Friday, 27 December 2013

Are you a "Type 1" or a "Type 2" person?

There are plenty of people out there in Nottinghams Muslim community who have tried to encourage their local mosque or community centre to set up programs or events relevant to second and third generation Muslims who have grown up in the UK.

In many cases, there people have been so traumatised by the experience that they have simply given up on being volunteers.

This post aims to look at the breadth of possibilities available to those who wish to make a positive difference to society, and is based on an exasperated comment from a former volunteer asking how to tackle the "local stubbornness and politics" that had hamstrung efforts they had made to organise events at their local masjid in the past.

1) Look into your heart
2) Tackling local stubbornness and politics
3) If at first you face defeat, try again...
4) ..then do something else, no point being a damn fool about things
5) Challenging National Organisations

1) Look into your heart...
Before getting into any detail, dear reader, it is probably a good idea to ask you to read the following two scenarios and look into your own heart to see whether you tend towards being a "Type 1" or a "Type 2" person...

Scenario A:
Imagine you have talked to your local Imam about an urgent social need (homework club for kids / high levels of poverty / need for a youth club / need for a Mums and Tots facility etc)and have offered to do all the legwork and set the event or facility up. All you need is the Mosques approval and support. The Mosque has point blank refused to recognise the issue as something that the Muslim community or the mosque need concern themselves with, or perhaps refused to recognise that the issue is even real.

Type 1 : You really want to do something practical so you keep talking to the mosque leadership periodically, or you ask others to join you in lobbying the mosque committee, or you scale down the project, or talk to a different mosque, or work with another community organisation, or work on a related topic that is acceptable to the mosque

Type 2 : You have been proven right in your view that all mosques are uninterested in acting on urgent social issues. You decide to give up trying to do anything practical and, instead, complain to your friends on Facebook and spend your time circulating conspiracy theory links.

Scenario B:
You are concerned that the US (the UK's closest military ally) has a policy of undertaking "double tap" aristrikes which kill innocent first responders and rescuers - something that is a war crime. You challenge the government on this but receive a poor response, which does not address the issue at all.

Type 1 : You remain concerned about what is being done in your name, and publicise the poor response you have received, or encourage others to challenge their MP, or ask for help from other organisations, or ask your mosque to campaign on the issue.

Type 2 : You have been proven right in your view that no governments or other state organisation will ever listen to anyone. You decide to give up trying to do anything practical and, instead, complain to your friends on Facebook and spend your time circulating conspiracy theory links.

If you are a "Type 1" kinda person then BFTF hopes there is something useful for you in this post

If you are a "Type 2" kinda person then, you may wish to ask yourself whether you are looking to make a difference or whether you are looking for an excuse NOT to make a differnence....

2) Tackling local stubbornness and politics
First thing to say here is that BFTF is a bit rubbish at doing this, being a bit too bolshie for his own good sometimes, and also suffering from a desire to punch people who put politics above doing good.

Fortunately, there are other people in Notingham who do not have these faults and are able to spend the time and effort that is required to build relationships, and hence trust - which can then be used to move community organisations forwards.

A beacon of good practice in this regard is CitizensUK, whose Nottingham presence (which has been eye-poppingly effective in achieving positive change for the city's most vulnerable citizens) had been mentioned in this blog on a number of occasions.

Everything that BFTF has learnt about community organising and overcoming politicla barriers and excuses has come from Citizens. BFTF urges you to have a read of at least some of the posts detailing Citizens work (here, here, here, here, and here.

Relatedly, a brilliant blog post by brand expert Jon Acuff lists the three steps required to get influential people to help you:

1. Be their friend.
2. Seriously, be their friend.
3. Have you been their friend yet? Quit wasting time. Be their friend.

3) If at first you face defeat, try again...
When faced with an organisation that ignores reasonable requests and seems uninterested in moving forwards, BFTF adopts a number of approaches. These may or may not be best practice, but they are what BFTF does:

i) Keep challenging the org every few weeks / months if they said they would do something but are failing to deliver.

ii) Keep a record of how hard it is to usefully engage with the org, perhaps on a blog post (but preferably without naming the org directly, as this is only going to get peoples back up) and send this link to the org to try and shame them into action.

iii) See if another org can help (e.g the Police Domesic Violence Unit for DV issues)

BFTF should probably be asking others to lobby the mosque concerned, but doesn't because BFTF does not want others to have a bad experience in community activism and then give up it entirely.

4) ..then do something else, no point being a damn fool about things
Having said the comments above, there are such things as dead horses that are not worth flogging. And in these cases it can be best to scale down ones expectations.

For example, when foodbanks first began to sprout up in Nottingham, BFTF was very keen that Mosques, and the Muslim community, should be supporting them, which resulted in the following train of events:

i)Engage with orgs representing Muslims in Nottingham as a whole
Problem: Muslim community leadership is dysfunctional, no meaningful orgs exist

ii) Engage with "Communities Group" of City Council who should have contacts with many mosques
Problem : Very poor experience with the Communities Group, unlikely that they will do anything useful in a timely manner.

iii) Engage with mosques across city directly
Problem : No relationship with many mosques, no time to build relationships with so many orgs, just turning up results in potential argument or stonewalling. BFTF recalls a mosque chairman refusing to believe that there was anyone in Nottingham not getting enough to eat. And also two mosques whose Imams/Chairmen said that they had people coming to them directly asking for food, when BFTF asked how they had responded they said, dismissively, that they had not given them anything (yes, of course, silly me for asking)

iv) Work with a few local moques that BFTF DOES have a relationship with
This action, much smaller in scope than originally intended, did actually work! BFTF was also working with Himmah at this point.

5) Challenging National Organisations
BFTF was recently talking to a very good hearted friend and suggesting to them that, even if they felt the government or organisations such as UN were untrustworthy (which is a very reasonable view to take!) that did not absolve one of the responsibility to try and encourage government and companies to do the right thing.

And it is also worth remembering that it was NATO and the UN (not any Muslim country) who stopped the bloodbath in the Balkans. And (at the time of writing) it is UN troops who are offering at least some protection to civilians in South Sudan

People can and do make a difference. You can see that difference at work right now in the way the political parties are fighting to get tough on immigration. In the past it was exactly this kind of action that got civil rights for blacks in the US and South Africa, the vote for women and many other things.

Ain't nothing gonna change unless people campaign for it!

Every one of the charities and NGO's that BFTF has interviewed has said that engaging and challenging companies or governments is something that people need to do. Here are just a few examples of how lobbying has resulted in positive change:

And even just one or two people REALLY CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE, see here for info on how just two compliants got a MailOnline headline changed from "Devout Muslim" to the infinitely more accurate "Heroin Dealer":

Finally, in conclusion, its perhaps going back to the key question.

Are you a "Type 1" person?

Or a "Type 2" person?

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