Thursday, 24 February 2011

Fish Delish

I don’t know about you, but BFTF loves a delish fish dish – Tuna, Trout, Mackerel, Cod, Sole, Sardines, Anchovies, Coley, Pilchards – they are all welcome in our kitchen!

But there is a problem.

The increasing global population, combined with the capabilities of modern industrial trawlers are resulting in the fishing industry being able to extract fish from the ocean at a much faster rate than the natural ecosystems can replace them. Because of this, many fish stocks around the world are in danger of being fished out of existence.

The classic example of what can happen is the case of the cod fisheries in the Canadian Grand Banks. In the 1860’s fishermen were landing some 150,000 tons of cod per year, which increased to around 270,000 tons per year by the 1950’s. The introduction of much larger bottom trawlers at this point resulted in catches increasing to some 800,000 tons by the late 1960’s – before collapsing to below 200,000 tons per year in the early 1970’s. The Canadian government then banned foreign vessels from the area and imposed quotas – but it was all too little too late. In 1992 the catch collapsed to less than 1% of previous levels. Belatedly, the Canadian government imposed a complete moratoriaum on fishing in the area – hoping that this would allow stocks to recover.

As of 2011, the cod have yet to return.

With 80% of fish stocks in European waters already fished beyond safe limits, the Grand Banks scenario is a real possibility for many areas in the EU, particularly as destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling have become more common.

Bottom trawling nets (which can be as wide as a rugby field) smash everything in their path – including plants and other life that live on the sea floor. Greenpeace reports that bottom trawling kills 16lb of other animals in order to produce 1lb of sellable fish.

In May 2007 the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation banned bottom trawling in the high seas areas it manages (accounting for about 25 percent of the global ocean), while the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission recently closed four seamounts and part of the mid-Atlantic ridge from all fishing. Despite this progress, the vast majority of international waters still remain unprotected.

And as European fish stocks decline, the trawlers are moving elsewhere – small fishermen on the eastern and western coasts of Africa are now finding that huge trawlers are decimating their once sustainably managed fish stocks.

Farmed fish may seem like a solution, but farmed fish need to be fed- and where do you think the fishmeal to feed them with comes from. . . .

So what can you do?

One small step that BFTF has taken is to try and only buy fish that has a blue “MSC“ logo on the pakckaging. “MCS” stands for Marine Conservation Society and their logo can only be used if the fishery and fishing vessels meet independently assessed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability.

MCS certified fish has become increasingly easy to find in supermarkets, with MSC certified fish fingers and canned mackerel being the items that have caught the attention of BFTF.

BFTF has sent out emails to all the supermarkets it shops at regarding their fish products. Emails sent out are shown below in full, while the responses are described briefly :

Email sent to Sainsburys (MSC certified fish fingers, but not tinned mackerel):
“I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking fish fingers (and cod ones at that) that are MSC certified. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I note that neither Asda nor Tesco stock a similar product, so I don’t buy fish fingers from either of those two. Aldi do stock such an item – I’m afraid that I’ll have to spread my fish finger purchases between you both.
On the negative side, I’m afraid that as your tinned mackerel lines are not MSC certified, my sandwiches will be using mackerel from Asda or Tesco – sorry !”

Sainsburys responded by saying that they were, 'sorry that our tinned mackerel isn’t MSC certified' and then went on to mention that they were 'rated number one for responsible tuna sourcing by Greenpeace' and that they now stocked farmed salmon 'reared on RSPCA Freedom Food approved farms' where the 'salmon feeds do not contain any artificial colourants and only fish from well managed sources are included in the diet'. Perhaps most interestingly, they mentioned that "All of Sainsbury's fresh and frozen cod and haddock is line caught which significantly reduces bycatch'


Email sent to Tescos (No MSC certified fish fingers, but do have MSC certified mackerel):
“I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified.
On a negative note, I’m afraid that my weekly fish finger purchases will be going to Sainsburys or Aldi as their fish finger products are MSC certified and yours aren’t– sorry !

The response from Tesco included a comment that Tesco "can see that we have not met your expectation regarding Tesco fish fingers, the points you have raised have been logged mad ref and forwarded to the relevant department for consideration"


Asda (No MSC certified fish fingers, but do have MSC certified mackerel) were sent the following:
"I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified.
 On a negative note, I’m afraid that my weekly fish finger purchases will be going to Sainsburys or Aldi as their fish finger products are MSC certified and yours aren’t– sorry !"

Asda's reply included a comment that "It's always a pleasure to hear one of our products has hit the spot. We want you to enjoy everything you buy from us, so thank you for taking the time to tell us what you thought. We like to know we're getting things right." and then went on to say that they were sorry that they had lost custom due to some of their products not being MSc certified and that they had "passed your comments on to our buying team so they can look in to this further for you."


Letter sent to Aldi (MSC certified fish fingers and MSC certified mackerel):
"I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel and also MSC certified fish fingers. This is something that Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys have not been able to achieve – so well done. You are my first port of call for these two products.
I also note that your household paper products (kitchen towels, tissues etc) are all FSC certified, so I occasionally purchase these.
Lastly, and on a more negative note, the books, printer paper etc that are sometimes sold as temporary products are never FSC certified so I do not purchase these.
Please keep up the (largely) good work"

The letter (!!) received from Aldi said thank you for the kind comments and that they would be forwarded to the buying department for their attention.

UPDATE : Jun 2012 Sadly, ALDI no longer stock MSC certified Fish Fingers, so BFTF has switched to Sainsburys, who do a lovely line of reasonably priced MSC certified fish fingers.
BFTF has also found their tinned MSC Mackerel in tomato sauce to have a sauce that is rather on the watery side,so has switched to the ASDA product - but that is something of a judgement call.


Email sent to Birds Eye (“Forever Food” label) :
“Just wanted to let you know that I am nervous about your “Forever Food” label on your fish finger products as it is not an independent certification. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I have looked at the information on your website and note that you say that you work with the MSC, but I don’t see their label on you products. Until I do, I’m afraid that I’ll be buying the “own brand” MSC certified fish fingers from Aldi and Sainsburys. Sorry. "

The (slightly terse) response from Birds Eye commented that their sourcing criteria 'meet standards similar to the MSC regardless of whether the MSC logo is used or not.'


Email sent to Youngs (“Fish for Life” label) :
“Just wanted to let you know that I am nervous about your “Fish for Life” label on your fish finger products as it is not an independent certification. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I have looked at the information on your website and note that you say that you work with the MSC, but I don’t see their label on you products. Until I do, I’m afraid that I’ll be buying the “own brand” MSC certified fish fingers from Aldi and Sainsburys. Sorry. "

No response received as of 21st March 2011


Dear reader, BFTF would like to urge you to consider where you are spending your money when you buy fish products and to try and purchase products that are unsustainably sourced. You may disagree that MSC is the way forward – that is fair enough – but please don’t ignore the issue altogether .

It is worth mentioning again that organisations such as Greenpeace have told BFTF that sometimes it only takes a surprisingly few emails or letters to get a company to change their direction. So if you see a company or organisation behaving badly, why not nudge them in the right direction? And if you see someone doing the right thing, why not say "well done"

Further Information:
Wikipedia Article on the Grand Banks
Marine Stewardship Council
Marine Conservation Society list of publications
BBC News article on Bottom Trawling

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Families Forum : Part 4 - Q and A(2006)

The Families Forum / Parents Circle is an organisation consisting of several hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli. The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region. They campaign - very effectively - for peace and reconciliation and to promote the cessation of acts of hostility and the achievement of a political agreement

In 2006, two members of this organisation (Robi Damelin and Abu Ali Awwad) undertook a speaking tour of the UK, including two talks in Nottingham. BFTF was lucky enough to attend, record (and later transcribe) one of these events.

This is the fourth of four related posts. The others can be accessed via the links below:
Families Forum : Part 1 - An Israeli Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 2 - A Palestinian Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 3 - The Project (2006)

If you only read two posts on this blog, please make it Parts 1 and 2 of this series.

More Information on the Families Forum - Parents Circle can be found here:
UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum
Main Families Forum - Parents Circle Website

Robi Damelin:
Just one thing, I want to address the one state solution - not from a political point, as I told you, we would agree with anything that is agreed by both sides. What I do say about a one state solution is that in an ideal world that would be incredible. What you don't get is the Jewish psyche. What you don't get is that who will take the million Russian Jews and who will take the 200,000 Jews from Ethiopia and who will take the French Jews who are coming now and who will take the Argentinian Jews.

You see, if - in an ideal world- I could know for sure that England or, I don't know, France or Germany or Italy or any of these countries would immediately open their doors to refugees of Jewish background, nobody would be happier than me to have a one-state solution. Sorry, the Jews need a homeland - as sad as that is.

And I think, knowing what the Palestinians tell me, that at this point they also want an independant Palestinian state.

I wish it was an ideal world. If it was, was wouldn't be sitting here.

Question from the audience: Did you get a response to your letter?

Robi Damelin:
Ali went along with someone to deliver the letter. Of course, they were very surprised. Ali told them about the families forum, told them about David, told them about me and then read the letter.

They were very moved and they said that if everyone could sign on that letter, there would be peace and they said that they were going to write me a letter, but it's going to take time. They have to go to their village, they have to talk to people, they have to be sure that their son want that and he has just finished his trial right now so I am hoping that it will happen. If it does it's the next step and its very painful.

This isn't something that jsut happens and you do it, its painful. The last time that Ali went to visit them my stomach was just going round the whole day. What happens if they don't want to? What happens if they do? How will I handle it? What will I do next?

I think that's your answer and I think that it works in a very rippling effect.

Ali Abu Awaad:
I'm showing (the letter) everywhere. I went to the Al-Aqsa Brigade and the military wings of Fatah because I know both of them very well - we have been in prison together. I went to them twice and I talked to them about Robi and the letter and the non-violence and so on.

People do not understand, not because of the hatred but because they cannot deal with their injustice. I cannot go to a Palestinian who is closed inside his village. . .sometimes I feel like I live in a Zoo, closed in - even for people who want to go to hospital.

These people want me to open the checkpoint tomorrow. I tell them that what I am doing is really to remove the checkpoint but can they promise me that the next day their will be no suicide bomber, for example?

And it is not the case that I am stopping you from defending yourself. You know, I'm Palestinian. I want my state, I'm against - absolutely 100% against - this occupation but the problem is that we have to live by the way that we react. So they need to see some understanding from the other side, otherwise don't ask the Palestinian who is living in this kind of life to understand your pain.

So this letter is allowing me - even today, Palestinian students came to Robi and to me and they told me "this is the first time we have heard an Israeli talking about our suffering under the occupation, and then she felt guilty because both sides have their reasons.

But I'm telling you, peace for Israelis is a continuation of life. Peace for Palestinians is to start living. We are not alive.

So this letter is allowing me to go to my people to show them that it could be effective. It works.

Through non-violence the hatred will not disappear, I cannot stop the anger, but we can use the anger for our humanity, not by killing each other. It's okay to be angry, you don't have to love the other side to make peace with them.

These are deep things that are very complicated, it is like lighting a candle in a dark tunnel. The candle will not make the darkness disappear, nor will it light up all our surroundings, but it CAN light your steps to get out of the tunnel.

It's not okay that the darkness will continue but until we can see our next step we cannot move from the darkness.

Until we understand what violence is doing for us as Palestinians, the occupation will not be ended.

Until Israelis undertand what it means to occupy another people, the violent behaviour will not stop.

So every side had its duty, not by saying a compliment, I'n not trying to be nice with the Israelis and I'm not asking the Israeli soldier to give me a flower because I know and I understand this deep feeling of being the son of a Holocaust survivor, or a Palestinian under occupation.

Families Forum : Part 3 - The Project (2006)

The Families Forum / Parents Circle is an organisation consisting of several hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli. The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region. They campaign - very effectively - for peace and reconciliation and to promote the cessation of acts of hostility and the achievement of a political agreement

In 2006, two members of this organisation (Robi Damelin and Abu Ali Awwad) undertook a speaking tour of the UK, including two talks in Nottingham. BFTF was lucky enough to attend, record (and later transcribe) one of these events.

This is the third of four related posts. The others can be accessed via the links below:
Families Forum : Part 1 - An Israeli Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 2 - A Palestinian Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 4 - Q&A (2006)
If you only read two posts on this blog, please make it Parts 1 and 2 of this series.

More Information on the Families Forum - Parents Circle can be found here:
UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum
Main Families Forum - Parents Circle Website

Robi Damelin:
So, there has to be something practical to this as well. I'm going to tell you a little about the work of the Parents Circle so that you get the idea that we are not such a huge group but we make a big noise.

One of the big dreams that we had was to get to a wider audience of peopel who wouldn't give a damn actually about what happens to Israel or the Palestinians. They're interrested in football, or Eastenders or the equivalent in Israel.

So we went to quite a middle of the line advertising agency. We decided to not go to a left advertising agency because they would come up with the flowers and the bad poetry. The agency came up with an idea for a TV series which would be a fictional drama something like, I don't know if you can remember, they had a programme called "Roots" which was abour African Americans and it made a huge impact in America on opinions.

This was a very expensive project so we applied to the Americans, very much tongue in cheek, but they actually gave us the money - nobody was more surprised than us! The second channel in Israel agreed to give us the other amount, not because they are such nice guys but it's because they have to make quality programmes - it's part of the agreement for them to get the licence to run their channel. It's the most popular channel and it (the series) is going to be broadcast on prime time. It will be in Arabic and Hebrew, which is unheard of on Israeli television on prime time. It will have Palestinian and Israeli actors.

It's going through teething pains as it has to be approved by both sides, the Palestinians have to agree and that there are no cultural faux pas in it and the Israelis have to agree and, you know, if you put three Israelis together they each have a different opinion and if you put three Palestinians together the same thing happens. so you can imagine that my grey hair started getting bigger by the month - but it's a wonderful project !

They will interweave some of the stories of the Parents Circle into the drama without people knowing that we had anything to do with it and at the end of the series they will show 'the making of' and then people will see that actually a lot of the stories are true and that's a good way for us to go out into the community and start spreading the message to people who have not listened to us before.

Mainly, we work in schools with 17yr old kids - we choose 17yrs old because it's the year before they go into the army. Over the year 2005 we did more than 1000 classroom dialogues. Which is a lot of kids, you can multiply that by 35 which is the average class.

The thing that we discovered was that these kids had never met a Palestinian in their lives (the ones in the Israeli schools) and the ones in the Palestinian schools had never met an Israeli out of uniform or who isn't a settler. It's extraordinary, you go into a class with a Palesinian from Dehaisha refugee camp and you ask these kids "Hi, this is Rehad Faraj from Bethlehem. He lives in Dehaisha refugee camp. Do you know what Dehaisha is?". They havent the faintest idea. "Do you know what a refugee camp is?" They also don't know (that). So through his personal narrative, Rehad tells them where he came from in 1948; what his daily life is like in Dehaisha; what his children live through every day. When they say that children learn to hate Israelis - they don't need to learn, they just need to walk around the streets of Dehaisha a little bit. I don't think they wold be terribly fond of us.

These school classroom dialogues are very valuable because what happens is that the same thing happens in Palestine. These kids have never met an Israeli out of uniform, as I told you, and they might say something outrageous to me like 'your child deserved to die' but you see, when soneone says that you need to look and see why they said such a thing. You know, if you were to look into the eyes of people who have lost children or family members you will see a certain look about them. And when I asked this girl why she was so angry and who did she lose in her family and she told me and then I realised why. And I asked her 'how was your mother throughout this whole thing and how did your aunt behave?' and, you know, we all experience the same pain. She came to me afterwards to say sorry. Most of the kids ask to meet each other and that is the incredible thing. It's like I have come here tonight and you could all go home, like after a sad television programme and do nothing or your could take responsibility for your own lives to protect yourselves in the future. Very much of what happens in my country affects your lives - and very muchof what's hapening could become very sad. I'm not here to tell the British what to do but I can say that what happens here affects me and that the life of Palestine and Israel is very much in the hands of America.

So, these kids ask to meet each other and that's absolutely the most amazing thing that could happen. We have a team of close to 50 people working on the education project going into the schools. We have a pilot project now, of meeting and spending the weekend together from Palestine and Israel and we discovered, of course, that they weren't really happy with each other. But now they have started to write to each other and they have started to invite each other with nothing more to do with us and that is the main thing, that's the most important thing - if they let us go and get on with it themselves.

We have a similar project which is sponsored by the European Union for adult education, because they did a lot of research in Ireland and they found that you have to work with adults as well - it's not enough to just work with kids. And we have had meeting is the refugee camps and in the posh areas of Israel - and it works! Ali works works with me on occasion and nobody wants to let him go afterwards.

And the same thing happens with the film - I hope we will be able to bring it to England - it's a film called Encounter-Point. It is made by an Israeli/Palestinian/American production team. You can look up their website, it's called They interviewed 180 Israeli and Palestinian peaceworkers and chose three organisations which they followed around for two and a half years and we were one of them. Ali and I went to the premiere in New York. There were 800 cynical New Yorkers there but they still clapped for half an hour.

When there are two sides talking with one voice - it works.

I hope that you can see it at the University. They promised that they will get at least 50 Jews and 50 Muslims - that there would be an equal number from both sides for the screening of this film. I hope that you get to see this film because it's a sense of inspiration that you get to do something in your own community. It's terrible easy to sit back and do nothing and wait for the Messaih. But he isn't coming soon from what I can see and we can't wait for any leaders to help us. It has to be people to people.

Ali and I have been thinking a long time about what to do in the Palestinian side to make a really good impact and we came to the conclusion that one has to go and talk to the political prisoners- because they have a tremendous influence on their own people. I went to a wedding the Minister of the Interior was there and I don't have any shame any more, I just do what ever I need to do for the organisation. It's incredible how I don't have any fear. You can put me anywhere, it doesn't matter. I said 'you know we have this kind of a project that we are thinking about and we want to work in the jails' and he said 'yes, it's a wonderful idea'. I was amazed.

So we are going to show the film to all the heads of the police when we get back and I am hoping that we can start looking at jails pretty soon and I'm very happy about that.

Families Forum : Part 2 - A Palestinian Story (2006)

The Families Forum / Parents Circle is an organisation consisting of several hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli. The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region. They campaign - very effectively - for peace and reconciliation and to promote the cessation of acts of hostility and the achievement of a political agreement

In 2006, two members of this organisation (Robi Damelin and Abu Ali Awwad) undertook a speaking tour of the UK, including two talks in Nottingham. BFTF was lucky enough to attend, record (and later transcribe) one of these events.

This is the second of four related posts. The others can be accessed via the links below:
Families Forum : Part 1 - An Israeli Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 3 - The Project (2006)
Families Forum : Part 4 - Q&A (2006)
If you only read two posts on this blog, please make it Parts 1 and 2 of this series.

More Information on the Families Forum - Parents Circle can be found here:
UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum
Main Families Forum - Parents Circle Website

A Palestinian story

Good evening. I would like to thank you for coming here because I think we are all involved in this conflict and this conflict has touched everybody, not just Israel and Palestine, but the whole world around.

My name is Ali Abu Awwad and I am from near Hebron. I came from a refugee family. I grew up in a very political house. My mother used to be very active in Fatah and she has been arrested four times. She was in prison for five years.

During the first intifada and I grew up and opened my eyes. I was 16 so I joined the intifada. It was my reaction against the Israeli occupation. I threw tonnes of stones and have done many things and have been in a prison for four years. My brother also and my other brother. Actually we have been very active.

After the Oslo agreement came we supposed that this agreement will give us peace and that it will also bring security for Israel but the Palestinian independent state has not been established through the agreement. Also the Israeli security was not perfect, so this agreement fell down and it took with it the whole hope of the people.

So people get to be involved and the second intifada was more violent, more hatred, more anger and today we have reached a number of five thousand families who are bereaved from both sides. Most of them are children and women.

One of them was my brother. He was killed by an Israeli soldier and he left a son and daughter. He was 31 years old. We were very close to each other. He used to take care of us. While we were in prison he left his school and he tried to help my father but even with the prison, even with being under occupation, it's different to losing somebody. So when I lost Yusuf, I lost the place of hope in myself. I came to be full of anger and hatred. I was angry with myself. I was angry with the Israelis, with the Jews, with the Arabs, with the peace - because all of those couldn't save Yusuf, including me. Yusuf was killed in an inhuman way. He was shot 70cm away from his head. I was in Saudi Arabia at the time because I had been shot by an Israeli settler in my knee. I still have 12 pieces in my leg reminding me of that, carrying them wherever I am going.

I couldn't imagine being allowed to go back to the same place where they kidnapped my brother, and for what? To cross the checkpoints again? To see the settlers again? Or to join Hamas or Fatah?

What to do?

I came back after 3 months and I realised, after 1 year, why I couldn't kill somebody. Today I know that very well - costing somebody else the same pain that I have is not easing my pain. Killing 1 or 2 or 10 Israelis is not leading my people to independence.

The other thing is that anything that I do will not lead to a psychological solution for myself, so I closed myself until I met the Israeli families and when I saw the religious Israeli father whose son had been kidnapped and killed by Hamas, I realised that if this man can, with all the price that he has paid, understand the rights of the Palestinian and if he can deal with this heavy pain of losing a son then everybody can.

Buy it depends, what is the way that we should follow, as Palestinians, to allow the Israelis to understand like this man, and what should the Israelis should do to understand our case.

So I found myself in this organisation, the Bereaved Families Forum, and day-by-day I became more understanding and open. I realised what is on the back of the soldier, what he is carrying when he comes to be an occupier. I think that before he becomes and occupying soldier he is carrying all the history of his people. He is carrying a fear, the holocaust and everything.

On the other hand, what is making somebody blow himself up in a bus, a restaurant? How can someone not care about his life or that of others? Is he a human or not. I think he is a human, but his guy has reached a point where, for him, life and death are the same. He doesn't care about his life - how can he care about others?

On the other hand, for all the things that we are talking about - to stop the suicide bomber or to remove the soldier from the checkpoint - we need to convince the soldier that occupying the Palestinians is not getting the Israelis security or to convince the suicide bomber that blowing yourself up is not leading to independence.

How to do this?

I think that all the people there, most of them, they want peace but the problem is that part of those people is smiling when there is a suicide bomber or giving an excuse for the occupying soldier.

Both behaviours are illegal, so why are we doing this?

I realised that is because we cannot deal with the pain because we don't know where to put the anger. The easiest way is to throw it to the other side. And the problem is that everybody is right. This side is right and that side is right.

So where is the wrong?

I think that because of this argument between the two sides who are right, the truth disappears.

I think that before forgiveness, being in a reconciliation process is so complicated because the life of both sides is not the same. It doesn't matter who is suffering more because pain is pain, tears do not have different colours, blood is the same colour. So losing somebody is the same from here or from there.

But because we do not know how to connect to this identity, we don't know how to be involved in our nationality, we are giving our behaviours the right to do whatever they want to do to each other, to do the most terrible things to each other.

But in the end, the end of life, nobody is taking Israel with him and nobody is taking Palestine with him. We are going the same way we were born, we aren't even taking our clothes with us.

So why. Life has more worth than death.

But to convince the people of that, people have to live and we will never live so long as we are not allowed to understand each other. It is not that the army will be able to stop the suicide bomber or the violence. It is not that the violence will lead to an independent state.

It is a decision for both sides. It is both sides understanding of the narrratives of each other, of the pain of each other.

If people are not even allowed to say hello for peace, peace will never happen. Even to sit together. I mean you can be angry, you can argue, you can fight, through your mouth - it's legal, because nobody dies in this war.

But being silent is costing us death. So why, why are we not allowed? Sometimes we are ashamed to even be in a peace movement in front of our people. It seems like we are performing a crime, like the peace movement became a crime - because we cannot deal with this hatred and anger.

And I think this is the time to finish and this is the time to have our responsibility because at the end, nobody will disappear. We have more than 12 million people there. I don't care which kind of political solution there is. If it is one state then there has to be a condition - you cannot decide for the other side and ask him to be convinced. The solution needs to come from both nations. If the Palestinians and Israelis agree to leave the area, that is okay!

Thank you very much.

Families Forum : Part 1 - An Israeli Story (2006)

The Families Forum / Parents Circle is an organisation consisting of several hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli. The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region. They campaign - very effectively - for peace and reconciliation and to promote the cessation of acts of hostility and the achievement of a political agreement

In 2006, two members of this organisation (Robi Damelin and Abu Ali Awwad) undertook a speaking tour of the UK, including two talks in Nottingham. BFTF was lucky enough to attend, record (and later transcribe) one of these events.

This is the first of four related posts. The others can be accessed via the links below:
Families Forum : Part 2 - A Palestinian Story (2006)
Families Forum : Part 3 - The Project (2006)
Families Forum : Part 4 - Q&A (2006)
If you only read two posts on this blog, please make it Parts 1 and 2 of this series.

More Information on the Families Forum - Parents Circle can be found here:
UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum
Main Families Forum - Parents Circle Website

An Israeli story

My name is Robi Damelin. I come from Tel Aviv and I lost my son David. He was a student at Tel Aviv University and he was studying for his masters in the Philosophy of Education. I don't suppose anyone can really understand what it is to lose a child. It's beyond anyone's comprehension actually because I thought that I understood and that I had empathy because there are many families in Israel and Palestine who have lost children and I make these kinds of visits but afterwards I apologised to other bereaved parents because I realised that I didn't understand what they were talking about and that my life would never be the same. And then I decided, 'What would I do with all this pain?' There are many choices that you can make.

When the army came and knocked on my door, the first thing that I said, which is really weird because I only heard about it afterwards was 'You may not kill anybody in the name of my child' and I suppose that that was already the beginning of the path that I was going to take.

All my life I have been working for causes of co-existence, you have probably already picked up the fact that my accent is South African. I came to live in Israel in 1967 and in those days, if you had said to me after I had fought in the anti-apartheid movement all through my life - my uncle was Nelson Mandela's lawyer - if you had said to me that blacks and whites would sit in the same room and look for a way to reconcile I would have said that you were insane. In fact this miracle actually happened and it is a miracle of South Africa. It isn't that South Africa is now this wonderful land of pink dreams - it's not. There is a lot of crime but when you think of the alternative of what could have happened there then you begin to realise that it was the miracle and I think the miracle could happen for us as well.

After David died I didn't know what direction my life was going to take. I didn't know that I couldn't go out on a path of revenge because in fact there is no revenge that you can take that will bring him back. Who would I kill? Who would I blame? Where does the anger come from? Did the sniper kill David because he was David? He killed him because he was a symbol, because if he had known David he could never have killed him.

The process of forgiving and reconciliation is a long and very painful one. It's a very personal journey that has a tremendous rippling effect. You will never know where it's going to take you. You see when you do this work there is a sense of having to know whether you are being completely honest. I spend a lot of time looking for anger and whether I was being genuine about what I was saying. And then the big test arrived.

The big test was that they caught the sniper that killed David. I though 'what am I going to do with all of this because if what I am saying is what I mean, then I have to go on a path to see whether I can find a way to reconcile and that's almost impossible. I was very influenced by the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa. I watched the movie, which I highly recommend to anybody, called "The long nights journey into the day" - it's not "a long days journey into the night". It's a documentary about the truth and reconciliation commission and discovered I could identify and I suddenly realised that by giving up on this anger or by looking for a path to reconcile, in many ways you stopped being the victim because you know, all the anger and the connection to the person that perpetrated the crime is really being under some kind of power that they have over you. It's so hard to explain because its something that much more "experiential" and not so much something that I can quantify and explain to you. So I think that in many ways if I read you the letter that I wrote to the family of the sniper, it might give you an insight into this path, because the path is not only personal, it has a rippling effect.

The rippling effect of forgiving is quite incredible. When I looked at South Africa I really realised that this is what they were doing, because it wasn't only for the mothers, the people who had lost children, it was also for other people to see that it was possible and it was looking for the humanity on the other side because we only see evil and good, we don't see grey in the middle. We just see bad and good and we don't see the story of the sniper - which we will come to - we don't see why people do these mad violent things. Look, I'm not a rainbows, flowers, bad poetry sort of person, but I do see the possibility. I do see that giving up would be the most terrible thing. It's quite extraordinary because when you see people who are the least likely of anybody you could ever meet in Israel or Palestine to go on this path and suddenly they are talking with once voice, it has an extraordinary effect on people. It brings a sense of hope and that maybe they can make a difference in their own communities.

We were in the university this afternoon and I was so moved by the meeting because there were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Palestinian, Palestinian Christian in the audience and we finished after an hour and they threw us out of the lecture hall and we all went to the cafe because they wanted to continue talking. We sat and spoke and I discovered that these kids had never ever spoken (to each other). A Palestinian had never spoken to a Jewish student. They started to stand in a group and they started talking to each other and taking each other's Emails and they decided that they were going to have a dialogue group. I got them to get off the politics and they are all going to tell their personal narrative for the first three or four weeks to get the empathy because you see, we are not a political organisation. Of course we are all political people but we are not affiliated to any political party and that is really very important for us because we don't want to be labelled as anything, and their are various opinions within the parents circle in any event.

So these kids suddenly discovered the humanity, they were talking on another level altogether and they promised me that the first few meeting would be to get to know each other.

There were kids there from Gaza. I know what it is to live in Gaza but I promise you that the kids in this meeting had never heard the pain of a kid living in Gaza, never heard his fear for what would happen to his parents if something happened.

And the Jewish kids would start to tell their stories about where they came from and why their parents left Lithuanian and how they got here and what happened to them and how they feel as a minority group.

It's so extraordinary when you tell that personal narrative. You can get off the history because we all live in our historical narrative. 1948 is the war of independence for the Jews and the state of Israel and it's the 'Nakba' (Catastrophe) for the Palestinians. And so we all read history as we wish. Look at the Balfour Declaration - you will see the two sides interpretation. Everything is seen through your own eyes. Now, when you know someone else's narrative - it doesn't mean you have to agree with it - but at least you know.

I mean, we live probably from here to where those cups are away from a Palestinian - and we never sat down to have a conversation.

Nobody knows the pain of the other. Nobody understand why Israel started and why all these people ran away and why it is a necessity to have a state at all.

Nobody sees the pain of the Palestinians. Nobody knows what the daily life is of having to cross a roadblock, of having the humiliation of having to always show papers, of having to ask permission to come to Israel.

Where do we have the empathy, this joint empathy, where we can look at both sides and say 'they have a shared pain'? You see, for Ali and I to sit together, we do share a pain- it's the deepest pain that you can have. We have also paid the highest price to say what we say and we are very lucky in that from many points of view the people in our communities are willing to listen to us because neither of us can be doubted as being loyal to their own countries - but still wanting a moral solution. So I think I'm going to read you the letter and I really ask you not to take sides. Please do not be pro-Israeli, please do not be pro-Palestinian. Just open your heart to a message that might bring a sense of empathy because where are we now - Nottingham? - you can have all these wonderful opinions but your children are not dying and your children are not standing at roadblocks. And you don't have to make these terrible decisions on a daily basis of what to do, and how to live your life and how to be moral. I know that you have had a little taste now of veils and crosses and everything to do with religious symbols. I am not all religious but I promise you that if someone said tomorrow morning that I could not wear the star of David I would go out and buy a star of David the biggest size I could find and I would walk around with it hear (on my chest) because you are pushing me into a corner - tell me I can't do something and I immediately feel threatened and that's when I'll immediately do it. So don't tell me I can't wear a veil, or I can't wear a cross or I can't do this. Come and talk to me. Come and tell me why it's painful. Come and explain why you are frightened of my symbols. Come and talk to me about labels and then maybe I won't feel so threatened that I have to wear a big symbol.

Do you know how many Muslims in the US started to wear the veil after 9/11? One needs to ask oneself why. Did they feel threatened? Was it suddenly having to announce your ethnic identity?

I was brought up in a very non-Jewish environment, in a convent believe it or not - nobody believes that when they know the way I behave! - and there were two Jewish kids in the whole convent and I was going to be Catholic because I thought it was much more romantic. I liked all the symbolism. When you are 13-14 it is much more sexy! But, just don't threaten me. Just accept me and talk to me and ask me why I feel the need now to show my symbol. Why is so important that I go off to my British Airways job with a large cross on my cravat? Why am I doing that? What makes it necessary for me to show you who I am?

Robi reads the letter she wrote to the family of the sniper who shot her son:

"This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin and I am the mother of David who was killed by your son.

I know he did not kill David because he was David. If he had known him he could never have done such a thing. David was 28 yrs old and he was a student at Tel Aviv University doing his masters in the Philosophy of Education. David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had a compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians. He treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories but nevertheless; he went to serve when he was called to the reserves.

What makes our children do what they do? Do they not understand the pain they are causing? Your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold and see again. Or see him married. Or have a grandchild from him.

I cannot describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and sister and girlfriend and all who knew and loved him.

All my life I have been spent working for causes of co-existence, both in South Africa and here. After David was killed, I started to look for a way to prevent other families, both Israeli and Palestinian, from suffering this dreadful loss. I was looking for a way to stop the cycle of violence. Nothing, for me, is more sacred that human life. No revenge or hatred can ever bring my child back.

After a year I closed my office and joined the Parents Circle Families Forum. We are a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have all lost an immediate family member in the conflict. We are looking for ways to create a dialogue with a long-term vision of reconciliation. After your son was captured I spent sleepless nights thinking about what to do. Should I ignore the whole thing or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing to try and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation. But it is not easy for anyone and I am just an ordinary person, not a saint

I have now come to the conclusion that I would like to try and reconcile. Maybe this is difficult for you to understand or believe but I know that in my heart it is the only path that I can choose. For if what I say is what I mean then it is the only way.

I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people. He is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state.

But I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace. Our lives as two nations are so intertwined. Each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the future of the children who are our responsibility.

I give this letter to people I love and trust to deliver. They will tell you of the work we are doing and perhaps create in your heart some hope for the future. I do not know what your reaction will be. It is a risk for me, but I believe you will understand as it comes from the most honest part of me.

I hope that you will show the letter to your son and that maybe in the future we can meet. Let us put an end to the killing and look for a way, through mutual understanding and empathy, to live a normal life, free of violence"

Thank you

Monday, 21 February 2011

BFTF Interview with Muhammed Sajid (2009)

Back in 2009, the BFTF radio show interviewed Muhammad Sajid – a volunteer at the Islamic Centre, community activist and general force-for-good.

The interviews were spread across three shows and covered a lot of ground.

Quite a bit of time was spent discussing the Community Aid Nottingham refugee assistance programme that was being set up at the time. That project has has now run its course and is likely to be the subject of a separate post in the future.

But there was also a lot on the situation of refugees in Nottingham, charity, apathy in the Muslim community and other issues. Extracts from these parts of the discussion are shown below. As with any discussion involving Sajid, I think you will find it a riveting, realistic and educational read:

So, Sajid, just to provide a little background, I understand that the main issue you are trying to address relates to people seeking asylum or refugee or asylum status, have had their initial case and are now in the appeal process – during which they receive no state support.
Sajid: That is correct. Currently the issue for locally in Nottingham is that there are sixty destitute Muslims in Nottingham. Now what we mean by destitute is people who have no set income so they’re not on state benefit s at all. They haven’t got a fix abode they are homeless either living on the streets or living at friends’ houses. These are basically people who, for whatever reason, have left countries which are not safe to live in anymore, which is either due to war, i.e. Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan or countries that are suffering from civil strife (places like Darfur in Sudan). Sometimes they are single young men, sometimes elderly people, sometimes families.

The only support at the moment they’re getting is from an organisation called Nottingham Refugee Forum (NRF) On a Tuesday they give them a cash fund which is £10 for the whole month, that’s £2.50 a week in cash they have. Then on a Saturday they are provided a hot meal and they are provided a shopping bag of products worth £7 which will probably be half a litre vegetable oil, tin of tomatoes, a tin of soup, (occasionally) fresh fruits. So this is the level their living at. Absolutely, technically misqeen. Complete destitute so if you want a translation of destitute it means misqeen. They absolutely have nothing.

Basically, say 70% of the asylum seekers are Muslim from Muslim backgrounds, Muslim countries that have left their countries and are now in the UK, and at the moment the destitute service or facilities at the refugee forum is completely run by volunteers. And far as I’m aware the volunteers comprise people from the churches, the various churches around Nottingham and unofficially some churches do provide facilities for them. I know, I was speaking to a Moroccan man two days ago and he was telling me how good the Salvation Army was and how much support the Salvation Army gives to these destitute people.

There’s a brother who came to Islamic Centre yesterday and a Christian lady offered to house him offered to house him and out of his own ghayrath and out of the fact of his own practicing of the deen he said to her I can’t share a house with a strange woman so he lives in her shed I repeat he is living in a shed and he is over 60 years old. Look at your grandfather that could be your grandfather, look at your father that could be your father that could be your own brother.

To give one example of how the non-Muslim community is helping these predominantly Muslim refugees, a lady called Connie Lloyd, I believe she is in her early 70’s, goes to Asda every Saturday morning and she buys 60 shopping bags of products. That’s just one activity Connie does.

It is unfortunate that the Muslim community is not more active in this area. . . 
To take a historical example, people from central Asia and the Middle East went into the Indian Subcontinent e.g. Hazrat Ali Ajweri otherwise known as Data Saab in Lahore. They went there and they said ‘what are the issues?’ They said right there are human beings here suffering from oppression and they are being starved so what I’m going to do is collect money, I’m going to buy food, I’m going to cook that food in a big pot and serve the food to the destitute.

You know there was a time not too far ago when if a guest came to your house or your locality people used to fight over to entertain that guest. Now, I’m sorry to say but, I want to emphasise this is there any kind of I use the word ghayrath(shame), is there any kind of shame in the Muslims that we completely reached the level that we cannot even help our own any more. That we have to, are we so being habitualised to victimisation we been so used to being victims that we no longer can become the pillars of the community and help other people. Or is it a case of being habitualised to being a victim or is it a case that we are now selfish? Where’s the shame? Where’s the shame in the Muslim community?

I tell you something else. I was speaking to one of the elders at the mosque and he goes Sajid all you have to do is just to knock on everyone’s doors and say can you give us your leftovers? He says that’s what its come to, perhaps about 2 or 3 weeks of asking for leftovers, hopefully this what he said, the community will have enough shame to say look we’ll just pay for them, pay for their food because you have to take it to that. The lowest denominator for them to understand that.

Regarding zakat(charity), could you let us know what the priorities are in terms of its allocation.
You first give it to your family and that’s only people on horizontically on your family tree. So your cousins and your brothers. The next group who have the most right is your locality, your neighbourhood, your neighbours and like I said these people for the majority of Muslims in Nottingham are no more than 1-2 miles away from you.

And just to be clear that doesn’t mean your Muslim neighbour that means your neighbour full stop.  

That means anyone. The dignity of humanity in their property in their person and their well being.

And you know its local, it’s real and you can participate. You don’t have to go to Sudan or Kashmir to help. You can help here. 

It’s about you getting empowered and getting involved. If you cannot provide any financial help we understand. Ok. Not everyone has got excess money to give. We understand. But there’s absolutely no excuse why you can’t physically help. Like I said on those 2 days at the refugee forum why isn’t there a group of Muslims cooking that food on a Saturday? Why aren’t they sitting there and providing support talking to them? Making them feel welcome? These people suffer from isolation they don’t have they have no one to talk to. Where is the mercy and where is the love in the ummah? We go back to this. You have to get involved, if you do not want to get involved in this project because you know it’s a bit hard its emotionally very stressful you don’t want to get involved then there’s hundreds absolutely hundreds of volunteering operations at every single organisation whether it’s a Muslim organisation whether it’s a non-Muslim organisation and there’s no excuse for you to not getting involved.

Now. I mean through my experience, when you do voluntary work in many cases you end up in contact with dealing with, surrounded with people who have good character. They’re not going to earn any money out of this. By definition their doing it for the right reasons.  
Absolutely. Let’s make something very clear if we were going to run on capitalist ethics then people volunteering is something bad cos your losing out! And you’ll find that in every single act in volunteering you get a better skill set, you get the opportunity to meet more people, you get the opportunity to probably get to put something on your CV. I tell you this my background is infrastructure project manager I interviewed a lot of people and one of the things we actively looked for was how much time did this if this guy is serious then he would be involved in volunteering. It was one of the criteria. You know in that section where you say “hobbies and interests”? It was actually one of the criteria that we want serious people to work for Vodafone. We don’t want guys just to sit at home and never you know just couch potato out on us. We want serious people who get involved who get stuck in.

Basically the bottom line is this and I’ll put it crude. So I apologise is get off your backsides and help people. Helping yourself isn’t good enough. That’s sorry that’s for people who are selfish and who are in capitalism. You are Muslims. You help yourself and help other people and by helping other people you help yourself.

I want to take that little bit further, now I’m sure you’ll agree with me that when we’d have natural disasters or there are families around the world what you’re not suggesting is that we shouldn’t give to that?
Sajid: Absolutely. I just want to make that very clear. Whenever there is a natural disaster /major disaster you have to provide immediate help but in the preference of zakat distribution, zakat is about purifying the wealth of the wealthy and giving it to the needy. And hopefully empowering the community financially to lift people out of permanent destitution.

I once asked a Sheikh a very similar question and he goes to me the analogy is this is that if someone is digging for water or oil. He digs and stops says I’m not getting anywhere here starts moving somewhere else and digs a little hole here then moves doesn’t get any water and digs another hole or he goes and all he seems to have achieved is to dig loads of holes. But if you persevere in one thing and keep digging and digging in the first hole there’s a higher chance that you would have found water.

So the responsibility as a community first is poverty is relative. It’s all over the world; you know there are people absolutely dying of unclean water in the world. There are people dying of not having enough calories in their diet. There’s no doubt about that. At the same time here we have destitute people right here.


Note: The only reason that BFTF has been able to post these extracts is that a volunteer has kindly transcribed the interview, mashallah. BFTF always likes to say thank you to people who volunteer in this way, and in this case the thank you has been via some home-made butter biscuits and choc-chip muffins. Dear reader, if you work in a mosque or community centre, you may wish to reflect on how you treat the volunteers who generously give their time to your organisation.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

BFTF Interview with the Lord Mayor of Nottingham Mohammed Munir (2008).

Back in 2008, the BFTF Radio Show interviewed the then Lord Mayor of Nottingham Mohammed Munir. A volunteer (Joe Sharratt) recently transcribed the interview, which means that we can now post a summary of the good bits! 
BFTF has a policy of saying "thank you" to the volunteers who transcribe interviews with a batch of home made muffins. This seems only fair and BFTF would certainly encourage mosques, community centres and other social organisations to consider whether they show sufficient appreciation of the efforts of volunteers - and also whether they really listen to what volunteers tell them. . . 
So, without further ado:

Q : Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Councillor Mohammed Munir, to start with, perhaps you could give us just an outline on how you get to be the Mayor. I mean how does that work exactly?
A : You start with your own hard work, working within the community, working within the general public. Then you stand for election to be elected as a councillor, through any party or independent. . . . What happens normally is the majority group (in the council) decide whose name they are going to put forward and because they are in power, in a majority, when it goes to the full council automatically that party member becomes the Lord Mayor, so normally everyone votes for the Lord Mayor. No one, you know, abstains or votes against. So that’s how you become Lord Mayor, so you become a councillor first, then the council elects the Lord Mayor.

Q: Is the Mayor quite tied in to the political process of the council? 
A: The Lord Mayor controls the full council meeting with all the fifty-five councillors there and present, not necessarily all fifty-five but that’s the full council. All the major business is debated in there, and Lord Mayor controls and allows people to speak and gives them time to speak and things like that. When you get elected Lord Mayor you are supposed to be an independent person. You shouldn’t do favours to any party, it becomes a civic role, not a party political role and normally all Lord Mayors play fair to each party and give them equal.

Q: One of the roles of the Lord Mayor is to represent Nottingham in terms of diplomatic and economic interests. Can you give some examples?
A: In my year in office I’ve seen many many delegates from different countries and different cities, they come to visit the city like last week I had a delegate from India, from Jalandhar, India. They want to make an educational link with Nottingham and Jalandhar so they came to see New Colleges of Nottingham. Also we have had delegates from China, Germany, America, Canada. The Lord Mayor entertains them, and actually we sell the city to them.
(We used to have) Raleigh, we had John Player, we had Industrial and lace and we used to sell those things. Well what we’ve got left, if not in Nottingham, in England, to sell our brains. So we’ve got a service industry to sell now, so our young generation educating them to sell that to other countries and that’s what we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got Experian which is a big supplier in the city, we’ve got Capital One and their headquarters there, we’ve got the Inland Revenue here and many other service industries which we can provide to them. We’ve still got very highly qualified and experienced engineers in Nottingham, they go out and design things for other people and that sort of thing we can sell to them. The other big thing is education, New Colleges of Nottingham, Nottingham University, Trent University. Nottingham University has now got a campus in Malaysia, so that sort of thing.

Q: How can you help the Muslim Community?
A: Well how can I help the Muslim community? It’s the Muslim community that needs to help themselves, it’s not that I can help, which I’ve been crying time and time... We’ve got to forget our literal differences when the common purpose comes. We stand against each other, if I’m doing something positive and my brother says ‘Well why is he taking lead?’ and stops me doing it. We have to help ourselves, all the whole community together. As far as I’m concerned, I was the first Lord Mayor to celebrate Eid in the council house, nobody was celebrating before so I put my foot down and I said ‘we as a Muslim community, a Pakistani community, a Muslim community, we are the major contributor economically in the city and culturally’. Where our centres are concerned, if there is a little bit of funding I openly say we don’t get together and help this one this year and another one another year, everybody wants a share of the pot and what happens is it’s a little pot and it’s divided into five pieces so everybody gets a slice, but a little slice and no one gets nowhere. It suits those people who are giving you the funding because you get nowhere. There’s five thousand pounds, you get one, I get one and Peter and Iqbal get’s one, so everybody gets one thousand so you don’t get anywhere. Well if we decide OK, you can have five thousand this year, I’ll have five thousand next year, so you can do something...

Q: The final question is a question we ask all of our guests, we’ve put that in as a feature of the show, because of course if you look in the media or look in the press everything is negative negative negative, and of course it would be very easy for us to fill the whole show with terrible news and we try not to do that, so the question that we ask of our guests is what do they think the best thing about the UK, of living in the UK, about their experience of the UK, what is the best thing, and if you ask me I’m going to say the NHS and Radio 4, some people say the weather, and we’re very keen to hear your opinion.
A: Well it’s quite a few things actually. If you see these mass migrations and immigration coming from Eastern Europe or other side is they open for everybody, but why are more people wanting to come to the UK than anywhere else? Because the social life is a lot better than anywhere else in the world, the NHS yes is another thing and it’s very effective, people say no-no, but I’ll say it’s very effective the NHS, and freedom of speech is there for everybody. A prime example is myself, the ward I represent there is hardly any Asian people in that ward, the majority are British people and I’m representing them so you get the chance in each field, whichever field you choose, you do get a fair chance to develop yourself and go forward, so yeah that’s why.

Q: Now I’m conscious you’re a busy man, you’ve got a lot of engagements on your plate and also quite a heavy chain I can see around your neck. Now we talked about this a little earlier in the evening and I’m going to sneak in an extra tiny question, and I asked in front of some of the young children in the Quran class. What happens to the chain, do you want to tell the listeners because I was fascinated to hear this, what happens to the chain, you don’t get to wear it outside your pyjamas, where does it end up every night?
A: Well as soon as I leave here my driver is responsible for the chain, outside when I get to my final destination he takes it off me and takes it to the central police station, and they’ve got a big safe and it gets locked in that safe and it’s there.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

IKEA bags IKEA trees

IKEA, the all conquering home furniture giant, are well known for having a very sharp marketing department. And one of this departments sharpest moves may well have been to suggest that IKEA sells their large blue woven plastic bags for the tiny sum of 50p.

Emblazoned with the IKEA logo, these have provided free advertising for the retail giant across the UK, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Within the BFTF household, there are three of these hard wearing bags in service. Together they manage to hold an entire weekly shop (which can be packed much faster than if one was using supermarket carrier bags), are sometimes pressed into service as holdalls for trips to the seaside and have even been considered as winter sledges.

A measure of their hardwearing nature is that they are still going strong after over 2 years of service.

Whilst this type of bag is hardly new (I can certainly remember using smaller, more "grannyish" versions as a child), such robust bags seemed to be rather out of fashion during the 1990's and 2000's, so it is good to see that at least one store is selling them at a reasonable price.

This blog being what it is, it has sent a message of congratulations to IKEA, as shown below:

"Just wanted to let you know that your large blue IKEA bags are brilliant. We use them for our weekly shopping, as holdalls when going on holiday- even as sledges in the winter. Well done on such a robust design and reasonable price."

Having said that, from the BFTF perspective, IKEA is no snow-white example of perfection. In particular, it is difficult to be sure that the wood used in its furniture comes from a sustainable source. When asked about this, staff at the store seem unsure and give a variety of unconvincing answers. So, having just given them a nice fuzzy warm feeling, BFTF proceeded to jab IKEA with a pointy stick:

"Just wanted to let you know that I often decide not to buy products from IKEA as I do not feel sure that the wood has been sustainably sourced. I have asked staff at IKEA about your policies and have received conflicting answers. The only certification that I trust is FSC, and I will remain uneasy about purchasing wood based products from IKEA until I see a FSC logo on them."

Dear reader, perhaps there is a business or service out there that YOU could steer in the right direction with a word of encouragement or constructive criticism.

As BFTF guests from Greenpeace and FSC have commented, it can take a surprisingly small number of emails or letters arriving at head office to make a change in policy. . .

Update (24th Feb 2011)
Recently received a response regarding the Bags in which IKEA said that thank you for the positive comments and that they would pass them on to the relevant department.

Also received a response regarding the source of the wood in their products in which IKEA pointed me towards a link on their website. BFTF has followed the link, and it describes a number of worthy projects that IKEA are involved with. However, that is not really the issue at hand, as described in the email bounced back to IKEA:

"Thank you for responding. I've visited the link suggested and have looked in particular at the "IKEA Forests Projects" page. Whilst all the projects listed are admirable, they are rather besides the point.
The question I ask myself at IKEA is "Is this specific product made using wood
from a sustainable source?". The answer, generally, is "I don't know". So I often walk away."
In contrast, I am often reassured when shopping at B&Q by the "FSC certified"
logo on many of their wood products."

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Response to "A letter to WH Smith"

previous post talked about sketch pads at WH Smith (not using sustainably sourced paper) and at Sainsburys (using sustainably sourced paper) and how BFTF had given some feedback (positive or negative as appropriate) to the companies concerned. Somewhat to my surprise, responses have come back from both!

Sainsburys (the good guys in this particular instance) have said:
"Thanks for your email telling us about the great experience you had while shopping with us. We love to get this kind of feedback.  It shows that our hard work is all worthwhile and I will be sharing your comments with my colleagues in our stationary buying team. We are grateful to you for taking the time to contact us and for your support of Sainsbury’s."

Hopefully, there are now some people at Sainsburys who have a nice warm feeling in their tummies! Perhaps, dear reader, you can think of a business or service that deserves thanks in some way - why not make that call.

Wheras WH Smith have commented:
"Thank you for your email of 29 January 2011, regarding the paper used in our own branded sketch pads. At WHSmith we pride ourselves on the quality of the products that we sell, so I am most concerned to learn that we have not met your expectations, on this occasion. Rest assured I will pass your feedback to our Buyer, who I am sure, will take your comments into consideration when deciding on future ranges. I am very sorry for any disappointment caused."

Well, that's a little non-committal (but at least they had the courtesy to respond - something that does not always happen). BFTF recalls an interview with Greenpeace in which they pointed out that sometimes it only takes a very few emails or letters to make a company change their policy. This is especially the case if the emails or letters have been written individially, as opposed to being part of some organised campaign. Perhaps. dear reader, you can think of a business or service that needs a nudge to move in the right direction - if so, why not take a minute out to make that call or send that (polite) email?

Sunday, 6 February 2011


Happened to watch one of the “Storyville” documentaries on BBC4 (easily the best channel on TV) recently. This particular programme was about former US President Ronald Reagan.

A fascinating programme, it was yet another example of how, without an understanding of history, we cannot understand the present - or recognise when our leaders (or prospective leaders) are pulling the wool over our eyes

It was revealing to see how Raegan was able to tell the American people that the US absolutely had not sold arms to Iran (Iran !) in return for the release of hostages in Lebanon - although that was exactly what had happened, and he knew about it.

It was also interesting to see how the right of American politics has put his presidency on a pedestal and attributed to him government policies that simply did not happen. For example, far from being an administration that shrank the size of government and reduced the deficit, his was one that hired more employees and left the country with a huge deficit (something which he himself acknowledged in one of his final addresses as a regret).

Reagan died from the degenerative brain disease Alzheimers. One of the most poignant comments described how, whilst he was suffering from the condition, his wife found him one day holding a small model of the White House. She asked him what he was doing with that in his hand and said “I don’t know but it’s something to do with me”

To find out more about this series, do the clicky thing here :

Water - clockwise or anticlockwise?

As everybody knows, the Coriolis effect is the reason that water spirals in a particular direction when it flows out of a sink. Anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

However - it seems that the reality is actually very different. Apparently, the Coriolis force is orders of magnitude too small to have a significant effect on water exiting a sink and the direction of the vortex is largely determined by the shape of the sink, location of the plughole, any movement in the water etc. (This is in contrast to the case of large scale weather systems (hurricanes etc) where the Coriolis effect IS significant).

I’ve checked what happens in our kitchen sink (“north facing” plughole) and found that the water seems to exit in a clockwise direction - and that I can provoke it into going clockwise or anti-clockwise by giving the water an appropriate gentle stir prior to removing the plug.

Interestingly, a 1960’s paper in the journal Nature described how the Coriolis effect could be detected when a 600 gallon tank of water was repeatedly filled and allowed to settle for 24hrs. In this case, no rotation was seen for the first 12-15mins but after this an anticlockwise vortex did form and was found to rotate at approximately 30,000 times faster that the rotation of the earth, suggesting that the small Coriolis-induced effect was accelerated by gravitational acceleration and conservation of angular momentum effects (“conservation of angular momentum” is the way in which, for example, a spinning ice-skater will spin faster if they bring their arms close in to their bodies).

Just goes to show how “common knowledge” can be anything but!

You can find out more about this at the following :

This topic is also covered in a book titled “The Book of General Ignorance”, based on the “QI” BBC TV series and written by John Lloyd and John Mitcheson.

One other item in the book that caught my attention related to Radiation Tolerance, Apparently, tests in 1959 discovered that whilst a radiation exposure of 100rads will kill a human, cockroaches can survive up to 20,000rads, and some wasps don’t kick the bucket until they have been hit with 180,000rads. However, these are all far outclassed by a simple single celled organism (Deinococcus radiodurans) that can survive some 1.5million rads. Winningly, it is known by those studying it as “Conan the Bacterium”.

Scientists - who says they don’t have a sense of humour?

Friday, 4 February 2011

A LOT of Hard Disc Drives

Number One Son says that he would like to work with "computers". That's not a bad career to aim for, except that when quizzed on what he knows about bits and bytes, or ROM and RAM, the answers he provides do not inspire much confidence!

So, in an effort to help him to "fill in the blanks" - and there seem to be a LOT of blanks - I had a quick trawl on t'Internet for IT news sites with the intention of suggesting that he ought to visit them occasionally to see what was happening in his intended field of endeavour. Whilst in the middle of this, I happened to stumble across an article at the (link at the bottom of the post) that talked about the number of 2.5" hard drives that had been made by some of the major players.

Apparently, in that last three months of 2010, the combined 2.5" HDD output of Seagate, Hitachi, Western Digital and Toshiba was 57.3 million units.

57.3 million drives, in just three months. My word, that's a lot.

And then I started thinking about it a bit further. You see, 57.3 million is just too big a number to deal with, I needed to put it in some kind of perspective.

So I found out the size of a typical 2.5" HDD (since you ask, the Seagate Mementus 500GB SATA Internal OEM HDD), which turns out to be 101 x 70 x 9mm, and worked out how much volume all those drives would take up.

Well, 57.3 million 2.5" HD drives takes up 3646m3, which still doesn't help me. I have no idea how big that is. It could be the size of a house or a factory. But then a brainwave hits - perhaps if it was expressed in terms of something I recognised, I would have a better grasp of the volume.

And lo, it turns out that 3646m3 is about 54 shipping containers worth.

Crikey, that's a lot - and that is assuming that there is no packaging, just the drives packed in the containers as  tightly as possible.

Further calculations revealed that, if spread out on the ground, the drives would cover an area of some 405000m2 , (which, again, doesn't really help) or some 37 full sized football pitches (now you're talking  - that's a lot of area!)

And if laid end to end, they would stretch for some 5780 kilometres. Now, even I can see that that is a long way, but  was surpised to find that this is further than the distance from London to Kabul!

It is interesting to compare the three values, (54 containers, 37 pitches and London-Kabul) and think about how they sound. For me, the London-Kabul description makes the amount of drives seem much larger, but for Number One Son, it the football pitch equivalence that sounds the largest.

It would be great to find out which one sounds biggest to you dear reader!