Saturday, 22 June 2013

Action at the Bank

The Building For The Future Blog and Himmah have teamed up to present a series of six practical and very interactive sessions looking at examples of how we can all challenge (or praise) organisations and government on their actions and policies. One aim of the sessions is to focus on actions and topics that are not narrowly "Muslim" topics, but rather look at issues where Muslims and wider society can share common ground.

Sessions aim to be largely structured group discussion format. Critically, sessions end with participants committing to send an email to challenge (or praise) an organisation about an issue related to the topic of that session. The group may decide to all email the same org, or they may decide to work independently. Scroll down to read short reports from each session.

Click to enlarge

1) Introduction, examples of collective action
2) Sustainability and ethics
3) Local Government
4) NGO's
5) The Media

Further Sessions

Session 1 : Introduction, examples of collective action
The introduction to the sessions, together with many exampls of collective action, are pretty well summarised in a previous post entitled "Proof that Activism really can work".
Lucky these groups didn't think engagement with authority was useless

It is also perhaps adding examples of how ad-hoc campaigns can achieve results remarkably quickly, a good example being that of the blog run by charming Scottish school Martha Payne

During the discussion it became clear that it was very easy for people, BFTF included, to run off in a solely negative direction, listing one perceived injustice against Muslims after another. To try and combat this, BFTF pinned up the schematic below, as a reminder to stay in the centre section and not drift off into one of the outer areas.

Need to stay in the centre section !

Session 2 : Sustainability and Ethics
This session started with two examples, one challenging and one praising, from the blog:

Challenging : Hey Jamie, Where's the sustainable packaging?

Praising : FSC in some toys at Tesco

During the discussion, it became clear that some people were simply not aware of third party labelling systems such as FSC(for wood and paper) or MSC(for fish).

Regarding wood and paper, it pretty much boils down to this:
i) A lot of paper is produced from illegally logged or unsustainably sourced wood.
ii) There is a strong Islamic basis for avoiding this paper and using sustainably sourced paper instead (similar ethos in other faiths)
ii) Labels saying "sustainable" mean nothing, there has to be a recognised third party scheme behind the label
iii) Schemes such as ISO14001 and PEFC are very weak, and do not provide much protection to ancient untouched forests.
iv) The best type of paper to buy is "post-consumer recycled paper", made from the waste paper from offices etc.
v) The next best thing is FSC certified.
vi) A measure of how far wider society has gone along the road of using FSC certified paper is that even the till receipts at TESCO are printed on FSC paper.

On the other hand, there were some great comments from the group about how they had been involved in camapigns to save allottments.

Others commented on how they bought their meat from Willowbrook Farm, a halal supplier who treated the animals humanely and farm organically.

And there were also comments on how great organic vegetable box schemes were ( earth organics.)

After some discussion, it was decided that the group would email NTU to thank them for their "EcoCampus" work on improving sustainability via their internal auditing system.

And that the group would challenge Councillor Nicola Heaton on why the Notts Refugee Forum could not have a recycling facility. This action was based on a comment from one of the group who had volunteered at the forum and noted that the Forum wanted to recycle their paper etc but could not get the right facilities. Another group member took on the task of clarifying exactly what the problem was before any emails were sent out.

The comments on NTU's environmental auditing, including efforts to increase video conferencing and reduce car travel, made the group wonder whether car sharing was something that should be promoted amongst Nottingham's mosques - all of which have parking issues on a Friday in particular. It seemed that one mosques had already made moved along these lines. BFTF agreed to find out more...

BFTF's email to NTU:

I have recently become aware of the Carbon Challenge project at NTU that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of NTU by 48% from a 2005 baseline by 2021/21, and that you are already purchasing all your electricity from a green supplier.

Wow !

I really wish you all the best with this endeavour and hope you reach the very challenging target you have set yourselves!

The whiteboard at the end of the session !

Close up on the interesting bits

Session 3 : Local Government (e.g. justics, care for the vulnerable
As usual, the session started with two examples, one challenging and one praising, from the blog:

Challenging : Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community

Praising : Nottingham Decent Homes Impact Study

Regarding the "challenging" example above, BFTF had been passed between pillar and post by an assortment of council staff - none of whom had felt able to do the one thing that needed doing (contact and engage with a mosque). Some of the attendees at the session suggested that perhaps a way forward would be send an email to Nottingham Council saying "Contratulations, you fobbed me off so many times I felt lke giving up".

One positive example that was mentioned was a report in the Nottingham Post about the Forest Rec, and how engagement between the council and grass-roots organisations such as the "Friends of the Forest" had transformed and upgraded it over recent years.

More critically, another issue discussed was that of the way in which the council imposed parking restrictions on streets close to areas such as hospitals. One person commented that "I don't mind people visiting sick parking outside my house, I don't mind nurses dealing with wage freezes parking outside my house. Just don't block the drive!"

In terms of a postive email, the consensus was to send a message to Cllr Trimble thanking him for the work the council had done with grass roots organisations to improve the facilities at the Forest

Whilst in terms of a challenging email it was decided to ask the council how the ensured they got a truly representative spread of opinions when implementing parking restrictions - and how they evaluate approval of the changes after they had been impletmented.

BFTF's email to Cllr Trimble:

"Just wanted to say thank you for you and the council for working with grass roots organisations such as the Friends of the Forest to improve facilities at the Forest Recreation Ground and help preserve this gift to the city for future generations."
BFTF's email to Cllr Jane Urquhart

"I was involved in a discussion recently about the imposition of parking restrictions in residential areas such as sthose close to hospitals and wanted to ask a) How does the transport dept ensure it gets a truly representative view of what the residents feel.b) How does it evaluate the residents feelings regarding the parking restrictions after they have been implemented."

The board at the end of Session 3

Session 4 : NGO's (charites, community orgs etc)
As usual, the session started with two examples, one challenging and one praising, from the blog:

Challenging : The MCB and what will happen to Aghanistan when the troops leave in 2014

Praising : Good Work by Leeds Makkah Masjid in preventing domestic violence

Another positive example was that of tiny Masjid Noor, who had been hugely and unhesitatingly supportive of "Bring A Tin" foodbank donation events.

A discussion about other examples of praising or challenging NGO's proved to be absolutely fascinating...

One attendee described how they had been impressed by an Islamic Org in Liverpool that took the rights of their neighbours very seriously. The org had notices inside the building explaining why it was important to show respect for ones neighbours, that parking close by was discouraged for congestion reasons, that parking on the next street was preferably for sisters only (for their security) and that everyone else should park 2-3 streets away where there was more room!

Another gave the example of a group of Imams in London who call themselves "Imams Against Domestic Abuse" who were doing some great work in combating the causes of domestic abuse (they use the term "abuse" rather than "violence" to recognise that psychological abuse can be just as damaging as physical atacks). You can find out more about this group here, here and here.

Yet another gave the example of the National College of Policing who, at one of their facilities, had made quite an effort to ensure there were prayer and other facilities for Muslims. The sister who mentioned this said that she had sent a senior policeman a lengthy email thanking the Police for the facilities and had found that the policemam concerned had remembered this several years later when she again had cause to have a dialogue with him. Which just goes to show how big an impact an email can have!

One attendee rather thoughtfully mentioned that, in their opinion, one of the most important positive actions over the last year or so had been the decision of some senior Nottingham Imams to support, and pay subsciption dues to, Notingham Citizens. He describd how it had taken many meetings and "delegations" to achieve this and that it seemed that a problem was that Muslim orgs were so focused on their internal politics that they were not looking at the wider picture. He also pointed out the difference between a congregation at a mosque, who are not generally active volunteers, and the congregation at a church such as Trent Vineyard, who each pledge to give several hours of time as volunteers each month.


In terms of a supportive email, discussion settled on a wish to say well done to the Islamic Centre for starting to open its doors to other Muslim community organisations and allowing them to use its facilities and space. So the group agreed to each send an email to the Islamic Centre to this effect.

In terms of a challenging email, the consensus was that there was a need for Jammat Alhe Sunnat Nottingham (the city's most representative Muslim group) to become more active and more accountable. To this end it was agreed that the group would all send an email to JASN asking them to attend a meeting at Himmah. At the meeting, JASN would be asked what they were doing to address three significant issues in the Muslim community:
i) Educational underachivement
ii) Provision/services for women at mosques
iii) Islamophobia

There was also the view that these issues should also, perhaps, be taken up directly with three of the largest mosques in Notingham (Islamic Centre, BMCC and Jamia Fatimiah) at a later date.

Top of the board on Week 4

Bottom of the board on Week 4

Session 4 : The Media (Bias, PCC, Challenging the media)
As usual, the session started with examples that were challenging or praising, from the blog:

Challenging : Demonising reporting at the Daily Mail, Failure of BBC to report NHS reforms

Praising : Great Stuff on the BBC

An initial comments in the discussion was how the media can label a person to demonise a particular group. One example given was that of a criminal who the media described as a "British born Nigerian" whereas he was simply a person who was born and brought up in this country. BFTF has had trouble finding evidence of this on the Internet, so this may not be a significant issue.

More positively, comments were made regarding a heartwarming article that described how an Indian had sold some of his farmland to fund his daughters education, you can read the tale here.

And also on how someone had been so impressed with the way the BBC had reported an Islamic Awareness event that they had send off an email to say "thanks, and well done".

One interesting comment was how the media had covered the, frankly bizarre, Twitter reaction to the new Miss America being a lady of Indian heritage. Many Tweeps complained that such a person should not hold the crown because she was "an Arab", or because it was "a slap in the face" after 9/11, or that she was Miss "Al Qaeda". Much of the press rightly poured scorn on these comments, which was good to see.

The Guardian was praised for its coverage of Wikileaks, support for Bradley Manning and exposure of NSA surveillance.

In terms of an action, the consensus was very much that Experian, who are based in Nottingham, should be challenged on their advertising support alongside a MailOnline article that demonised Muslims by trying, completely without fundation, to associates the phrase "strict Muslim" with a criminal who assaulted a series of women in London. See here for the relevant blogpost. More news on this in due course.

A response to the question regarding the parking restriction process was received and is shown (in a condensed form) below:
The original request for action normally comes from the residents themselves. They provide us with invaluable knowledge about who, why, how long and the impact that the problem has on the neighbourhood. This is all gathered by direct contact with the residents themselves and residents groups as well, through questionnaires and at times public meetings.

Through this we are able to establish the best way to deal with the matter and again, solution is fed directly back to the residents individually, allowing them to make comment, either voicing their support or objection as they see fit…

There have been a number of schemes where only part of the restrictions have been introduced on certain streets, the rest only being introduced if the residents themselves feel and experience problems mainly through displacement …The feedback from residents has been the decider on whether the restrictions have grown to cover a greater area.

Further Sessions
If you are interested in encouraging the people at your organisation to be active citizens, feel free to get in contact with BFTF (details here). BFTF can help plan sessions or, possibly, facilitate them at your location, free of charge.

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