Believe It or Not! We are Natural Allies

So where has it all gone so terribly wrong? Why have two minorities that should be natural allies so fundamentally moved in different directions? What am I talking about? Muslims and the Lesbian/Bi/Gay and Trans communities.

I remember marching in anti-Nazi Party rallies and in calling for racial equality in the capital in the 1980’s and 1990’s with fellow marchers who were gay and bisexual and I used to leave with a feeling that London was the most varied and the most exciting city on earth. One where you could find anyone, from the farthest countries of the globe and from any background, and get along with them. We still had a lot to do in those bad old days, but there was no mistaking the warmth between us. Not only was there a common bond in being seen as different, I also felt secure and safe that those from the Lesbian/Bi/Gay and Trans communities would understand some of the prejudice that is thrown against minority groups – which is still taking place now against migrant groups. You see, there was a natural alliance, a common bond, between my fellow campaigners and I. They were also fighting for my rights as a British Muslim of East African and Pakistani heritage.

This common bond has rapidly deteriorated with those crude separationists and religious zealots who have done much to damage relations between all communities. Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists alike have attacked the personal choice of individuals which frankly has nothing to do with them. I say that and shout out loud about it since my beliefs as a Muslim do not mean that I should denigrate or attack another group of people. That is not what Islam is about and it certainly isn’t what London is about.

Moderate British Muslims get shouldered with a lot of responsibility – do more, stand up to the fanatics. No rest for them from me, for this is one more issue we need to take a stand on! Enough is enough. No more perverse and farcical attacks on the Lesbian/Bi/Gay and Trans communities. To each their own and live and let live. And I would go further than that and say, I reach out to those from both communities and ask whether we can march again. We never dreamed ten and twenty years ago that our communities would be split but that is what has happened and we need to arrest it and reassert our natural alliance. That is what Islam has taught me, respect for the individual and the respect for human life, not anger, intolerance and the rocky road that leads to stigmatisation.

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A United London Against Fear

The recent terrorist bombings in London and the terrorist events in the Capital in the last 2 years (since the 7th of July 2005), have made us all feel on edge in London. We have been and will be resilient against the terrorist and extremism threat. Whilst extremism is prevalent in all religions and in various guises, (obviously the most dangerous is violent extremism), the purveyors of hate and the ‘anger message mongers’ need to be targeted and ousted from communities.

In 2005 after the 7/7 bombings, I was invited to be part of the Communities Working Group, a group that had been set up as part of the Extremism Task Force. That invitation was based on my experience of running community cohesion programmes and alternatively, by virtue of being a Muslim, I have also found myself interested in, yet sensitive to the safety and security needs of others. Allied to this, I have also been sensitive to the needs of those large numbers of law abiding and peaceful Muslims who just want to get on with their life and practice in peace. Yet I have also found myself angry at those who have committed terrorist crimes against my fellow citizens, whether they be Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or members of any faith or none. I have found myself angry at those who commit terrorist atrocities against my fellow citizens who happen to be gay or bisexual and against those innocent bystanders that get caught up in such atrocities. You see, for me, those who carry out terrorist acts of violence not only attempt to kill innocents just getting along with their life, they also do a great dis-service to Muslims and to Islam. In fact, they are a real threat to Islam and to us as British Muslims and this is also the case with those extremists in other faiths. They do an injustice to their respective faiths which are based on tolerance, respect and the protection of human life.

This country has had a deep history of interaction with Muslims and whilst the history has not always been positive and productive, it nonetheless has been a fact of life. Yet, those voices of segregationism and isolationism that come from polar positions have no place within a modern Britain. And what are these polar positions; these include those xenophobes who want ‘Islam and Muslims’ banished from the UK and those who attempt to speak for Muslim communities and who talk the language of hate, isolation and destruction. Funnily, they both politically come from similar places though with opposing ideologies.

So, I say to those who take the line of extremism, ENOUGH! You are the problem and not the solution. To those who talk of a unicultural Britain, I say, the strength of Britain today is its diversity. Through the mixing of different communities, can we learn tolerance and mutual understanding. Through segregation, we only learn to caricature one another.

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The Real Undercurrent in London

I spent Friday afternoon walking the streets of Central London wondering how politicians can all be so blind to what is taking place in this great City. Do they choose to purposefully delete out what is taking place right under our noses? You might think that I have lost the plot and that too much Lib Demmery has meant that I am on the slippery slope to joining the ranks of the sentimentalists and idealists.

Well, what triggered this introspection? About 2 miles down the road from where I was (Holborn), ‘suits’ were continuing to make their fortunes, buying commodities, selling them and playing the roulette wheel of ‘buy. sell, buy, sell.’ Yet in the room in which I had just sat in for 2 hours, all I saw were broken people, broken families, broken relationships and no hope. Just a blank black hole which would lead to early death and an epitaph in history that would read, “so much hope, yet so little achieved.”

I sat for 2 hours listening to social security appeals of people who were overpaid, people who did not manage to turn up to interview appointments at the Job Centre Plus and those who had not disclosed information. And what was the undercurrent through each case? Depression, drug-induced psychosis, alcoholism, domestic violence and divorce and separation. These were broken people whose survival depended on the State, who had been caught up in bureaucratic measures meant to ‘strengthen and develop people’ for the world of work. Yet, whilst I agree with the principle and practice of getting people to work, these were the people that would not be able to hold down steady jobs. Not only had worklessness become part of them, their self esteem had also reached a point that the only thing that kept them going was alcohol and the poison of drugs.

You see, we talk about London and wealth creation. We all want to be wealthy or happy in other ways, yet I can tell you that I joined politics to help make changes for the poor, the dispossessed and the sick and downtrodden. Time and experience has taught me that we also need the wealthy, the successful and the entrepreneurs who keep the beating heart of the City pumping. They are one valve of many that pump the oxygen round our City. Yet, we do not see the broken people who need our help. They need a voice, they deserve social justice and they deserve a chance!

I want London to be theirs as much as it is for a wealthy man or woman living in St Katharine’s Dock. I want London to be for the young Black man and for the Eastern European migrant who works in a food catering store. And I want London to be for the white young man who has lived on an estate for most of his life and who now feels excluded. For in his exclusion, we can all play a role in pulling him out, in giving him a chance, in giving him a vision. Will you stand by me and walk with me towards this vision? I hope you will, I hope you care, I hope you will act with me.

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Sir Menzies – Blazing a trail!!!

Sir Menzies – having sat behind you in Brighton today – I see why you stated that experience and age over rides youth. The press have suggested that the ‘Young Turks’ are waiting in the aisles, but with your gravitas, your delivery and the strong messages that you belted out, there are very few in the Party who can command an audience like you did today.

I was proud of the Bill of the Rights, I was proud of you mentioning the financial and social disparity between London Boroughs only a few miles apart (Hackney and Hampstead) and I was proud of the manner in which you promoted tolerance and social inclusion through liberal values. You mentioned our strong multilateralist interventionist approach through the UN as opposed to the unilateralist disaster which is Iraq. You also gave the Party a steer on the role we play; that of social justice and protecting the rights of all individuals against an overbearing state.

Sir Menzies, lead us to the general election and beyond and all we have to say is: Gordon, bring it on; we as a Party are ready for the battle of ideas. In the end, Liberalism will win the war.

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Post to Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur

I have the highest of respect for this hard working Assistant Commissioner who is a dedicated officer with a great deal of integrity. I have met with the Assistant Commissioner at various functions and have always known that he would be heading for the top! His recent portfolio includes looking after the security for the Olympics in 2012.

However, recent comments made by Tarique raise some questions as to whether foreign police forces will be armed and on the streets of London during the run up to the Olympics and whilst it actually takes place. He seemed to confirm that this may be the case and he stated that he wanted to bring about a public debate on this issue.

My response to this is that within an increasingly integrated network of police and military intelligence, work programmes undertaken with international police forces are fine as long as these forces are not armed on the streets of London. The only armed individuals I am willing to have on the streets of this great City are those of the Metropolitan Police Service and our own intelligence services and even then, I would like the armed presence to be hidden and out of sight.

Having armed police from international forces means that we will have officers trained to different standards within London and they will have the potential to exert lethal force.

I have therefore started a petition on my site, where I call upon Sir Ian Blair and the Mayor of London to ensure that our law enforcement officers are the only ones capable of taking armed action if needed during the Olympics.

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Brighton Calling!! It’s that time of year – Conference time!!!!

“Off to Brighton tomorrow night! I truly wish I could have got down today but it’s a measure of how busy I’ve been this past week that on Saturday night about half past six it suddenly dawned on me that… oh yes, today is my birthday isn’t it!

Very excited by some of the discussions we will be having in Brighton around constitutional change (surely requires a whole conference in itself if Iknow my fellow party members), the Middle East (my special subject) and particularly by Tuesday’s 9.00 debate on the devolution of
planning powers to local authorities. This is really in line with what I’ve been putting together in thinking about the mayoral candidacy. There’s nothing quite like living in London. We have such a dense population, and such incredible social and economic variations within tiny areas that it is imperative our planning strategies (a) look to the long-term future and (b) take the greatest possible account of the micro-circumstances on the ground. And what we’re seeing at the moment is actually decreasing powers in local authorities to make those critical planning decisions and an increase in the Mayor’s powers. Partly this is a result of the autocracy which has become a feature of this mayoralty, but it is also coming through operationally from the Housing Strategy.

The central aim of the Strategy is to build large numbers of cheap homes, which I applaud. Shortly before the whole mayoral race started I had justbeen appointed onto the board of Homes for Haringey, our local scheme for assisting first time buyers and Londoners on lower incomes with their housing, and I am committed to the principle. But urban planning in such a unique place as London just has to go beyond a panic response to the housing crisis. The consequences of the housing policies we are pursuing in this city now might be with us for hundreds of years. There isn’t a dialogue on how London should look in thirty years time and there should be one. Tuesday’s debate is bound to spark off ideas and tap into expertise that I look forward to co-opting into my policy-building. So off to the seaside.
Looking forward to seeing all there!!

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Starting with what you have

I’ve always been interested in promoting transparent and managerially efficient governance in whatever forum I’ve been operating in – whether as a councillor or in my professional role in charity work – and my vision for London was always going to be informed by that. But it’s only as I run around putting together notes and preparing for conference that a related point occurs to me with full force – I realise just how much you can get done with even a skeletal team helping you. Ken Livingstone has built an industry around recruiting his army of advisers. Many of them are brought into office from his Labour days, and these are people who wield power in both shaping policy and implementing it. At what point do his recruitment processes become led by who he wants to bring in, rather than what he needs to help him do his job?

I do not believe the current number of advisers is necessary. I would reduce the numbers, and radically overhaul the process by which advisers are appointed. I would introduce open recruitment panels with Londoners invited to sit on them alongside GLA staff to assess the people who will help to run their city.

Why will it work for London in particular? London is small. It’s one of the few places in the UK where we can practice genuine inclusive government by the people, getting the community together in the same room, and I want to see that advantage used. People have a natural instinct for efficiency – certainly when they’re paying for it! – which will keep the Mayoral office functional as well as accountable. You can get a surprising amount done with the right materials, though admittedly I am finding this cold comfort as I deal with the complete malfunction of my printer!!

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A Brotherhood – a People Linked Together

The last 3 years has seen me work towards trying to bridge divides between Muslim and Jewish communities both here in the UK and within Palestine and Israel. This task has moved me, made my heart grow heavy with the pain that I have seen, allowed me to see the beauty that is possible (as the sun shone on the Dome of the Rock and the light rays reflected off Jerusalem – Al Quds!) All three faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism together physically , yet cracks against this cohesion are always under the surface.

My heart has grown heavy since Muslims and Jews have so much in common, so much history intertwined; so much to gain from a natural alliance and so much to mobilise together on in the common interest of the protection of civil and human rights that are fundamental to faith (and also to those who choose to have no faith). When I see some of the poverty and hopelessness within areas like the West Bank, I can but only be thankful of the basic things that we take for granted in the UK. Clean water, freedom and security are regular buzzwords that we use but when you are trying to eek a living out of the harsh enviroment, day to day existence is the only aim.

I hope to continue to travel to Palestine and Israel in the future and to work on conflict resolution programmes especially ones that try to provide common points of dialogue and discourse. That is the basic action that I can take, to get out of my comfort zone and to do something that tries to give people the basic opportunity to talk to each other and to turn away from the gun. God knows, if ever we need to talk, it is now!

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Working for You, Working for London

The World of the Blogosphere! And what a challenge ahead – being selected as one of the last three in the Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidacy process! It has been a tough selection process and one which has been testing, though I relish the challenge ahead. I guess 7 years of work around campaigning both locally and centrally have meant that my skills to deal with intense pressure have been honed and developed and more importantly, the ability for me to pick up on things quickly has also been fine tuned.

So what does the road ahead look like? As the Lib Dem one liners say – it is a two horse race between Brian and me. Thoughts resound in my head to put ‘boxing type’ names against both of our names though this is not a contest where the best man or woman wins, it is contest which has with it luck, how to work the media and teams of people who are dedicated to see their candidate through.

As I said earlier, I relish the next 6 weeks. However, I do feel a bit like someone in the ring having trained to get to this point. The Vaseline is on the face, my jaw guard is in and the gloves are on! The only problem is that the real focus should not be at each other, but on the other two candidates. If anything, London needs a Mayor that is not divisive but someone who can UNITE. I believe that I can do that and the starting point is within the Party as we move forward to greater success!

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What a Day!!!

The phones started ringing early this morning! Calls from media agencies asking for comments. The thing is, I had got to bed at 3:30 am after getting through an array of work related e-mails and political contacts that had seen me on the TV and on various web-sites. Well, here was the rollercoaster, the rock and roll of politics and a chance to show the metal of political gladiators! And to top it off, there was no cereal in the morning!

Leaving the house at 9 am, by the time I reached the office, I had taken 4 calls from media sources all asking for an array of comments. (Where was the agent now to field off the calls – you just can’t get the staff nowadays!!!). And what a start to the day it was. A union meeting for 90 minutes followed by staff meetings and a mad dash to Enfield CAB for a one to one with my Enfield CAB Bureau Manager. Another hour later and another operational meeting. I was ready to get the horlicks followed by a line of caffeine infused into my bloodstream. And yet the day was not finished; it was finally rounded up at 8 pm after 3 hours of catch-ups with my e-mails and reports. Then more calls.

So this is what it is all about; Ken, after this – I think your job is well within reach.

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