Books I have read: Only Half Of Me: British and Muslim: The Conflict Within

Only Half of Me - Being a Muslim in Britain

I finished reading Only Half Of Me: British and Muslim: The Conflict Within by Rageh Omaar last night.  I found it a fascinating read as he describes both the personal tensions and cultural tensions he has seen over his life and the way in which society makes big assumptions against British Muslims.

Following 9/11 and then the 7/7 London bombing society has become much more suspicious and negative towards British Muslims.  Omaar shows how this goes beyond what should be acceptable.  Having grown up originally in Somalia and then moving to Britain for a private education, he struggled to develop into an adult who straddled both his parents Islamic faith and the Western society in which he was living.

The point that I found most interesting was the sub culture of wealthy upper middle class Muslims moving to the UK to provide their children with a top quality education, sometimes staying, sometimes moving back to their country of origin.  In Omaar’s case with Somalia falling into civil war his family decided to stay in the UK and it was only as a reporter for the BBC that he went back to visit his homeland.  Alongside his own story, Omaar details the responses of a number of people who fled from oppression in their native land.

The book challenges the reader to a better understanding of Muslims coming to live in Britain.  But it does leave a number of key questions unanswered – there are positive challenges for how white British people can respond better to British Muslims, whereas there seems little in response as to how a British Muslim should engage with British society.

I feel as if Omaar has written part 1, but could write more suggestions as to how society could function better as a whole.

Books I have read: Childhood Under Siege

Childhood under siege

As a children’s and youth worker I am fascinated by how culture, media and business shapes our children, and so it was with interest that I read Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Ruthlessly Targets Children by Joel Bakan.

In many ways I felt like Bakan wrote in a similar way to Michael Moore, arguing that big business and governments that look the other way had created a society that instead of encouraging, developing and supporting children and young people actually feasts upon them.  Using Nelson Mandela’s comment that:

‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’

Bakan shows that we fail to protect our children, even though we profess to hold them close through things like in 1989, governments worldwide promising all children the same rights by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The book explores education, pharmaceutical business, ecology, child labour and more in the USA showing that across industries business is targeting children putting profit first.

The book at times can be scary and feel overly dramatic, but I think it is a helpful cynical look at how business and children work together.

Councillor in attack on food bank

Councillor Chris Steward

A senior York politician has sparked a furious row by saying there is no real poverty in Britain and people should not donate to food banks.

Chris Steward, a Conservative councillor, said living standards had surged, that there was no need for food banks, that they were an insult to starving people around the world, and that donating to them allowed recipients to spend more money on alcohol and cigarettes.

But his comments have been condemned by political opponents and The Trussell Trust, which runs 275 banks nationwide.  Chris Mould, the charity’s executive chairman, said more than 10,000 professionals nationwide were referring people to food banks and said: “He is making totally inappropriate assertions which I challenge him to back up with proper evidence.”

Coun Steward said on twitter that it insulted those in poverty to claim it existed in the UK. Asked to elaborate, he said Britain had relative poverty, like every country, but not absolute poverty.

He said:

“We have lots of poor people, but living standards have surged over the years. There is certainly no need for food banks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think food banks insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day and ignore the fact a child dies of hunger every three seconds.”

“The fact some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget (an issue where schools should do much more and I have said the council should) or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc.”

Mr Mould said Coun Steward was “poorly informed” and said living standards for people on low incomes had declined in recent years, with heating costs rising by 65 per cent in five years and the cost of basic food rising by’ 35 per cent. He said it was stereotyping to say those on low incomes were using money unwisely, saying there were many reasons why people found themselves in crisis.

Chris Mould said:

“He says there is no need for food banks; I am astonished by his assertion. What does he know? Where is his evidence? More than 10,000 front-line professionals, week in week out, are referring people they are trying to help to food banks.  They are seeing people from Cornwall to Inverness, York to Liverpool, and in increasing numbers they are referring people to food banks.  I am talking from an evidence-base of 10,000 care professionals who would argue with him. It is astonishing he would make an assertion like that.”

food bank

Mr Mould said nobody suggested people should not be distressed or outraged by unnecessary hunger elsewhere in the world, but said:

“It is clear that people in the UK who we meet have been going without meals when they arrive at food banks. They are going to bed hungry too. We are one of the richest countries in the world, but one of the most unequal in terms of income distribution in Europe.”

I found it amazing in this period of recession where most weeks there are major news articles on increases in poverty in the UK that a local politician would go as far to state there is no need for food banks.  As someone who has worked with young people and families for nearly a decade, I’ve helped them access food banks many times – they are incredibly valuable local tools.

What do you think?  Was Councillor Steward right to say we don’t need food banks?

———————– UPDATE ———————–

The York Press are now reporting that:

The York councillor who sparked an angry backlash by saying food banks were not needed has said he will visit one to see how they work.

Chris Steward, chairman of York Conservatives and councillor for Rural West York, made the offer after he came under fire for comments revealed in The Press on Thursday. Coun Steward claimed there was no real poverty in the UK.

He has since said on twitter that he would be happy to visit a food bank to work a shift.

York Labour councillor Dafydd Williams also yesterday invited Coun Steward to visit the York food bank at Gateway Church in Acomb, and called the councillor’s comments “ill-informed”. Coun Steward declined to add to his comments on twitter when contacted by The Press.

New Law in Jerusalem Bans Models with BMI Under 18.5

BMI

A new law that took effect on Tuesday states that male and female models who have a body mass index under 18.5 cannot appear in the media, on Israeli websites or walk the catwalk at fashion shows, according to a story in The Jerusalem Post.

Impressionable teens are the aim of the law when it comes to protecting them from eating disorders. It was created by then-Kadima MK Rachel Adatto.  The new law was also sponsored by Likud-Beytenu MK Danny Danon and is thought to be the first in the world of its kind.  Violations of this law come with a fine and are considered to be criminal offences.  Violators of the new law can be sued in court by citizens and this includes families who had relatives that died or suffered complications from eating disorders.

The media, despite publishing illegal images, cannot be held liable.  Any company that produces an advertisement, runs a fashion show or used a model who is too thin can be sued in court.  An advertisement that appears to have been edited to make the model appear as having a body mass index under 18.5 will have a label that warns about the image being distorted.  At least seven percent of the ad’s space must be covered by the warning.

Any model who wishes to participate in a fashion show or an advertising campaign has to provide written statements from their doctor that says the model’s body mass index, up to no longer than three months ago, is above 18.5.  If a note from their doctor is not presented, the model is not permitted to appear in the fashion show or in an advertising campaign.

The creator of the law, Adatto, also works as a gynecologist.  She said on January 1 that a “revolution against the anorexic model of beauty begins. Overly skinny models who look as if they eat a biscuit a day and then serve as a model for our children” will no longer be seen.

An advocate of Adatto’s bill, Adi Barkan, is a longtime fashion photographer. Barkan said,

“We are all affected. We wear black, do [drastic] diets and are obsessive about our looks. The time has come for the end of the era of skeletons on billboards and sickly thinness all over. The time has come to think about ourselves and our children and take responsibility for what we show them. Too thin is not sexy.”

As someone who works with young people I feel this law is long overdue, and hope that the UK will bring into play something similar.

Tragedy, guns and the USA

I was struck by the words of Mayor Bloomberg of New York who said:

Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.

Nelson Mandela: Release

Nelson Mandela was arrested on the spot in which this sculpture sits in 1962. He spent 27 years in custody onRobben Island before becoming the President of South Africa. Titled Release, the sculpture is made of 50 steel beams and is between 21 and 31 feet high. Created by Marco Cianfanelli, a South African artist.