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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue