Are the Kalash being converted to Islam?

Maureen Lines reveals how some Western journalists get disappointed when the truth they wanted doesn

“All wars are fought in the name of religion”, so said my grandfather. I can’t remember if that were during the doodle bug years, when we lived in the dugout at the bottom of the garden, or when I was going to the pukka school nearby, where my classmates were nearly all Jews.

The Kalasha people of the North-Western Frontier province of Pakistan have forever been exploited. Timber mafia, tourism mafia, development mafia, and so forth. Now the federal and provincial governments, as well as the local district council, are working hard to relieve poverty, implement good projects and protect the rights of the Kalasha, as well as their culture and heritage.

The Kalasha did not reckon on foreign editors wishing to use them for their own interests. True, I have seen false statements about the Kalasha in the Pakistan press, but that is usually due to ignorance rather than any nefarious motives. Usually, these stories are by young eager reporters, who do not check their facts, or by writers who do a story but do not actually travel to the area.

Recently, I experienced two incidents that were evidence of dishonest behavior on the part of editors of the foreign press. Two American journalists emailed me. They wanted to come to the Kalash valleys. They had logged on to our NGO website. They were keen to get a story. Would I help them? Of course. Delighted. Then slowly the questions came. At first they did not get to the point, it was circled around, but I began to get the gist of what was going on in their minds. They wanted to do a story of the Kalash surrounded by Islam. When I told them conversions were only two or three a year, the emails began to drop off. Suddenly these two American journalists were no longer interested in the Kalash valleys.

This was followed by a call and email from a journalist on a British newspaper. He would love to do a story on the Kalash. After a moment or two, he blurted out, “And what about the conversions?”

Oh, about two to three a year, I suppose, I answered.

His voice lost its enthusiasm. Would another story on the Kalash be of interest? I could facilitate his journey. His voice faltered. Well, his editor would probably not be interested. Obviously, preconceived ideas are not the basis of honest journalism.

Maureen Lines was born in North London and has worked with the Kalash people in Pakistan for many years. She is the author of The Kalasha people of South Western Pakistan.
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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.