Sewing lessons

I can’t sew! But this morning, I went to a small women’s training group that teaches sewing, English and maths and IT skills for women. I was there to present the end of term certificates – but first we had a session where they all told me about themselves. There were women from many places in the world – and this lovely small helpful organisation is working away to give them access to jobs and skills. And they were all so lovely – from the two 16 year old sisters from Afghanistan who are clearly going to get to grips with everything in super-quick time (they had certificates in everything) to another girl who had just passed her Britishness test and was telling us all (to much hilarity) what the questions were. Native Brits would almost certainly fail unless they studied for it!

And they asked me to tell them about being a woman in politics. So I did. I rarely speak on that subject or about myself – but amongst this group it seemed appropriate. The group is run by Rafat Mughal who was a Labour councillor when I first was elected to Haringey Council. She left some time back, but her son, Fiyaz, is now a Lib Dem councillor here in Haringey (Noel Park ward – gained his seat from Labour in May).

I think it’s rather good that we can all have different political views, even within families – that should be how it is. We can all believe or think different things, dream different dreams, have different desires – but that is what makes the world go round. I can’t imagine how dreadful it would be if we were all of one mind!

Muslims and extremism

Got an email from a very disgruntled constituent complaining about the Islam Expo being allowed on ‘our’ patch (at Alexandra Palace) and opening roughly at the same time as anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. I answered saying the timing could be viewed that way – but in reality that the Muslims had born the brunt of the reactions to 7/7. And indeed the Islam Expo is reaching out across communities and extending understanding in my view. That is to be welcomed.

Our foreign policy, waging an illegal war, has caused some Muslims to become radicalised and a few to commit these hideous and unjustifiable acts. Tony Blair says Muslims have to do more. My own view is that we all have to do more. The only concern I would personally voice through my own experience is that I have encountered one Muslim man in a leadership position, who when speaking to me or publicly condemns suicide bombings but who amongst certain other groupings espouses tacit approval. That is not acceptable and I think is about individuals power bases.

[UPDATE: have found out more about this person’s views, and it looks like I was mistaken – so I won’t be pursuing this further.]

Anyway – to my point – there was an interesting – and largely positive – poll in The Sun (!) about Muslims, extremism and terrorism. It’s an internet poll – so we need to be aware of that and polling the Muslim community accurately can be very difficult in terms of who a poll reaches and what selectivity that binds into the results. So we shouldn’t get too het up about the details, but overall picture is, as I say, interesting.

Further details are on Anthony Wells’s excellent site, but here’s what I make of them.

Yes, a small minority of Muslims think our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq justify attacks on British civilians. But it’s only slightly more (10% rather than 7%) than the figure in the non-Muslim population. In other words – there isn’t a great swathe of the Muslim population that believes in attacks on civilians. As for the deeply wrong minority who do – well, they are nearly as frequently found amongst non-Muslims as amongst Muslims. In fact, as the non-Muslim population is much larger, the majority of people who think such attacks are right are non-Muslims.

Also, a majority of non-Muslims here think problems with Muslim extremism have got worse in the last year. But amongst Muslims themselves – who are of course much closer to what is actually happening in their own communities – the figures are much lower at just under a quarter. And a fifth of Muslims meanwhile think problems with extremism have actually decreased in the past year.

One final straw in the wind: 9% of Muslims think it would be best if they didn’t integrate with the rest of society, but 16% of non-Muslims think it’s best if Muslims don’t integrate. Food for thought there!

In fact listening to radio phone-ins this week was equally struck by number of non-Muslims phoning in to say they didn’t want more integration and by a very good call from a woman who reminded us that when Brits go and live abroad, they often open an English pub, wear English clothes, speak English and set up a little England enclave!