British Muslims are an integral part of our communities

Tariq Jahan's response to his son's death shows a dignity and respect that teaches us all an importa

From the terrible events of the last week, an unexpected hero has emerged in the shape of Tariq Jahan.

In the face of the loss of his son and two friends in a hit-and-run incident in Winson Green in Birmingham on Tuesday night, he has shown a dignity and wisdom that has been lacking in public figures. And it is his belief in shared humanity and community that has touched the soul of the nation and put him on the front pages of newspapers across the political spectrum.

He talked of his loss as something that "no father, mother, brother, sister should have to endure". His appeal to us at this terrible time of violence and uncertainty is that he reaches out to our common human instincts.

But the fact that he had to emphasise that "this is not a race issue", and that he had received messages from people of "all faiths, colours and backgrounds", tells us more about how our society has been carved up by political and media rhetoric than we might care to admit. To the backdrop of the mantra that multiculturalism has failed, and the background voices that this is black violence, it has taken a voice from the grassroots -- essentially an ordinary man that sees a reality that politicians have failed to acknowledge -- to remind us that a strong sense of community still exists, in spite of what politicians say divides us.

And, as Cristina Odone explains in the Telegraph today, this is especially strong amongst immigrant and faith communities. The "Big Society" and the "community" that Cameron is so keen on have been in greatest evidence in these places.

But what makes Jahan the unlikeliest of British heroes is the fact that he is a British Muslim of Asian background from Birmingham. Jahan's city and faith has been cited in the past with accusations of segregation, ghetto-isation and a rejection of "Britishness" and "British values". Yet he has expressed that it is his faith as a Muslim that is giving him strength at this difficult time. His words "I'm a Muslim" have been published in newspapers across the political spectrum, including in the right-wing press who days earlier might well have featured him further into the paper attending prayers during this current Islamic month of fasting Ramadan under the title of "creeping Islamisation", "Muslim ghettoes" or some other such fear-mongering.

He has tied his faith in Islam with his belief in community, specifying that whether it is your own community or the local community, "it doesn't matter who you are, we're here to help everybody."

Does that mean Muslims will now finally be seen as part of society? Given that Jahan publicly declared his Muslim faith, will the positive effect of his religion be acknowledged?

He is not the only one whose religion has been playing a positive role. Since this is Ramadan, a time when Muslims generally display a very strong sense of community, it comes as no surprise that Turks in north London stood outside their premises to defend them. "Bloody immigrants. Coming over here, defending our boroughs & communities", half-joked the Twitterverse.

Outside East London Mosque -- maligned endlessly for being an alleged hotbed of extremism -- young men leaving the mosque after Ramadan prayers chased down the looters. In the same way that the Turks were not described by their Muslim faith, these worshippers were not described as Muslim either, but rather as Bengalis and Somalis. There was little acknowledgement of the positive role of their faith. Even some of the victims are airbrushed: there has been little coverage of the mosque opposite the burnt out carpet shop in Tottenham whose worshippers contended with night prayers during the mayhem.

These events must make us think differently about our approach to immigration and to Muslims. They are not the demons of our society, they are not the scapegoat for our woes. Rather, they can and should be our heroes.

Jahan, the grieving father said: "Please respect the memory of our sons." Accepting Muslims and immigrants as an integral part of our communities is the most powerful means we have to show that respect.

 

Shelina is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk

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What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.