Woolwich and the Muslim response

Woolwich and Muslim responseThe murder in Woolwich has shocked everyone, no one was prepared for such a killing on the streets of the UK.  The response has been of disgust and condemnation.  This incident has raised some questions that politicians and the mainstream media have conveniently dodged.   I am disgusted and appalled by what has taken place, but why should I have to condemn or apologise for such a crime, it had nothing to do with me.

Why is it that Muslims and Muslim organisations are expected to condemn and distance themselves from the actions of two individuals?  Why is it that Muslim organisations do not even need to be prompted to condemn; they are readily condemning actions that have nothing to do with them.  There has been no attempt by Muslim organisations to discuss the causes of the attack, no attempt to question the mainstream media narrative that imposes labels on Muslims.

I was born and brought up in a majority Muslim area of Birmingham.  I have travelled the country and the world.  I have come across thousands of Muslims, spoken, debated and challenged opinions.  Radicalisation is not a religious problem, it is a problem of society, and specifically, in this case, British society.

Muslim leaders have been scared into silence.  Prevent officers visiting mosques and community leaders frighten them.  They are told that if Muslims display any political opinions outside the mainstream then they are extremists, that if they do not inform on them, that their bank accounts can be frozen, mosques closed and they could face prison.   Muslims are afraid.  Muslim organisations and leaders are subservient to the state, scared to mention foreign policy as a radicalising factor just in case they are harangued for justifying the murder.  It has got to such a state that we do not even realise that our minds have been conditioned through years of media misrepresentation and widespread Islamophobia.  Questioning the reason for a murder does not mean condoning or justifying it.  Condemning something that has nothing to do with you feeds into the narrative that this is a Muslim problem, that this is something that the Muslim community are responsible for, at least in part.

In turn so-called Muslim leaders stifled debate and discussion in mosques, too afraid to discuss anything political.  For too long they have played a subservient role to the state, asking for a seat at the table and hoping for crumbs to be passed to them.  I have not met a Muslim that has condoned the actions in Woolwich, but let’s not ignore what radicalises.  British foreign policy radicalises, double standards radicalise, making Muslim youngsters feel like their opinions are not legitimate radicalises, stifling debate and discussion radicalises, not giving people a conduit to vent their opinions and frustrations radicalises, a lack of identity in Britain radicalises, we are either extremists or moderates.

We are told that Muslims are equal citizens in this country but the reality is something very different.  If we say we don’t drink, we are labelled anti-social or not willing to integrate, if we drink we are labelled moderate, if a Muslim wears a hijab, she is oppressed, if she doesn’t she is liberated, if we express an opinion outside of the mainstream narrative, we are angry, if we join a mainstream political party we are passionate, if we sing the praises of the British establishment we are liberals, if we object to foreign policy we are extremists or Islamists.  I for one am fed up of this apologetic and subservient tone.  I have nothing to apologise for, I should not be asked to condemn the actions of two men that had nothing to do with me just as a white man should not be asked to condemn the murders committed by Anders Brevik or for the violent actions of the English Defence League.

Have Muslims not proved their worth to this country?  Muslims have bled for this country during WWI and WWII, they have fought for Empire, they have served as colonial subjects, they have waved the flags, sang the anthems and anglicised their names –Mo and Ed.  But still we are not accepted; we still hear ‘Muslim appearance’ in the mainstream media, which basically means non-white, not one of us.

I am privileged, I went to university, I had an abundance of left-wing white friends that never questioned my opinions because of my religion or ethnicity, that accepted me as an equal, and made me feel that I had a place in society, we shared our politics as well as our battles.

My parents still fear that I will be arrested for writing and expressing an opinion as a journalist.  I have been inundated with calls since the attack from Muslims that are afraid of a backlash, one even asked me if there would be ethnic cleansing.  I told them not to be afraid because I had faith in the British people to see through the fog that politicians and mainstream media perpetuate.

Why is it that Joe Glenton can say that foreign policy is a radicalising factor but our so-called Muslim leaders tiptoe around the issue?  Why is it that George Eaton can say that Muslims should not have to distance themselves from the attacks, but our so-called leaders are falling over themselves to do it?  Why is it that Glenn Greenwald can question whether the attack is terrorism, but my fellow brothers and sisters are afraid to do the same?

I was born here, I am British, I am standing in the tradition that says that my opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s, that I have a right to object to the hypocritical treatment vented out to Muslims without being accused of condoning or justifying such attacks.   There are Muslims that will disagree with me, that is fine, we must understand that we are not a homogenous group, Anjum Choudry and his motley crew do not represent me, neither do the Muslim Council of Britain with their 400 affiliated mosques run by old men in committees.   Unfortunately non-Muslims in the public sphere represent my views more than our so-called Muslim leaders.

To be ‘leaders’, senior Muslim figures must lead.  Whilst politicians and the media carry on scapegoating Muslims, a true community leadership must face up to the reality of foreign policy and suppression of Muslim communities over the last decade, and call it out for what it is.

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During Times of Austerity Art is Just Middle-Class Decadence

A row has been ensuing since October after the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, announced that the Council would sell a Henry Moore sculpture, the Draped Seated Woman also known as Old Flo. The proposed sale of the sculpture is due to massive government cuts to the council’s budget.

The sculpture has not been in Tower Hamlets for 15 years. It was loaned to Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1999. The Borough has massive inequality and a dire housing situation – as I have discovered whilst researching for my next documentary.

The Mayor’s office says that the money raised from selling ‘Old Flo’, somewhere in the region of £20 million (the last Henry Moore piece sold for £17 million), would go towards affordable housing, education and preserving local heritage sites.

Art in times like this is a middle-class decadence that the residents of Tower Hamlets can ill afford. There are families living in cramped conditions. Six members in a one bedroom flat, families that have water leaking through their roofs and fungi growing inside due to damp conditions, are just some of the problems people face. The last thing these residents need is for a sculpture that has not been in the Borough to be planted back on their doorstep to remind them of the expensive fetishes of the middle-classes.

Yet, art can lift spirits I am told, try explaining that to the 4,000 families facing the reality of having to move out of the Borough thanks to the government’s benefits cap. That’s children having to change schools, added costs to travel, communities being destroyed, and a massive demographic change that will further reinforce the inequality between rich and poor in society. I am not oblivious of the benefits of the arts; I am only talking about the harsh choices that Councils must make. I would rather the Council sold art to create housing, jobs and fund education (Tower Hamlets is the only place in the country to reintroduce the Education Maintenance Allowance for college students).

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said that Councils should sell their assets to plug the financial gap. It is convenient for some to talk about artwork, culture and history when they themselves do not have to face the grim reality of cramped housing and struggling to provide for a family.

Old Flo is being used as a political football; those that talk about art at a time of austerity are the ones that do not have issues with finances. For many in Tower Hamlets life has been getting tougher, when the credit crunch hit, some of them had no credit to crunch, whilst the lovey-dovey, pretentious wine sipping art lovers enjoyed well paid jobs, beautiful houses and time to spare to admire Henry Moore artwork.

Bromley council, a Tory led Council, has never challenged the ownership of the statue for 27 years. Now they claim that the statue belongs to them – convenient political opportunism.

London County Council bought the sculpture for Stifford for the sum of £7,400 in 1962. That amount of money could have bought you three houses at the time. In 1965 the London County Council was abolished and all land and assets were transferred to the General London Council (GLC). After the GLC was abolished everything was legally transferred to Tower Hamlets.

Regardless of who owns the statue, surely it is the arrogance of the rich to plant a statue worth millions on the doorstep of those who have so little. Tower Hamlets, according to the recently set-up Fairness Commission has 48.6% of children living in poverty, that’s 27,915 children. A fifth of households in Tower Hamlets have an annual income of less than £15,000 whilst the average house price is £384,820. It is no wonder then that 23,000 households are registered on the social housing waiting list.

The figures are clear. You can see the poverty, inequality and the struggle for yourself, all you have to do is take a walk around, talk to people and engage, but I guess some people are too busy discussing the intricacies of over priced artwork with their rich friends to notice the desperation that many families face.