Saturday, 31 December 2011

Interview : Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar)

Interview with Dr Musharraf Hussain and Harun Yahya, September 2009

Harum Yahya: Author of the Evolution Deceit,calling in from Turkey. NB: As Harum does not speak English, his words were translated by a colleague of his, Brother Oktar)

Dr Musharraf Hussein Al-Azhari: twelve years bio-chemical researcher and fifteen years director here at the Karimia Institute and the Imam of the Mosque.

BFTF : Br Yahya, could you please give some background about the books you have been writing and also about the science and research foundation that you have has set up to accomplish all this.

Harun Yahya : I have written three hundred books which have been translated into more than sixty languages. There are a group of thirty people who help me out, there are associate professors and professors in this group, and what they do is they gather the information from different languages, for example English, German and they bring up the pictures and translate the quotes and bring them and I interpret them and in that way I write my books. This year 80 million of my books were sold around the world and 80 million books were downloaded from my website, so inshallah, every time it goes up and more and more and it’s progressing

BFTF: You are perhaps most famous for your work on evolution and the world around us really, so if I could just set the scene for you. When we look around us we have this magnificent, truly awe-inspiring planet around us, these millions, countless, literally countless species and different types of plants and animals, birds, sea creatures, small insects and so on, and I just wanted to understand really what your perspective was on how this had come about, you know have all these creatures always been here? Have some come and have some gone?

Harun Yahya: Well Allah created it at the beginning, and Allah created it through time. Allah created at the beginning some parts of the living creatures, and then another part, and at the end Allah created humans and we know that from the fossil evidence. Fossils tell us... there are 200 million fossils, up to 300 million fossils today and they show there is no change at the beginning, and from a million years ago species and the species living now there is no change at all, and that proves creation by Allah. They don’t change from the very beginning and they stay the same throughout their tenure on the Earth. So we don’t need any other evidence, this evidence tells us exactly, very evidently that Allah created all the living beings and there is no evolution. If there was evolution, if evolution was a fact there would be some change, however there is no change, and 200 million fossils tells us that Allah created all the living beings.

BFTF: OK, so just to take an example of a cat. So is your position that’s always been here? How did that cat come to be is what I’m trying to understand really, just to get an understanding of your position really.

Harun Yahya: Well for example if you look at the cat fossils we see for millions of years cats never change, they appear in the history all at once, and they never change for millions of years. It is the same for lions for example, it is the same for tigers, for 60 or 70 million years, we have fossils that are 60 or 70 million years old that are exactly the same, there is no change at all. If you check for example the cranium of these animals it is the same as today, the teeth are the same as today, there is no change at all. This is Allah’s artistry, Allah created them and it is Allah’s miracle that Allah also created these fossils which tell us there is no change at all.

BFTF: Doctor Musharraf if you could come in there with your training as a bio-chemist and also from your experience from Al-Azhar University, how does that read to you really?

Dr Hussein: Well what I would like to understand from Brother Harun is where does he get this notion from. The palaeontology and the science of fossils obviously shows very clearly that there has been evolution, that things have actually changed, I mean that is the reality, fossils are very clear proof of how things have actually changed. I think what I’m trying to understand is where does he get his idea that things haven’t changed because the palaeontology and the science of fossils shows very clearly that there has been an evolution, and I’m not talking about evolution in the terms of the atheist’s concept that there is no hidden hand of God behind it, that it is a blind, by chance transformation and change, I’m thinking as a believer in God, as the “Rubb-ul Al-Ameen”, one of the names of Allah is “Rubb”, and if you look at the translation of the word “Rubb”, it is very clearly always mentioned by the Mufassarin (Interpreters of the Quran) as ‘the one who takes things from an imperfect state into the state of perfection’, in other words the translation is ‘evolver’, God is the ‘evolver’, the one who takes things through stages and develops them until they reach the state of perfection.

Harun Yahya: Well in palaeontology the required transitional forms were never found, I’ll give personally anybody who brings even one single transitional form seven million dollars, which is ten trillion Turkish lira, seven million dollars, if you have a single transitional form I will pay seven million dollars to you

BFTF: I’ve read this on the website and I just wanted to understand, could you give me an example of a transitional form that would qualify for the award, just so we can understand what you mean by that exactly, what do you mean by ‘transitional form’?

Harun Yahya: Well we never see transitional forms. For example Darwin’s claim of the evolution of the cat and tigers, they can never show a transitional form. Transitional forms are creatures which are mutated and pathological and a-symmetrical abnormal creatures, and we have never seen pathological forms of the transitional forms which show the transition from water to land for example, and I will give this amount of money to anybody who brings that.

Harun Yahya: Darwinists cannot bring even a single transitional form because I will pay this amount of money so also, the impossibility of the emergence of proteins by chance, that also refutes the Darwinists claims, not even proteins alone but even single acids could not have been formed by coincidence. Darwin himself tells us, in fact I can read a quote right now from his book ‘On the Origin of Species’ that there are no transitional forms. In Darwin’s time they were digging all around the world, all the layers of the Earth, and they found many fossils but they never found transitional forms.”

Dr Hussein: Well Brother, can I just stop you here, I think really the latest scientific findings, for example last week there was a major conference of palaeontologists here in Bristol University, where a Chinese expert actually had discovered what is a really remarkable fossil which looks like something which is between the birds and the dinosaurs, and it was claimed by this scientist that this is the transitional form between the dinosaurs and the earliest kind of birds. I think to be honest this is a fantastically important science, and there is so much expertise out there and there are so many, literally thousands, of examples of transitional forms, but what I want to know from Brother Harun is how is this in any way against our faith in Allah being the creator and Allah being the originator? The Qur’an describes Allah as “Al-Kharliq” (the Creator) and also as “Al-Badi” (the Originator), these are some of the words that the Qur’an uses for the creativity of Allah. How does this go against this belief, you know to believe that Allah created different forms, they progressed, they evolved effectively, you know Allah is the evolver, so here we’re constantly talking about Allah as being the evolver, how does this go against this idea of creation, can you explain that?

Xiantingia (China) - internediate fossil between dinosuaurs and birds

Harun Yahya: There are angels and demons in the Qur’an as you know and they were not created through evolution. There are houris in heaven and demons were not created through evolution, and the houris of heaven were not created through evolution. There is no evidence for evolution in the Qur’an so what you are talking about, these birds, have been existing for many millions of years . . . there is nothing between dinosaurs and birds.

Dr Hussein: Well the evidence is there, but let me just ask you this question. We know that (in a verse of the Quran) Allah is talking to the angels and saying to them “I want to create my Khalifa (Vice-regent) on the earth”, OK. And this is very clear, Allah created mankind, my understanding of this, and of course again people can differ with this, is that Allah created mankind, that is Adam (AS) in his form as he is, as human beings, there is no doubt about that. That is my very clear understanding that Adam (AS) is not evolved from anything, he was created by Allah as Adam (AS), as human being, and dignified in a very special way, that is Allah’s special creation. But as far as other animals are concerned, particularly when we look at the orders and then the families of creation and then the species within them, what is it that stops us from accepting this notion when there is evidence out there to show that undoubtedly evolution has occurred? I just cannot see what is against our belief that Allah created Adam (AS) as human being, but within the animal and plant kingdom there has been evolution going on.

BFTF: When you look at all the different ways that dogs have been bred, and plants have been bred, isn’t that right in front of you over the last few hundred or thousand years, isn’t that evolution right there? When you look at a little Dachshund to a huge Great Dane, or you look at the different types of vegetables, or fruits, or even flowers that you can buy, and the pressure that’s been put on those by the plant breeders or the animal breeders, isn’t that evolution right there in front of you?

Harun Yahya: Well this is variation of these animals and plants, this is not evidence for evolution, and actually most of them have disappeared with time, so if you looked at the previous form you would be even more surprised, but this not evolution this is only variation, and variation is not evolution. . . Well of course you get surprised if you see different kinds of animals or plants, but that shows us the power of Allah, and the power of creation of Allah, these different kinds of animals and different kinds of flowers shows us only the power and artistry of Allah

BFTF: You’ve written quite widely about the environment and our duty as a khilafa (stewards), our stewardship really of the Earth, and I just wanted to know if you could give some background on that and really your perspectives on how we should look after the environment. I’m thinking about trees, the lungs of the world and the environment in general.

Harun Yahya: Well all these living things, the plants and animals and humans, are a reflection of the creation of Allah, so Muslims should be very meticulous to protect the environment and the sanctity of all these plants and forests and trees, and we should approach them with love. . . . The idea of evolution goes back to the time of the Pharoh, the ancient Sumerians and ancient Greece. So it is a pagan religion which goes many, many of thousands of years back. With the findings from palaeontology, genetics and all the scientific branches, we destroyed their claims of evolution, of Darwinism.

BFTF:. One thing we try to do hear at the Karimia centre, we aren’t quite there yet but we are along the way, is we try to use paper that is FSC certified, so the forests have been well managed and they aren’t chopping down, for example, rainforests with all the loss of flora and fauna that entails. I just wanted to know how you approach that, and what steps you take with the paper you use in the millions of books you are printing to make that that’s from a sustainable source really.

Harun Yahya: Well instead of staying as a tree, it is much better to transform to cause hidayat(guidance) for people these trees.

Harun Yahya: Right now again only 1% of the species are alive. So there are estimates, according to scientists, between 10 and 30 million species alive today, but this is only 1% of all the species, 99% became extinct. So if you had all the species living together you would be very surprised, but this in Allah’s power. Allah could create endless number of species however Allah only created the 10 or 30 million species alive today.

Harun Yahya: Now let me read a quote from Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species”, Darwin confesses in his book, Darwin said, this is Charles Darwin, “Why if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of species being, as we see them, well defined? But, as by this theory, innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the Earth?” So Charles Darwin himself says there is mathematical symmetry is perfect in living beings. He goes on; “Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.” This is from Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” page 172, which means, Darwin himself says there are no transitional forms which collapses the theory of evolution because at the time of Darwin thousands of workers...

BFTF: If I could just jump in for a second, I’ve read I think 2 or 3 pages from your website and I’ve tried to check some of these references out and what I find quite often is that there is a part of a quote, and I’ll give you one example, it’s not the one you’re mentioning but for example, you’re website quotes Darwin as saying: “To suppose that I, with all its contrivances, could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree”. So clearly it looks there as though Darwin is saying that it’s absurd that I could form through evolution. But you leave it at that. What you don’t write is the rest of what Darwin wrote, which is to explain well actually this is how it could happen, and how small variations could add up, and it seems a little bit misleading when you just put part of the quote and then you don’t put the rest

Harun Yahya: The quote we just read about Darwin, about Darwin’s confessions, the lack of transitional forms destroys Darwinism right at the bottom, it destroys the very foundation. There are 200 million fossils without any transitional forms...

Dr Hussein: Can I just add to this that Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species” was written 150 years ago, it really is out of date, it’s of its own time. We’ve moved on 150 years, science has really moved on leaps and bounds since then, and we now are looking at genetics of things really. We’re looking at the level of genes, and we’re able to do genetic engineering these days. Now I think that young Muslim scientists who have studied biology and genetics and also know their Deen (faith), are really like many Christians and people of faith who believe in God as the designer, as Qur’an calls Allah the “Musawwir”, the fashioner, the one who is Al-Bari (the Evolver), these are some of the beautiful names of Allah. There is no contradiction between having that faith and understanding those qualities and attributes of Allah, and this idea that Allah is the strategic planner of the evolution.

BFTF: OK, well I’d just like to mention two points and then I’d like to ask you a question Doctor Musharraf. I’ve got an article here that points out that of twelve Pakistani biologists interviewed only one had rejected evolution, and also that in 2006 the Pakistani and Indonesian academies of sciences, and in many other Muslim countries I understand, have signed a statement urging parents and teachers to educate children about the origins and evolution of life on Earth. Now I can only see in that report that the science bodies, the government sponsored science bodies, in Muslim countries are doing. But the question I wanted to ask you Doctor Sab is, and evolution is a very good example of this really, what your feeling is about having a plurality of views, having access to different types of information and different viewpoints, what is your view point on that?

Dr Hussein: I think the fact that these two great nations, the Indonesian and Pakistani scientists have, and I’m sure many other scientists in other parts of the world will agree with them, that these views about how possibly things could have evolved, and in my view they don’t contradict my Imaan (faith) in Allah as being the one who is behind all this. Muslims who haven’t got a deep understanding of science have sadly just taken the creationist Christian’s view. There is a very big difference between the modern Muslim who believes in evolution, and the Christian creationists who didn’t have that true understanding But can I just end by saying it has been really wonderful talking to you Brother Harun, and really I admire the work that you’ve done, mashallah (what Allah wishes), and all those wonderful books that you’ve written on other subjects, this is one subject where I sort of disagree with your view on evolution because I think it is a very old Christian view rather than an enlightened Muslim scientists view and therefore I would challenge you on that.

Harun Yahya: We cannot talk about evolution because 200 million fossils disprove evolution, there are no transitional forms, they all prove the fact of creation by Allah all of a sudden because for millions of years they never change, so without transitional forms it is impossible to defend Darwinism, to defend evolution. So science tells us exactly the opposite, so it is not scientific to defend evolution without any evidence. 200 million fossils, 250 million fossils, it’s going up to 300 million right now, just disproves evolution and shows us the emergence of species all the time.

Muslim students weigh in on evolution”

Article by Prof. ABDUL MAJID, Ass.Prof., Dep of Zoology, Postgraduate College, Mansehra, PAKISTAN

IAP Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

MuslimVoices article on Muslims views of Evolution

National Geographic : Evolution in Action

BBC Learning Zone : Evolution of the Eye

Image Source : Xiaotingia

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Hansard - Straight from the Horses Mouth

The picture of the legislative process in the House of Commons and the House of Lords that we see in the media is, sadly, a cartoonish, soundbite ridden, sensationalised version of what actually goes on.

Sometimes only a few dozen seconds are given to coverage of a debate. BFTF can't explain how to make a omelette in that time, so it seems unlikely that a complex discussion can be distilled down to such a short timeframe!

Fortunately, modern technology offers us a way of bypassing the media and listening dorectly to what our lawmakers are saying, often at great length, detail and passion.

You can listen to them on the Parliament Channel - perhaps the most unexpected delight of the digital television revolution. Indeed I am listening to it in the background even as I write this!

And one can read about what has been said in Hansard, the written record of the debates in Parliament.

Below you can find a little information on two debates that BFTF has seen. The first relates to a House of Lords debate on Christians in the Middle East; the second relates to a Select Committee hearing regarding the HMRC (i.e. Revenue and Customs)

House of Lords debate on "Christians in the Middle East" from 9th December 2011.

You can read the full account of the motion here, hopefully you will find it as thought provoking as BFTF did.

But, if you are someone who is a bit pressed for time, below are a few of the comments from the Most Rev Rowan Williams, Lord Sacks and Lord Ahmad.

The Archbishop of Canterbury - Opening Comments
. . at the present moment, the position of Christians in the region is more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The flow of Christian refugees from Iraq in the wake of constant threat and attack has left a dramatically depleted Christian population there, and perhaps I can say in passing how very glad and grateful I was to have stood alongside the Grand Mufti of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo at a press conference here in London some three years ago joining in condemnation of attacks on Christians in Iraq. Similar senior voices from al-Azhar have been heard more recently in condemnation of anti-Christian outrages in Egypt itself . .

. . . No one is seeking a privileged position for Christians in the Middle East, nor should they be. But what we can say-I firmly believe that most Muslims here and in many other places would agree entirely-is that the continued presence of Christians in the region is essential to the political and social health of the countries of the Middle East. Their presence challenges the assumption that the Arab world and the Muslim world are just one and the same thing, which is arguably good for Arabs and Muslims alike. They demonstrate that a predominantly Muslim polity can accommodate, positively and gratefully, non-Muslims as fellow citizens, partners in an enterprise that is not exclusively determined by religious loyalties even when rooted in specific religious principles. . .

. . .One of their real grievances is what they experience as the twofold undermining of their identity that comes from a new generation of Muslim enthusiasts treating them as pawns of the West and, on the other hand, from a western political rhetoric that either ignores them totally or thoughtlessly puts them at risk by casting military conflict in religious terms. Talk of crusading comes to mind. . .

Lord Sachs
. .It was Martin Luther King who said:"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends". . .

. . .We have already heard today about the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, of Maronite Christians in Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon, of the vast exodus of Christians from Iraq and of the concern of Christians in Syria as to what might happen there should there be further destabilisation. In the past year, we have heard of churches set on fire, of a suicide bombing that cost the lives of 21 Christians as they were leaving a church in Cairo, of violence and intimidation and of the mass flight of Christians, especially from Egypt. .

. . . we make a great intellectual mistake in the West when we assume that democracy is, in and of itself, a step towards freedom. Usually, that is the case, but sometimes it is not. As Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill pointed out in the 19th century, it may merely mean the "tyranny of the majority". That is why the most salient words in the current situation are those of Lord Acton, in his great essay on the history of freedom, who said: "The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities". . .

. . . religions that begin by killing their opponents end by killing their fellow believers. In the age of the Crusades, Christians fought Muslims. Between the Reformation and the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Christians fought Christians-Catholic against Protestant. Today, in the Middle East and elsewhere, radical Islamists fight those whom they regard as the greater and lesser Satan, but earlier this week we mourned the death of 55 Shia worshippers at a mosque in Kabul and another 28 Shia who were killed in a terror attack in Iraq. Today, the majority of victims of Islamist violence are Muslim, and shall we not shed tears for them, too? The tragedy of religion is that it can lead people to wage war in the name of the God of peace, to hate in the name of the God of love, to practise cruelty in the name of the God of compassion and to kill in the name of the God of life. None of these things brings honour to faith; they are a desecration of the name of God. . .

The Archbishop of Canterbury (Closing Comments)
My Lords, I am deeply grateful for a debate that in both variety and quality has not disappointed expectations. Wider points have emerged, and I shall touch on one or two. . .

. . .The definition of religious liberty, we have been reminded, is not always a simple matter. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter pointed out that we are speaking not simply of the liberty to worship but a liberty of conscience - a mental liberty. That includes asking some difficult questions about the rights of conversion, which many noble Lords have raised in their contributions today. . .

. . .I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, quote the late Lord Acton on the test of liberty being the treatment of minorities. It was the same Lord Acton who observed that a coherent doctrine of religious liberty was at the foundation of all serious talk about political liberties. We have a number of issues there worth taking up and holding in our minds. . .

. . .We have also been reminded by a number of noble Lords about the significance of education and adequate communication in this field. Points have been made about the poisonous effect of certain kinds of school textbook, for example. . .

So there you go. BFTF was surprised that there does not appear to be any Muslim Imam in the House of Lords to represent the Muslim community and, perhaps more importantly, Muslim thinking. So BFTF sent an email to the local MP asking why this was the case.

Select Committee Hearing on the HMRC
Moving on, quickly and briefly, to the second debate that BFTF heard which was oral evidence submitted to the Public Accounts Committee's session on Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Standard Report with Antony Inglese, General Council and solicitor, and Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary, from Monday 7 November.

You can read the full transcript here.

BFTF just wanted to bring you the beginning of the hearing, when Antony Inglese (from HMRC) got an absolute mauling from committee member Richard Bacon:

Antony Inglese (AI): There are conventions in Parliament about what can be answered on legal privilege-Ministers, for example. There are various ramifications of the legal privilege point. At the moment, there is a judicial review being brought against HMRC.

Richard Bacon (RB): Oh, really? Can you give us the case number, please?

AI: We have had the pre-action protocol letter by a pressure group and we are now looking at our response.

RB: Are there any proceedings?

AI: Proceedings are imminent.

RB: What is the answer to my question?

AI: The way judicial review works-

RB: What is the answer to my question, Mr Inglese? Are there any proceedings?

AI: For the purposes of the sub judice rule, we have had a letter before action-

RB: Yes, I understand that you have had a letter before action. Once again, what is the answer to my question: are there any proceedings before the courts?

AI: Proceedings are imminent.

RB: Are there any proceedings before the courts now? Yes or no?

AI: At this moment, no.

It's cracking stuff and great to see HMRC being held to account.

So, dear reader, there you go. The tools are there to hold your elected representatives to account and to praise them when they do the right thing.

Friday, 2 December 2011

"We are not aware of any evidence to support this claim"

The ability to think critically and analyse information is a crucial tool in avoiding the wool being pulled over ones eyes by organisations or people who wish to mislead, misinform or just plain lie.

For example, during the Leveson enquiry (which investigated press intrusion and phone hacking allegations), the singer Charlotte Church, alleged that her phone must have been hacked because News International knew about her pregnancy before she had even told her mother. In response, a News International spekesperson said "We are not aware of any evidence to support this claim".

That's a pretty strange form of words. Surely News International either DID, or DD NOT hack Ms Church's phone. It's a pretty black and white thing.

So why the complicated phrase?

BFTF imagines a burglar who, having performed a number of careful burglaries, wearing a balaclava and gloves at all times, then burns all his burglaring clothes and equipment and scatters the ashes at sea.

If accused of being a burglar, he would, presumably, be entirely accurate in saying that he was "not aware of any evidence to support this claim"

A phone-hacking tabloid reporter, yesterday

BFTF, on reading the story in more detail, noted that there were links to the written testimonies of some of the witnesses. Reading the testimony of Charlotte Church provided a distrubing account of a tabloid press that was predatory and would routinely print stories that were utterly without foundation.

Ao much so, that BFTF was moved to writing a message for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Dear Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Olympics and Sport,
I'm have no doubt that you are a very busy person, so I'll be brief :

I have been very disturbed by the testimonies of the witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry. In particular, that way in which the tabloid press treated Charlotte Church, even when she was still a child, is something that I find difficult to reconcile with a civilised society.
I do not think it is acceptable for a newspaper to print a countdown to a girls 16th birthday.
I do not think it is acceptable for a newspaper to print lurid stories about a singers parents or other family members.
I do not think it is acceptable for a newspaper to fabricate entire stories.

On a related note, I do not think it is acceptable for a newspaper to print an almost daily drip-drip feed of stories that demonise minority groups - this is really dangerous and stokes the flames of community distrust.

Please take the opportunity of the Leveson Inquiry to fix Britains print media so that it, like Radio 4, becomes something that I can be proud of.

Image Source : Wikipedia

Update (9th Dec)
Received a response from the "Ministerial Support Team" and the Department of Culture Media and Sport. The response said that
"The Government shares many of the concerns set out in your letter"
and that
" the Government is determined that events involving particular communities should not be exploited by anyone as an excuse to start blaming, persecuting, or preaching inflammatory messages about any particular group. . . The Coalition Government is working to strengthen its approach to integration and cohesion, including how all forms of extremism, hatred and intolerance can best be tackled."

Dear Reader, perhaps you would like to challenge the local or national government on an issue where you feel they are being unfair or unjust. It would be great to hear what results you get !

Sunday, 27 November 2011

20mph limits in Nottingham and Portsmouth -Pt1

Earlier this week, the Nottingham Post ran a series of articles on the Councils proposals to impose 20mph speed limits on some streets in Nottingham (Incidentally, the term “impose” is itself a loaded term (see here)).

The council has chosen Sherwood as the pilot area because it "includes everything throughout the city which could benefit from a 20mph limit, such as residential areas, steep streets, major bus routes, industrial areas and wide and narrow streets."

This is all well and good, but BFTF was interested in the evidence behind this proposed course of action. How have 20mph trials performed in the past? What criteria will the criteria use to decide whether the pilot study will be a success or not?

Let’s start with some terminology:
“20 mph Speed Limits” indicates the use of speed limit signs alone (without traffic calming measures)
“20 mph Zones” indicates indicates the use of signs and traffic calming measures.

Before moving on to what do the “pro” and “anti” groups say?
You can find out about the case against 20mpt limits at :

And the case in favour for 20mph limts at:

AAnd then looking at the evidence that 20mph limits work?
Much of the evidence for 20mph limits relates to the experience of Portsmouth, who implemented a 20mph speed limit (without additional traffic calming measures) in many of the city’s residential areas. A report on the effects of Portsmouth’s 20mph limits can be found here:
Interim Evaluation of the Implementation of 20 mph Speed Limits in Portsmouth
Final Report - September 2010

Before the scheme was implemented accidents stood at 183 per year, whereas afterwards they were at 142 per year, a 22%drop. During that period casualty numbers fell nationally by about 14% in comparable areas.

Vehicle speeds were also measured before and after the intorduction of the 20mph limits:

It has to be said that the report very carefully omits mentioning that the speeds of vehicles in the sites that had a speed “before” the trial of 20mph or lower actually INCREASED during the trial (BFTF estimates by perhaps 1-2mph).

Accident statistics were aslo presented "before" and "after":

It is important to note that some variability is to be expected when the number of annual accidents is low, so the increase in KSA figures is not necessarily significant. For a more extreme example of this, the report stated that the number of school children injured increased from 5 (3yrs prior to change) to 7 (2years after change). BFTF can see that Daily Mail headline now : “20mph speed limit results in 40% INCREASE in children being run over”.

If the Mail actually has someone on the staff who understands numbers then one can imagine them working it out on an annual basis “20mph speed limit results in 110% INCREASE in children being run over”. . .

Lastly, the report also compares the speed reductions achieved in Portsmouth with those in two other speed reduction schemes, in London and Hull. It is worth mentioning that these schemes included were much better funded than the Portsmouth scheme and included traffic calming measures:

So there you go, a bunch or relevant data all in one concise package. Shame the reporting in the mainstream media isn’t like this. . . .

BFTF will leave you to draw your own conclusions about the effectiveness of 20mph limits, as with most things in life, it’s complicated.

20mph limits in Nottingham and Portsmouth -Pt2

Following on from the post regarding 20mph speed limits, BFTF wanted to ask the council what their criteria would be for judging the trial in Sherwood a success, and also what the evidence was (in terms of accident reduction) for the claim in the Evening News that “"We have had considerable success with the 20mph zones around schools for at least five years – about 67 per cent of schools have them."

BFTF also sent an email to local mosques suggesting that this was an area where the Muslim community could find common ground with the wider society in campaigning for fewer road deaths (note that this does not nessesarily mean campaigning for 20mph limits). It might even be possible for Muslim organisations to be perceived as working for the common good and acting on the basis of the evidence available (It is sad fact that “Muslims” and “based on the evidence” are not statements that can generally be found in the same sentence).

Monday, 21 November 2011

Where would you like me to find drugs today?

BFTF is fascinated by the many ways in which eyewitness identification can be mistaken.

Even so, BFTF was surprised to read in a paper "Handler beliefs affect scent detection dog outcomes" about how trained sniffer dogs would "alert" more often if their handlers thought there were drugs or explosives present.

Where would you like me to find drugs today, officer?

The findings were . . . er. . .found during a study in which a series of handlers and sniffer dogs were asked to find drugs or explosives in a training area. Some of the handlers were told that the locations of the targets were marked with red paper (the dogs were told nothing - perhaps they were put in a soundproof booth with earmuffs playing gentle music?). What the handlers did not know was that there were no targets at all in the training area, so any "alerts" would be false

The handlers reported that dogs alerted more at marked locations than other locations, presumably because the dogs were picking up cues from their handlers.

The authors conclude that:

"This confirms that handler beliefs affect outcomes of scent detection dog deployments."

So, if you want to avoid sniffer dogs marking you as a priority for a cavity search, wear a suit !

Image Source : Wikipeida

Sunday, 13 November 2011

New research on Cod stocks in the Grand Banks

You may be aware of the story of the Cod Fisheries off the Canadian Grand Banks. These were some of the most productive cod fishing grounds in the world until overfishing resulted in a collapse in stocks in the early 1990's, at which point (to the sound of a stable door slamming shut) cod fishing was banned in the area to allow stocks to recover.

A recent paper by Kenneth Frank et al entitled "Transient dynamics of an altered large marine ecosystem", published in Nature, described the results of recent research into the Grand Banks marine ecosystem. The results are fascinating and provide reassurance that, given time, fish stocks to recover. We'll get to that in a moment, but first let us set the stage, so to speak.

The marine ecosystem in the Grand Banks can be broken down into three main parts.

At the top of the food chain are the large predator fish such as Cod and Haddock.

Below them are smaller fish such as Herring, Sand Lance and Capelin (no, BFTF had never heard of Sand Lance or Capelin before either). There are known as "forage fish" species.

And below these are the many plankton species.

Thus Cod feed on Herring and Herring feed on Plankton (it's a bit more complicated than this, obviously, but life is short so let's stick to the essence of the story).

Unsustainable fishing practices resulted in overfishing and a collapse of cod stocks in the early 1990's. With no Cod to keep numbers in check, the populations of the forage fish species exploded by some 900% (see graphic below).

But these high populations of forage fish were themselves too large to be sustained by the available plankton, so they in turn collapsed and entered into a "damped oscillation" of population peaks and troughs (see page 3 of the paper). The authors note that the period (time from peak to peak) is related to the life span of the forage fish and that
"Such eruptions followed by crashes involving fast growing, highly opportunistic species are known to occur in other ecosystems freed from predatory control"

Critically, part of the diet of the forage fish was the larvae of the large predator fish, which is why the stocks of Cod remained depressed for so long after the population collapse.

With the stocks of forage fish now moving back towards historical levels, it has finally been possible for Cod and Haddock stocks to recover.

The researchers note that, prior to the collapse, the dominant predator species was Cod, whereas the dominant species is now Haddock. Indeed, Haddock stocks are back up to historical levels, the stocks of Cod are still only 35% of those prior to the collapse. Only time will tell whether this change in the relative proportions of Cod and Haddock is a temporary or a permanent phenomena.

The authors comment that there are a number of factors that could still delay fish stock recovery (e.g. jelly fish blooms, the appearance of invasive species or eutrophication). Having said that, however, the authors have the encouraging view that
"These uncertainties notwithstanding, the answer to the critical question of whether or not such profound changes in the dynamics of large marine ecosystems are reversible seems to be ‘yes’."

You can see a press release about this research here

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Initiatives of Change Training Workshop

Initiatives of Change” (IoC) is an organisation to bridge-building within and between communities.
IoC achieves this by providing tools that communities can use to build a dialogue with the “other”. They also have an interesting blog here.

The national director of IoC in the US, Rob Corcoran, discussed a number of these issues in a public talk entitled “Honest Conversations in Community Change” earlier this week.

Assisted by Willemijn Lambert (a graduate in conflict resolution) Rob began by describing how there was a “trust deficit” in the US, between racial groups, between society and business and between citizens and government.

Rob gave a clue as to how difficult it can be to begin a dialogue between groups by pointing out that the four most feared words in the English language are “We’ve got to talk”.

They may not be frightening for the person saying them, but they can certainly be frightening for the person on the receiving end, who may fear being blamed, rejected or having to deal with emotions that they cannot handle.

To investigate this further, Rob asked the attendees to form small groups and consider what qualities were likely to BUILD trust and what qualities were likely to BREAK trust.

In the time honoured procedure for workshops such as this, the resulting post-it notes were put on a board and then discussed.

Dear reader, if you are feeling in a participative mood, you may wish to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what you feel would build or break trust before seeing how your thoughts compare with those of the group at the meeting (which BFTF will reveal in a moment). Let’s play a little music while you ponder. . .

Ready now? The most common responses from the attendees were :

i) Honesty - this was mentioned by every group
ii) Approachability
iii) Willingness to learn
iv) Time (added by Rob as something he often finds that younger group members identify)

i) Lying
ii) Backbiting / breaking of confidentiality.

Richmond, Virginia
This is Rob’s home town in the US. Richmond was the heart of the confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-65) and then became the heartland of what was basically a system of apartheid against the black population under the “Jim Crow” laws. Indeed, it was only in 1954-55 that a series of federal judgements demanded an end to the segregated school system that operated in the South.

In response, a white protest movement, known as “massive resistance” against the integration of schools began in Virginia. This movement continued until well into the 1970s (although many of the discriminatory laws that were implemented by Virginian politicians as part of the campaign were overturned by 1970).

But slowly, surely, the civil rights movement gained ground until, in 1977, Richmond (which by then had a population that was over 50% black) gained a black-majority council and a black mayor.

This change in power structures of the town resulted in a period of soul-searching for the city, part of which resulted, in 1993, in the Hope in the Cities program which aimed at helping to heal the racial wounds of Richmond but using the techniques pioneered by Initiatives of Change.

One reason why the Hope in the Cities program was needed was described by a black civil rights activist who Rob relates as saying that

“we worked so hard to change the structures but because we didn’t change the peoples hearts we have to go back and keep going back to do it again”

This activist thought about what needed to be done to resolve the situation, to “change peoples hearts” and decided to invite the white chief executive of the city council, Mr Todd, and his wife over for a barbecue.

The barbecue allowed the activist and Mr Todd to begin a dialogue which, over time, made a real difference in the way Mr Todd operated. The extent of the difference can be gauged by the comments of another black civil rights activist who, sometime later, told Rob Corcoran that, whereas meetings involving Mr Todd had previously seemed to have all their conclusions decided ahead of time, the activist was now finding that Mr Todd was asking for the activists opinion on the issues being discussed.

That black activist who had made efforts to open a dialogue with Mr Todd had really put their neck on the line. Some other African-American activists could not understand why she was “selling out”, some even stopped talking to her. It was only really when some fruits of the dialogue could be seen (such as the change in the attitude of Mr Todd) that the black community really began to buy into the dialogue. This “movement from the other side” is critical to bringing all the players into the dialogue.

It is also helpful to dialogue when one side admits that they have a problem. In the case of Richmond, the black community only really believed that the white community was serious when the white community itself started to say that it had a problem and that the problem was racism.


The talk now moved on to another interactive session in which the attendees were asked to form small groups and perform an “environmental scan”. This involves considering what you feel about your community in the following areas :
Past and Present – What are we proud of?
Past and Present – What are our complaints?
The Future – What do we aspire to?
The Future - What are we afraid of losing?

Rob emphasised that we could define “community” any way we wanted - town, faith, local area etc.

Once again, you may be interested in having a bash at this yourself. If so, let’s play a little music while you consider your responses

The results of the brainstorm were as shown below, one thing that was noticeable was that most of the groups had decided to define “community” as Nottingham’s Muslim community for the purposes of this exercise.

Past and Present – What are we proud of
Asian Culture
Understanding between communities
Work of our elders
Branching out of the Muslim Community to reach out to other communities
Lots of Mosques

Past and Present – What are our complaints?
Lack of inclusion.
We need to integrate with other communities.
Standards of education are poor.
Too many mosques/ too much division
Lack of opportunities for young people
We are not open minded and have a ghetto mentality.
We are not tolerant of peoples differences

The Future – What do we aspire to?
Prosperity – leading to lower crime rates
United, trustful community
To be a good British Muslim.
More integration with the host community
Eradicate the ghetto mentality (See note below)
Ensure the Muslims understand Islam (See the other note below)
Become a more inclusive community

The Future - What are we afraid of losing?
Loss of values, identity and spiritual values
Loss of trust within our community
Financial security

The note below
The Imam who wrote this added that the Muslim community was often a long way behind the cutting edge. They would move forward when the gap becomes embarrassingly wide, but are not generally leading the debate by being at the cutting edge of any social issues.

The other note below
The Imam who wrote this comment elaborated by saying that he felt that many Muslims only related the act of worship to Islam and did not implement Islamic values in the rest of their daily lives.


Rob now looked at the aspects of Trustbuilding in a little more detail by putting up a slide showing the four aspects of Trustbuilding. The slide is replicated below:

Know yourself
Discussing this aspect of trust building in a little more detail, Rob and Willemijn commented that we can all benefit from spending a little time in introspection each day, time in which we can consider whether we are contributing to and living like the community we want to live in. Rob described how he had fallen out with a work colleague for several years until, one day, while to was considering why this relationship had broken down, his conscience told Rob to think less about how he himself felt and a little more about the fact that his colleague felt that he had been wronged by Rob. So Rob called his colleague and to talk through things. The very next day the colleague called Rob and arranged to drive 100miles over to have lunch, which just goes to show how powerful the effects of reconciliation can be.

Acknowledge history and stories
Rob pointed out that if issues are not resolved, they end up being transferred, which is why race and slavery are still such live issues in the US today, 150 years after slavery was abolished. In addition, this transfer can result in the victims becoming victimisers.

Invite all to the table
Inviting everyone to the table means, by definition, that one has to engage with the “other” – which takes courage and can leave the people doing the engaging vulnerable to accusations of “selling out” or weakness. Rob pointed out to the leaders in the room that “if you want to be a bridge, you have to be prepared to get walked” and that one can spend so much time focussing on the enemy that one forgets to focus on the problem. Difficult times can make it easier to find and blame scapegoats for society problems. As Mee Moua, an ethnic minority politician in the US has commented “In our post-9/11 age, every American has been given tacit permission to unleash their anxieties on those they believe to be 'the Others'

Rob described an Initiatives of Change project in Richmond where leaders of the Christian Evangelical community met with Imams from the city’s Muslim community. As a first step, the two groups were asked to go to separate rooms for an hour and come up answers to two questions.

Q1) What can be do better?
Q2) What would we like to see from the “other”?

After an hour, the two groups came back to the table and discussed their findings

The Evengelicals said that they had not made sufficient efforts to reach out to the Muslim community and that what they wanted to see from the Muslim community was an absolute rejection of terrorism (which the Muslims were happy to provide)

For their part, the Muslim representatives admitted that they had been too insular as a community and that what they wanted to see from the Evangelicals was an absolute commitment to plurality.

Rob described how one of the Muslim representatives invited one of the Evangelicals over for a barbeque and that the conversation they struck up during this revealed that they had many areas of common ground. For example, they were both concerned about the loss of moral values and valued the family. This initial contact provided the basis for a conversation between the groups that is still going on.

The final parting comments from Rob were to ask the attendees to consider the following:
What conversations are not taking place?
Whose story needs to be heard?
Is there one step I can take to have an honest conversation?

With the “common ground” being a particular theme of BFTF, the following email was sent to a couple of the Imams at the Meeting

“. . . I noted the comments during the meeting regarding the Muslim community often being a long way behind the cutting edge of providing (and practicing) solutions to many of societies problems – and how many Muslims only related the act of worship to Islam and did not implement Islamic values in the rest of their daily lives.

One way of providing at least a partial solution to these problems is to provide leadership to the Muslim community in some of the many areas where we can find common ground with the wider society.

To pick just a few examples where the groundwork has already been done, the Masjid could :

i) Demonstrate Islam’s commitment to safeguarding the environment by only using sustainably sourced paper – and telling the congregation about this

ii) Encourage the community to take advantage of community open days and public lectures at local Universities

iii) Lobby on behalf of the Muslim community in cases where human rights abuses are taking place – and tell the community what you are doing.

iv) Lobby to ensure that legislation discouraging smoking is not watered down – and tell the community what you are doing.

v) Encourage the Muslim community to take advantage of local events where they can learn about the history of their city.

vi) Publicise to the Muslim community any reports on mosque best practice and tell the community whether the Masjid is going to implement any of the recommendations.

vii) Offer to educate the community (both Muslim and non Muslim) about the wide variety of trees that exist within a few hundred metres of the Masjid ( of course, it would be prudent to implement (i) before undertaking this action).

viii) Recommend to the community that simply changes to their shopping habits (e.g buying free-range eggs, FSC/recycled paper products, MSC certified fish)are praiseworthy actions and have the potential to make a real difference to the quality of the world that our children may live in.

(Pt 1) (Pt 2) (Pt 3)

UPDATE(06 Nov 11)
One of the Imams replied, saying thank you and that they would incorporate some of these topics into their sermons as appropriate.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Interview - Hannah Cross - Probation Service

The BFTF radio show was chuffed to have the opportunity to talk to Hannah Cross from the probation service this week. Hannah was promoting a new initiative from the probation service called the “Community Mentors” project.

More about that in a moment, but lets start at the beginning of the interview. . .

BFTF asked Hannah about the origins of the probation service and Hannah explained how it had begun as the work of missionaries in the 18th century who were charged with giving guidance to offenders who were released into the community. Later, the practice became a matter of statute and courts employed “probation officers” to fulfil this role.

BFTF was a little confused about the difference between “probation” and “parole” and Hannah explained that offenders are allocated a probation officer soon after they enter the criminal justice system and the probation service stays involved until well after the offender has completed their sentence, offering help and advice to integrate them back into the community and steer them towards a stable, crime-free life.

In contrast,"Parole" is the term of a report that we write when individuals who have been given long term sentences are due to come out of custody. Its called a "Parole Report" In addition when people come out of prison they are subject to supervision with a Probation Officer which again can be referred to as "Parole or more commonly "a licence"

Hannah went on to explain that one possible source for my confusion is that the US (and thus US made TV crime dramas) use the term “parole officer” to describe the same job that “Probation officers” do in the UK. Hannah suggested that perhaps BFTF should watch a little less Prison Break. . .

One surprise to BFTF was that the stereotypical image of a probation officer is a big imposing ex-army type, so it was a surprise to hear that Hannah, who was the exact opposite of the stereotype, had been a probation officer for several years and had to deal with offenders right across the scale from those who were serving community service sentences to those who were serving life in prison. She explained that a probation officer might typically have 60 offenders allocated to them at any one time and that, without exception, she had found all the probation officers she had worked with to be dedicated individuals who were genuinely concerned with giving offenders the help and support (in conjunction with other agencies) to nudge their lives back to the straight and narrow. Achieving success in this was one of the most satisfying parts of the job as a probation officer.

Moving on to the COMMUNITY MENTORS project, Hannah explained that mentoring was a very effective method of reducing the likelihood of re-offending as well as helping offenders achieve purpose and live as a part of a stable community. In addition, the time spent with mentors was often the only part of the week where an offender was able to talk to someone who was able to give the offender 100% of their attention.

The project aims to recruit some 20-30 volunteers over the next year or so from Nottingham’s faith communities.

Encouragingly, the Probation service has found a number of Muslim organisations interested in promoting this initiative, including Karimia Institute and Himmah.

After training, volunteers are allocated an offender to mentor, typically giving 2hrs of mentoring time to the offender every week for a period of 6-12months. After this time, the mentor would be allocated another offender. Hannah emphasised that, whilst it would be great if mentors could pair up with offenders from similar cultures, this was not mandatory and there was the flexibility to accommodate the preferences of the mentor. In addition, mentors could be of either gender.

In terms of what kind of person would make a good mentor, Hannah suggested that people with life experience would be valuable. In addition. Mentors should be non-judgemental, understanding of people in difficult situations a good listener.

Two events have been organised at which people interested in this project can talk to the people involved and decide whether this is something that would like to pursue further:

Thursday 27th October, 6- 7.30pm - The New Art Exchange, Hyson Green

Tuesday 1st November, 7- 8.30pm - Trent Vineyard, Lenton

For further information, contact :
Hannah Cross, Volunteer Mentor Coordinator,
Nottinghamshire Probation Trust,
9 Castle Quay, Castle Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 1FW

Links :
Nottingham Probation Service

Recent Home Office Research

NB: This is a summary of the interview, a more detailed post will be. . .er. . . posted once the audio file has been transcribed, inshallah.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Report - The Mosques in Communities Project

A report entitled “The Mosques in Communities Project” has just been published by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and Faith Matters. It contains a wealth of useful guidance and examples of best practice. The report is based on the results of 15 face-to-face interviews and a further 37 postal surveys of Mosques around the country.

MINAB believe this report to be “the start of a process of outlining good practice and we therefore hope to build on this work.” They also recognise that “many mosques around the country are engaged in excellent community work in a number of areas and we would ideally have liked to have listed the depth and variety of the work that they undertake”

The first part of the report provides recommendations based on the research conducted. Whilst pretty much everything was of value and can only help to improve the performance of mosques, a few of the recommendations are particularly worth mentioning.

Transparency and Communication.
Transparency is clearly an issue of some importance, as without transparency there cannot really be trust. To ensure transparency of the Mosque administration the report recommends that “there should be quarterly meetings where the congregation has a chance to meet the Executive Committee so that they can engage, question, challenge, assess and advise the Executive Committee on its general performance”.
Regarding communication, the report recommends that “Members of the mosque committee and service users may want to consider developing an effective communications system for open dialogue, suggestions and for concerns to be shared.”

It is well known that fact that many mosques do not conduct their sermons in English can result in many, especially younger people, being unable to understand what is being said. To address this, as well as to ensure that Imams can communicate with the wider society, the report recommends that “Imams from overseas (and who have recently come to the UK), be provided with support so that they are able to speak English equivalent to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Level 7. “

The report points out that sectarianism “builds invisible walls around communities” and suggests that these can be brought down if “Imams from other Schools of Thought have been invited to speak in the mosque”. The problems of sectarianism also mentioned in another BFTF post here. BFTF also worries that, sadly, a barrier to this happening is peoples ego’s (as discussed here)

Engagement with the wider society
The report notes a number of mosques who are working hard in this area and distils the advice down to a recommendation that mosques “may want to consider social action days for helping the homeless, recycling community campaigns, ‘helping your neighbour’ and supporting local clean up campaigns.”

Examples of best practice include the Noor Ul Islam mosque (London) who participate in an annual ‘Big Spring Clean’ event which involves the local community getting together to clean up and paint local streets.

Another beacon mosque is Husseinieh mosque (Bristol) which has been able to use the local Safer Neighbourhood officer to “develop programmes for local residents to visit the mosque. This is incredibly helpful in drawing away some of the stigma that may be attached in going to a place of worship that is different to the religion and beliefs of some of the residents“. With commendable foresight, the mosque has also “ inviting the local Neighbourhood Watch group to use the mosque and its facilities. This has allowed the mosque to win over the trust and respect of socially active local residents. It has also enabled the mosque to engage with active neighbourhood opinion formers.”

It was a wish to engage with the wider society more effectively that provoked mosques in Bristol into forming the ‘Council of Bristol Mosques,’ 2007.

Meanwhile, during Ramadhan the Wessex Jamaat Mosque (Portsmouth) has been operating a “‘bring a friend day’ where children all bring one non-Muslim friend to the Mosque to break the fast.”

Engagement with the wider society also means dealing with conflicts. The report notes that parking issues, especially on Fridays, can be a real source of friction and states that “It was suggested that parking has the greatest impact on perceptions and opinions and it is usually a key theme, which can possibly even win or lose elections at a municipal level”. The report goes on to recommend that “mosques need parking advice and information that they can provide to worshippers so that local impacts are minimised.”

Wessex Jamaat Mosque had suffered two examples of negative campaigning and had managed to resolve both of them.

In the first case (involving a campaign by the BNP against the proposed building of the new Mosque) the outreach work that the mosque had been performing resulted in the local community supporting the mosque and its building plans.

The second case involved a local Councillor (who also served on the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE)) who left a meeting when the Imam of the Mosque led a prayer in the Council Chamber, returning only after he finished . The Council held an emergency meeting and agreed to suspecd the councillor. However, Wessex Jamaat Mosque responded “with a letter asking others to forgive him as they had. This remarkable response by the Mosque prevented a further escalation of community tensions and showed the real value of tolerance and forgiveness.”

There is a lot more worth reading in he report, but BFTF hopes that this post has covered some of the main themes. You may wish to ask your own mosque whether they could implement some of the initiative that the report describes.

Firstly, BFTF sent an email to all the local mosques (such as BFTF had email addresses for).

Secondly, BFTF sent emails to Faith Matters and to MINAB thanking them for the report and asking what advice they had for ordinary members of the Muslim community who had tried to get (even very simple) initiatives underway in their local mosques but found the mosque reluctant to take the (very simple) practical steps that were required (even when the mosque says it thinks the initiative is a good idea)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Innovative Mosque Health Programs (2008)

This article was originally published in The Invitation Magazine in 2008, but is as useful today as it was then in terms of offering examples of the excellent work that Mosques can do when they get their act together. . .

Mosques are generally portrayed in a uniformly negative light in the media, whereas the reality is that there are a number of mosques around the country that are doing some valuable and very innovative work with their local communities. As an example, let us see what is being done in Glasgow, Sterling, Oldham and London. . .

The Central mosque was quick to see that the health of it's congregation was important, they were active in the field back in 2001 when they took part in a British Heart Foundation campaign to highlight the dangers of heart disease (something the South Asians are 50% more likely to die from). The project involved imams being trained on issues relating to heart health such as diet or smoking.

Smoking is a big issue as it is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease, and surveys suggest half of all Bangladeshi men, and a third of Pakistani men, smoke.

Habib Ur-Rehman, the Imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said: "I'm very pleased to be part of this initiative as Islam teaches respect for life and health and places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of both physical and spiritual health.” while Muslim MP Mohamed Sarwar commented that "This unique initiative provides the Muslim community with the necessary information and support to take control of their health."

By 2004 the Mosque had widened its remit, with the elderly day care centre providing a medication review clinic once a week in which each patient received a basic medication review, along with health promotion advice, blood pressure measurement and blood glucose monitoring. The organiser, Alia Gilani, then informs the patient’s GP by letter of the service provided.

Staying north of the border, a 2007 campaign was run involving women from Stirling's Islamic Centre, NHS Forth Valley and Filza Bhatti from Glasgow Caledonian University.

The project aimed to highlight the damaging effects of eating food that had high levels of fat and salt. This was because statistics show that the Asian community within the UK was more likely to develop diabetes than the general population.

Filza Bhatti, commented that “Even in Islam we are not supposed to over-eat. . . We are meant to think about the poor and how they are actually feeling with hunger pains." Her healthy eating plan includes using wholemeal flour for chapattis and putting less salt and oil into a curry.

The eight-week programme includes a buddying system and physical activity such as brisk walking.

Last year, Oldham saw a project involving the local Primary Care Trust's and the Council of Mosques for Oldham. Launched at the Tabligul Islam mosque in Glodwick, the 'Smile With The Prophet' project aimed o encourage more than 700 Muslims in Oldham to look after their teeth and give up smoking.

The message was based on the teaching of the prophet Mohammed who promoted good oral hygiene and good nutrition as an essential part of the Muslim religion. Delivered as part of the religious teaching in the mosque, and project also involved the team speaking to families about oral health and helping them find out ways of improving their children's teeth.

Lynne Smith, oral health improvement lead said: "It is particularly important to help improve the oral health of the children in their community, because on average they have the highest level of tooth decay with 70 per cent of five-year-old children having five decayed teeth."

London (Camden)
Of course, mosques can provide a place where groups of concerned individuals can focus on health related issues away from the hectic nature and many distractions of the outside world. For example, in 2007 Ahmed Rahman, a 36yr old traffic warden from Camden, London, gave up smoking during Ramadan with help of a smoking counsellor at his mosque

Ahmed had contacted his local PCT about his wish to stop smoking and they had suggested that he join a stop-smoking group. The group decided to hold it's meetings in the mosque. Ahmed commented that “There were four to five meetings a week, and we had to go for five weeks. Our coordinator gave us suggestions to help us get through the first few days. Between the meetings, I could phone my support worker whenever I felt like I wanted a cigarette.

London (East End)
The East London Mosque, aware that many of the local community live sedentary lives and so are more likely to suffer from high cardiovascular disease and rising diabetes rates.

The mosque is involved in the “This Healthy Living” project is targeted specifically at Bangladeshi men at risk of developing coronary heart disease and/or diabetes because of their lifestyle. The 12 week program encourages men to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Training is provided in Bengali and the project addresses issues such as risk factors that contribute to heart disease, increased awareness of the importance and benefits of physical activity
Increased knowledge and understanding of balanced diets etc, In addition, the attendees had the chance to participate in Seminars (in English and Bengali), Group discussion around various health topics; Health & fitness screening; Gym sessions and One to one sessions.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Dafur (2008)

This post was written in 2008 and formed the basis of an article in the Invitation Magazine. At the time the humanitarian crisis in the Western Sudanese region of Dafur has shot to the top of the news agenda, but news reports did not always do a good job of explaining what is going on.

The Background
Since its independence in 1956, Sudan had been beset by coups and civil wars, with almost constant unrest since 1983 between government forces in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, led by John Garang) in the south. A painstakingly slow peace process was undertaken between 2002 and 2004 which resulted in a peace deal being signed in May.

Meanwhile, the last 15 or so years had also seen unrest in the western region of Dafur, where incidents between local farmers and largely northern nomads were common. Conflict escalated in 2007 when two armed groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), emerged from the local population. The groups demanded a better share in the national wealth, just as the southern rebel groups had done. They quoted statistics showing that some 80% of the government posts were allocated to northerners, who only composed some 5% of the population.

The current situation
The government, whose army was tied up in the south, supported militias known as the Janjaweed who attacked town and villages of the tribes, often with the support of army personnel and the airforce. Indeed, the respected organisation Human Rights Watch states that :

“The government-Janjaweed partnership is characterised by joint attacks on civilians rather than on the rebel forces. . . Many assaults have decimated small farming communities, with death tolls sometimes approaching one hundred people. Most are unrecorded. . . Villages have been torched not randomly, but systematically—often not once, but twice. . . The uncontrolled presence of Janjaweed in the burned countryside, and in burned and abandoned villages, has driven civilians into camps and settlements outside the larger towns, where the Janjaweed kill, rape, and pillage—even stealing emergency relief items—with impunity.
Despite international calls for investigations into allegations of gross human rights abuses, the government has responded by denying any abuses while attempting to manipulate and stem information leaks.. . . The government promised unhindered humanitarian access, but failed to deliver. Instead, reports of government tampering with mass graves and other evidence suggest the government is fully aware of the immensity of its crimes and is now attempting to cover up any record”.

The Charitable sector
After months of trying, charitable organisations had finally are now being given access to the area.

Two of the Muslim charities active in Dafur are Muslim Hands (Nottingham) and Islamic Relief (Birmingham).

BFTF talked to the Islamic Relief Regional programme manager for Africa, Makki A. Mohamed about the causes and effects of the conflict. He commented that:

“A number of interacting factors, including ethnic conflict, an increase in armed robberies, drought and the perceived marginalisation of Darfur has led to the formation of two political military opposition movements. The situation has been aggravated further by the appearance of the Janjaweed militia supported by the government but it seem that now they lost control over them and the fighting became more tribal in nature”, he said, adding that “initially access was very difficult (due insecurity and bureaucratic obstacles) and it was only when under external pressure that the Sudanese Government allowed NGO’s in Darfur. . The peak of the crisis was in January, when there were some 750,000 internally displaced people (now over 950,000), and 130,000 has fled to Chad”

Mr Makki went on to add that it was both insecurity and fear of violence that had caused this huge displacement of people.

Furthermore, he felt that pressure from the EU, UN and US, the Sudanese Government was now trying to reign in the militias, police the areas and use monitors from the African Union, who had also been stung into action.

The Political Sector
A charge often raised against Muslim organisations is that they only care about Muslims when the aggressor is non-Muslim (such as in Kashmir, Chechnya or Palestine), if, on the other hand the aggressor is a Muslim government or group then Muslim organisations turn a blind eye.

To see if this was the case, BFTF asked the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) if it had any comments about Dafur. Their spokesman was unaware of the conflict, or the 750,000 internally displaced Muslims. When sent information on the situation he suggested that western media can sometimes be a little suspect and that perhaps we should contact the Sudanese embassy.

Charity workers have expressed dismay at the inaction of the governments in surrounding Muslim countries, pointing out that they could have done a lot more, especially in the early stages of the crisis.

The Arab League finally managed to send a delegation in March, although nothing appears to have come of that (including a mission report to the public), whilst the OIC has yet to take any action at all.

BFTF tried to contact the Arab League and the OIC, but both organisations appeared to be unable to answer the phone. . .

Islamic Relief (0121 605 5555),
Muslim Hands (0115 9117222).

MCB (020 8903 9650)
Arab League :

Further Information can be found at the following :

Monday, 19 September 2011

Nottingham Central Fire Station - Tour Review

September 8-11 this year was "Heritage Open Days Weekend". This is an annual event which, according to the website,
"celebrates England’s fantastic architecture and culture by offering free access to properties that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission. Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors, ranging from castles to factories, town halls to tithe barns, parish churches to Buddhist temples. It is a once-a-year chance to discover hidden architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities which bring to life local history and culture."

Having only heard about the event a few days beforehand, BFTF had a quick look through the listings and found that there were oodles of events around Nottingham. Oooh, which one to go to, decisions, decisions. But when BFTF saw that tours of the Central Fire Station were being held on the Saturday, it was clear that search was over. . .

Saturday soon came around and BFTF plus kids found themselves at the entrance to the station, along with about 15 other members of the public. The tour was conducted by David Needham, a retired Fireman and was fascinating. So fascinating that it is probably best to break it down into parts.

The Building
The Fire Station was built in 1940, but you would not think it to look at the style of the interior, which is full of art deco touches from the 1920's. It felt a little bit like being in the skyscraper from King Kong, or as Dave Needham commented, being in a Hercule Poirot movie.

Two stone lions (again very much in art deco style) adorn the stair handrails on the first floor. One asleep and one awake they represent the two watches (shifts) of the station.

Gordon Bennet, that was a tough shift, time to turn in for the night

Grrrrr, just 5 more minutes sleep please

The bays where the Fire Engines live are full of little reminders from years gone by such as the floor covers that covered electrical leads previously used to keep the engines warm and ready to go, or the small named hooks on the doors for fire crew leaders long since departed. The brickwork surrounding this area has had numerous lumps knocked out of it, described by Dave as "the signatures of our less skilled drivers"

" the signatures of our less skilled drivers"

The Station has a number of levels below ground and one of these houses the social club. The walls here are decorated with all manner of fire fighting memorabilia, including pennants from fire crews around the world. On one side of the room is a large wooden wheel, perhaps 1.5m in diameter, with wooden spokes radiating from the central axle. It looks for all the world like something that belongs in the 19th century, along with Queen Victoria and flintlock rifles.

Last used in the 1890s, 1930s or 1980s?

But no, it turns that this is one of two wheels that were attached to ladders used on "pump escape" vehicles (like this) up to as late as 1987.

The station also has an air raid shelter that was used during WWII by non-essential station staff and by local residents. Dave described how these shelters could only protect the people inside to a certain degree and that a large calibre bomb would typically penetrate the ground to the depth of the shelter and then detonate, with predictably devastating consequences. This actually happened to another shelter in the city and Dave described how the casualty list made very sad reading, with grandparents, mothers and children of a single family all being killed in that single explosion.

Working Conditions
By 1939, the firemen had managed to win some significant concessions from the station management. They now had a full 1/2 day off work a week !
But, no sooner was this achieved than the UK was at war, and conditions went back to the 128hr weeks that had been the norm before.

Working conditions were very different back then. Firemen tended to live in a terrace of houses owned by the Fire Brigade and located close to the Station. Living in this accomodation had it's down sides. For example, couples needed a pass from the Station Commander if they wanted to stay out late. But that intrusion into their personal lives pales into insignificance when one hears that if a fireman wanted to marry, both he and his prospective bride were interviewed to ensure that she was "suitable". Crikey.

Perhaps inevitably, Dave described how things were much harder in his day than is the case for firefighters today. For one thing, he was expected to get changed on the way to the fire, which meant that the engine could be out of the station within 30seconds. This occasionally led to Firemen injuring themselves as they were knocked about the drive to the fire. To prevent this happening, firefighters now don their protective gear before they set off, which means that it now takes a leisurely 90seconds for the engine to leave the station.

Technology has also made a big difference, in Dave's day hoses would rot if left in a wet condition, so needed to be dried after use. This was done by laboriously hauling them up the training tower so that the water could drain out. Modern hoses are rot-proof so this is no longer required, and in any case the tower now has powered hose hoists (what luxury! when I were a lad. . . .)

World War II
Dave was particularly knowledgeable about the work of the station during WWII and, of the many stories he recounted, two have stuck in the mind of BFTF.

The first relates to a fireman who was on night look-out duty, scanning the city for signs of fires. Located on the roof of the station, he had no wall or shelter to protect him. As he was looking over the city an air raid siren began to sound and then, a little while later, he began to hear the sound of metallic objects landing on the roof around him in the pitch darkness. Alarmingly, these were not spent shell casings or similar ariel detritus but rather were 1kg incendiary bombs landing around him. Forbidden from leaving his post, he took a compromise approach of staying where he was, but lying down to minimise the chance of being taken apart by shapnel from the exploding bombs !

The second story relates to the bombing of Coventry, Dave describes how the air defense network knew that there was going to be a big air-raid somewhere in the south of the country, but not exactly where. So fire engines across the north of England were gradually being moved southwards so that they would be closer to the target, wherever that was.

Soon enough, of course, it became clear that the Coventry was the target, and a look-out described how, even from Nottingham, he could see the glow on the horizon from the fires. He described the sight as "like peas boiling in a pan", which is a pretty evocative turn of phrase. Dave explained that the "boiling" was due to the shock and blast waves from the bombs as they landed.

Well, BFTF certainly found the tour to be very interesting, and hopes that you, dear reader have managed to find a few nuggets of useful information in this summary.

Thanks are due, of course to Dave Needham for taking the time to be involved in the Heritage Weekend.

And thanks are also due, very unexpectedly to Number One and Number 2 sons. When BFTF got home, these two were asked to jot down bullet points of all the things they could remember from the tour. To BFTF's utter surprise the resulting lists were very comprehensive and have been used as pointers and reminders whilst writing this post. Well Done!