convictions, he would give out honest statements and hold opinions and yet not fear the consequences, he held immense pride in the name of his family and his heritage and would remind people of their past, their duties and their future.

But he was a man who held deep loyalties and had a share of responsibility towards certain people. He once remarked to me and an uncle of mine, who both had lost our mothers, that it was his duty to look out for us as he’ll one day have to meet his creator and answer for his deeds.

The death of Ahmed nana has brought an unbearable loss, but even though the world and society did not or could not honour his life, the almighty honoured him by taking him to his house of prayer in Ramadan for Umrah, while bringing him back home to his family where he departed during Maghrib to his creator in the auspicious month of Ramadan.

Human beings are mere mortals, their destiny and actions are all determined by the almighty who must have liked something in him Ahmed nana to grant him a noble death.
Ahmed nana’s life, achievements and successes may have gone unnoticed, while for others it will be always remembered, but for those who have mourned his death we need to ask ourselves the question will our lives be remembered on what ‘I’ did or will it be based on getting things done in order to help others? A benchmark, one such pioneer had passed with flying colours that I doubt could be matched or even attempted.

“Those who patiently persevere, seeking the countenance of their Lord; Establish regular prayers; spend, out of (the gifts) We have bestowed for their sustenance, secretly and openly; and turn off Evil with good: for such there is the final attainment of the (eternal) home

Gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring: and angels shall enter unto them from every gate (with the salutation)

“Peace unto you for that ye persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!”

~ Surah Rad 22-24”

London’s burning – why or why?

Parts of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Bristol are burning, shops are looted and youths in hoodies are walking around with their prizes ranging from Tesco’s own branded basmati rice or a nice pair of designer trainers.

Reading the tweets, blogs, social media and articles, opinion is split on who is exactly is to blame for the riots. London is experiencing the most destructive riots since the riots of 1981. Thirty years on as was the case in 1981, the riots took place against the backdrop of a royal wedding and an economic downturn. Some of the riots are taking place in some of the same locations with a followed pattern of events, but there is a very different tone to the riots this time around.

I grew up in Birmingham, studied and worked in Leicester, while also living and working briefly in Manchester and London. I just can’t comprehend that on the streets where I would walk and breath has become in some parts a war zone. According to the analysts from the left pockets of youth in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester have exploded their anger into violent action as government cuts, the withdrawal of college grants, an increase in tuition fees and rising youth unemployment all have added to the frustration, anger and isolation.

While the right believe that these youth are products of broken homes who have no responsibility and are resorting to crime and looting.

In the summer of 2010 I had spent some nights in the inner city areas of Manchester and Leicester to see for myself whether there was a perceived gang-culture within the streets which could escalate into something far sinister.

My observations which came out were that many of these young men who were aged from 15-18 were school dropouts, who had no real life mentors and were basically bored as they had nothing to do with their time. Some felt their communities had let them down, while others blamed the system, but the overall picture was they got used to hanging around in groups on street corners into the early hours of the morning, as they had nothing else to do.

A group of youth who allowed me to trace their steps told me, they felt the police would always pick on them and they had become vulnerable targets as public perception of the ‘hoodie’ was one of a trouble maker, a drug user and involved in petty crime. There was no real youth club, while others even let their anger be directed towards their community leaders for not doing enough to understand their needs and aspirations. With low educational level achieved with high unemployment the route to success for some would always be the life of crime.

I myself came across a 16 year old boy who came from a poor background and had no real relationship with his own father, who turned to selling drugs as the only source of income to fuel his expensive consumer influenced lifestyle.

The UK for a number of years as allowed this class of youth to grow in numbers, while at the same time they themselves have become disenfranchised with the system. David Cameron’s objective of ‘hugging a hoodie’ was ridiculed and supported, but the fact is perceptions of inner city youth is one of juvenile behaviour, broken homes and no real support.

Together with the lack of funding in successful programmes like youth work and family support, more and more of Britain’s youth were left on their own to make their own free time enjoyable.

David Cameron says he now wants to rebuild families and improve parenting so all children and young people grow up to become citizens who make a positive contribution to society. But from speaking to young people across the country, all they want is to be heard, respected and for their politicians to leave a better society for the future.

No doubt there are criminal elements that have exposed the vulnerabilities of a stretched police force, but many youth have just ridden on the bandwagon of carnage in order to resent the system but also get some satisfaction on the way.

The riots have become a product of the direction Britain is heading, for too long societies have been living side by side but not engaging or understanding each other. As groups of university students, faith groups and local community associations are cleaning up Britain as a way of reclaiming the streets, that in itself shows how divided the UK has become.

One on hand there is a group of people who feel let down that they continue to cause destruction and damage, and another idealistic group who urge society to reclaim a peaceful existence.

Many minority groups in an indirect way highlighted that the problems of society aren’t just race related as Sikh youth in the Birmingham suburb of Smethwick stayed awake all night to protect their community while Bangladeshi groups in East London reminded their fellow Muslims it is their duty to help their non-Muslim neighbours.

Unlike 1981 the causes of the riots can’t be just defined as black and white in definition. The riots have exposed the lives the rioters choose or feel constrained to live. Blaming the riots on individual wickedness, conspiracies or on government spending cuts is too simple for such complex issues.

Baroness Warsi anti bigotry speech at the University of Leicester

Prejudice against Muslims has “passed the dinner-table test” and become socially acceptable in the UK, that was the top line from Baroness Warsi the Conservative Party Chair at a speech at the University of Leicester’s  annual Sir Sigmund Sternberg Interfaith Lecture. Even before the lecture extracts of the speech were published in the Daily Telegraph, which highlighted “the patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media”, for making Britain a less tolerant place for believers. Most of the criticism she received for her honest analysis came from right wing politicians like Lord Tebbit and blog sites like Harry’s Place who either are in denial or the truth may have hurt a bit.

I attended the lecture where Baroness Warsi outlined her views, most of the audience were academics, community workers and the odd self-appointed community leader who decided to use the questions and answer session to project the sound of their own voice.

The minister without portfolio warned that describing Muslims as either “moderate” or “extremist” fosters growing prejudice, which is a recruitment tool for all extremists. Faith for her should encourage debate while at the same time inspire people.  “The patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media”. The peer described how prejudice against Muslims has grown along with their numbers, partly because of the way they are often portrayed.

The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as “moderate” or “extremist” can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance, she went on to say that “It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of ‘moderate’ Muslims leads; in the factory, where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: ‘Not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim’.In the school, the kids say: ‘The family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad, and in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: ‘That woman’s either oppressed or is making a political statement’.

She highlighted that the media were partly responsible for this swipe at Muslims,  in 2002 Muslims students on campus were granted Halal food in one of  twenty-seven canteens of the campus and halls. However, some parts of the media distorted the facts with the story of how “Muslim students demanded the removal of Pork on campus.” This particular incident brought back memories as I was one of two people who lobbied the University to provide Halal meat in 2002, and I didn’t recall ever asking for Pork to be removed.

Britain is a tolerant society, but throughout history certain communities have been subjected to an unlimited scorn. The 1828 Catholic Emancipation Act was passed, but during that era the British Catholic community were seen to be a non-integrationist sect who were disloyal to the State but blindly loyal to the Papacy and the Catholic brotherhood. The same argument can be used in 2010 vis-a-vis the British Muslim community. Lady Warsi quite rightly stated that “those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law,” she will say. They also should face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims.”

The way to deal with the issues of anti-bigotry is to firstly provide political leadership, secondly the media, politicians and academics should think harder about language and terms used, as British Muslims are British Muslims and nothing else. Labels such as “moderate” can only be decisive. Finally society itself should create a means of engagement between the wider community and the British Muslim community.

The lecture by Lady Warsi  according to a friend who attended the lecture pointed out facts which most sane minded British Muslim had on their mind but weren’t in an influential position to get their point across.

Of course the responsibility also lies with British Muslims to speak out against extremism and more should be done, but generally at the same time more should be done to empower the community as well. The difficulties involved were summarised during the question and answer session one self-appointed Muslim leader failed to read the script and rather than ask a question he merely gave statement of denial and failed to grasp what Lady Warsi had said. I for one feel that there is a crisis of leadership within the British Muslim community, some of these self-appointed leaders need to give way to a generation of British born Muslim activists, thinkers and leaders who are in touch with public opinion.

Overall the lecture tackled the thorny subject of anti-Muslim bigotry but also provided solutions to overcome the problem; Lady Warsi highlighted publicly what many Muslims privately complain about, prejudice opinions against the British Muslim community does not attract the stigma attached to prejudice against other religious and ethnic groups. 

Problems of mistrust and anti Muslim bigotry are caused by ignorance and lack of understanding so bringing them out into the public will help improve relations between members of society.

Helping the Homeless of Leicester

Flashmob Iftar in Manchester, August 2010

Recently I came across a speech by the Communities Minister Andrew Stunell who encouraged faith-based organisations to share their passion and experience with others to maximise their work to help people and improve neighbourhoods. He went on to state that faith-based organisations can contribute to the Big Society by leading and initiating projects  to help those who are vulnerable. He went on to say how  “there are some great examples of faith-based providers that are thinking flexibly and reaching out beyond their own natural constituencies, whether of faith or of location. We want more organisations to follow this lead and take advantage of the emerging Big Society to make an even bigger difference in their communities.”

Mr Stunell should have made a visit today at the Town Hall in Leicester to witness the Islamic Society of Britain’s launch of their local campaign titled “Eat’n’ Meet. Simple title with a simple message, but the eating and meeting is with the homeless people of Leicester. Eat ‘n’ Meet is a twelve week campaign to feed the homeless people of Leicester and then provide each individual with essential bags of food and  Eat’n’Meet’ is a 12-week campaign to feed the homeless of Leicester and provide them with a bag of essential food and toiletry items each week through the cold winter months. This campaign came about after the flashmob Iftar for the homeless.  All the donations have come across by benefactors from local businesses and organisations who basically have provided a life-line for many homeless people.

It has been estimated that there are 64,000 thousand people in Britain who are homeless, but that figure could be more, in Leicester rough estimates say there are around 700 people who are homeless or live in shelters. but with the bleak economic climate, that figure could increase.

Even though Eat ‘n’ Meet has been the brainchild of the local Muslim community, they are in partnership with faith and non-faith organisations such as the City of Sanctuary – Leicester  and Refugee Action to provide the homeless and asylum seekers that extra warmth and care.

Human beings have no divine right to their way of living, today we could be in our warm homes, tomorrow we could lose everything,. Once Prince Charles visited the Big Issue Offices, where he met Clive Harold with whom he used to go to prep school, Harold came from a privileged background, but due to circumstances beyond his control he had lost everything.

Some may argue that the idea of the Big Society makes no real sense and is seen as a cop-out by government, but for years faith-based organisations have been providing the support though volunteer means. Eat’n’ Meet has been created to not promote faith; it is an opportunity to provide the homeless and refugee communities every week for three cold winter months their basic needs. Feeding and helping others, Eat ‘n’ Meet gives an opportunity to try to understand their difficulties and empathise with those in different social circumstances than ourselves.

Poppy Burning, stoning and anything else to create tension

Today it was Armistice Day in the UK where the fallen in all wars were remembered, I’m not somebody who is renowned for Jingoism, as a matter of fact I like Jon Snow refuse to wear a poppy just for the sake of wearing one. But it did sadden me when 35 protesters allegedly from the group Muslim Against Crusaders, dressed in dark clothes and with many masking their faces, carried banners and chanted slogans such as “British soldiers: terrorists”. Of course as expected around a handful of the friends, otherwise known as the English Defence League also turned up to have a decent knuckle fight, but were separated by the Police.

This cat-and – mouse game between these two groups are the source of tension in terms of community relations. The authorities need to take a stance on this and use the law where possible to ensure hatred is censured. When individuals like Gareth Compton call for the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to be stoned to death is then arrested for his comments on Twitter, the maxim should be used across the board.

It seems there is a loop-hole in the race hate laws, lets not let the few manipulate it for their means. The racist chants by the EDL and the Muslim Against Crusaders should be dealt with firmly.