Saturday, 28 July 2012

Dates in the Square - Wk 1 - Racism

The first of the 2012 "Dates in the Square" events, held on 25th July focussed on racism and included a short talk by Shad Ali (who suffered a vicious racist attack a few years ago yet forgave his attacker) and also by Cllr Alex Norris providing the reflection.

Shad Ali Mr Ali described how, back in 2008 he had intervened to stop a man hurling racial abuse at two women in the city centre. The man, schizophrenic Glenn Jackson punched Ali unconscious and then stamped and kicked him in the head, leaving him with injuries were so severe that Ali needed four metal plates inserted into his face to support shattered eye sockets.

Jackson was sentenced to a minimum of 5 years in jail.

Shad Ali describing his experience of being the victim of a racist attack

What was surprising was that Ali, who still has trouble breathing through his nose, forgave his attacker and has been trying to visit Jackson in jail to tell him that he is forgiven.Thus far, his application to visit Jackson have all been rejected. You can read more about Shad’s story here and also at the very interesting “4thought” site.

Councillor Alex Norris
The reflection from Councillor Norris was very passionate and heartening to hear. He bagan by saying that he believed in a “world class Nottingham” and that this required not only the right physical infrastructure such as roads, recreational facilities and jobs - but also a sense of community and caring in its citizens “You’re not world class if you have communities where neighbours are turned away from each other”.

He described how the council had a target of reducing hate crime by 25% by 2015 and added that the council wanted to do this not by making it harder to report hate crime, or by making people feel that it is not worth reporting hate crime - but rather by giving the people the confidence that if they reported hate crime it would be taken seriously. Because of this, he expected that “before it [hate crime] went down it would go up”.

Councillor Norris also pointed out the there had already been dramatic changes over the last few decades, pointing out that the constant stream of racism meted out to black football players 20 years ago has now become a very rare occurrence - and that, in large part this was due to the football fan community coming together and saying that this kind of abuse was not acceptable.

Councillor Norris described how some parts of the media contributed to creating distrust and fermenting hatred by way they portrayed minority communities. Commenting specifically on a recent story in the Daily Mail which claiming that Ramadan would add to traffic congestion, the councillor made some very heartfelt comments, saying “Shame on them, They know it’s not illegal but they also know that it they can put a little bit of hatred in peoples ears it would stop people getting together [as a community]“.

Councillor Norris describing his vision for a "World Class" Nottingham
Moving onto the demograhics of the council itself, Councillor Norris pointed out that “there are structural things that make it harder for someone who isn’t a white male” to reach the highest levels of the council and that this needed to be dealt with both on the “demand” side by ensuring that minorities are appropriately represented in the council and also on the “supply” side, but ensuring that all of Nottingham’s young people get the change to achieve all they can and compete effectively for these jobs.

Sajid Mohammed
Sajid is the chairnan of Himmah, who organised this event, and he spoke a few words to explain how the event was to encourage people to “”become friends with each other, to know each other, respect each other and to live in harmony in this great city”.

Bring a Tin
Himmah is supporting the work of Notts Refugee Forum and also the NG7 Foodbank, both of whom are providing non-perishable foods to some of the most needy in Nottingham. As part of this effort, Himmah are asking people who attend the events to “Bring a Tin” of food for donation to these two organisations.

The Daily Mail
It is perhaps worth mentioning a little more about the Daily Mail article that councillor Norris mentioned. Headlined “Ramadan 'will cause even more transport chaos during the Olympics as worshippers squeeze on to non-Games lanes' the article states the following:
“Every year during the month of August, vast crowds of worshippers descend on east London - one of the most concentrated Muslim communities in the country - for nightly prayer.”

In reality, the worshippers do not “descend” on east London - they live there. People generally attend mosques that are close to them, either walking or driving very short distances to get there.

More disturbingly, the article is illustrated with a picture showing Muslims praying in a small road, possibly a cul-de-sac, with the same “vast crowds” caption. The image clearly implies that it is typical for Muslims to block whole roads across East London during prayer times.

In reality, the image is from a completely different story, relating to a specific instance of a mosque that does not have sufficient space for worshippers, who then spill out onto the paved area outside. Indeed, so hidden away is the area that the original article has a quote saying “‘You wouldn’t know unless you were looking for it”

And one can see that the article has indeed managed to provoke ill feeling in its readers by looking at the comments (which the Daily Mail CHOSE to leave unmoderated). Here are a few examples:

“The colonisation of Britain continues.”

"Too much to expect this to be treated the same way Christians would be treated.More special treatment."

"I bet you they use the Olympic lanes and nobody will say a word. How many of them will be insured too?"

Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Speech is a wonderful right, and something to be cherished - but we also have a freedom to challenge. And when publications like the Daily Mail adopt a policy of drip feeding negative stories about a particular minority, and no-one in authority challenges them - we are heading to a dark place.

Until Councillor Norris’s comments, BFTF had never heard any politician condemn this kind of article, which leaves one with the feeling that politicians think that the Muslim community will just have to put up with this kind of one-sided reporting. Week in. Week out.

You can check what the Daily Mail published for yourself by going MailOnline and searching for articles with the word "Muslim" over the last 30 days. But be warned, the resulting stream of headlines will look like a page from a far-right website.

And what the Daily Mail reports matters, because it is the worlds leading online newspaper, reaching 45million people in December 2011 alone.

BFTF has asked a local MP for evidence that the Labour Party has challenged the Daily Mail on its output, thus far without success. Incidentally, that same post gives an example of what a waste of space the PCC is.

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