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10 May 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 12:02pm

How Sadiq Khan can make London a more inclusive city

For me, as a British Muslim woman, London is a place of opportunity and a level playing field despite your background.

By Azi Ahmed

Trump was right, London is becoming “Muslimised”.  I like to think of him imagining the swarms of Londoners as they went to cast their votes for Sadiq Khan; walking the streets of Brick Lane eating a curry out of a tin foil box, listening to blaring Bollywood and high-fiving middle aged mosque goers with beards as they made their way to the booths.  The reality, of course, is that I doubt many gave a stuff about Sadiq Khan’s religious hereditary, and were only semi-interested in the fact that he was a working class Labour candidate.  I think Londoners just picked a bloke who seemed decent, knew how to graft and get along with people; who they thought might have a head start in understanding their international city and might not make a bad fist of tackling some of its issues.  They didn’t see the religious Muslim stuff.  If they did, they didn’t care.  Atta London!

For me, as a British Muslim woman, London is a place of opportunity and a level playing field despite your background.  Where else in the UK can a poor immigrant girl from Manchester go to the same college as Stella McCartney, run her own internet company, credibly run for Parliament with a degree in the arts, and become one of the first women to to go through SAS training in the British army?   All these things I achieved collectively in London; but I’m not confident I could have done them so easily in other cities around the UK.   Sadiq Khan will know this is part of what makes London special.

London is a fantastic melting pot but it is not without its issues; people who adopt the city as their own often question their identity and what it means to be British. It can bring tension and problems.  Racial segregation in on the increase in schools. I recall a visit to a school recently where a teacher told me that parents had asked for their child to be removed from the religious studies class when they would be covering Islam.  Perhaps some parents also need to be educated.  Children as young as five and six are also showing signs of identity crisis.  We need to address these things now.

Over the last 20 years I have witnessed in London (and across the UK), a change in our communities, particularly in the young.   Unemployment, boredom, identity crisis, social media isolation and radicalisation are just a few of the external influences affecting our society today. The media are all over it, yet it still feels remains the elephant in the room for the government, and if they’re really interrogated by the media about it, the answer is the spectrum of voluntary programmes they have developed to ‘fix’ our young society. But it’s not the volunteers we need to focus on – they’re already aware and starting the fix by doing some volunteering. It’s the people that don’t step forward that need our help.

So what can we do?  Force them to join in.  Sounds harsh, but joining the army reserves was the best thing I ever did. When I was young and confused about my identity and what it meant to be British, and what it meant to be me, it gave me discipline, team work abilities, skills to achieve goals, and importantly got me mixing with people from all walks of life.  I realised the similarities and differences between people and learned – do you know what?  We’re all part of the same community. Imagine having that foundation for all youngsters – what invaluable life skills to go into the world with. A scheme like this doesn’t have to be military based, but it does need to be compulsory to make it work.

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The new Mayor of London needs to ensure the next generation can support his efforts in keeping London as one of the best cities in the world. But he will only achieve this if he makes them part of his plan. Let’s wait and see. 

Azi Ahmed’s book Worlds Apart:  A Muslim Girl with the SAS is available to buy at major retailers. She tweets @aziahmed1  

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