Working together to foster integration
Dear Editor, Following the Bishop of Rochester’s comments about ‘no-go areas’ in our cities, I was one of eight Birmingham clergy living in predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods who signed a letter to The Birmingham Post which was featured in two articles and an editorial (January 11).
I am writing to express my unhappiness at how our letter was reported. Even with so much coverage, our letter (of less than 600 words) was never quoted in full. One sentence was focused on to the exclusion of other significant parts, which were either left out completely or hardly mentioned.
For the record, I would like to re-state here the substance of our letter that was either missed out or mentioned only in passing:
We recognised and affirmed the significant support that we as Christian clergy receive from our Muslim neighbours, and especially Islamic religious and civic leaders who value strongly our presence as worshipping Christian congregations. We are glad to be working with these and other leaders to foster genuinely mixed neighbourhoods with real integration between different communities.
While acknowledging that there have been incidents in which members of our congregations have been made to feel unwelcome, we attributed these incidents to anti social behaviour rather than Islamic extremism. We also mentioned the racism suffered by Asian and Black people in our city. We condemn all acts of this nature.
We did not, as your lead article reported, "call on White, Sikh and Hindu" people to consider returning to our areas as a "quick fix" solution. We only appealed to "fellow Christians", and we are encouraged by those who have come back or indeed resisted pressures to move away.
We recognise, of course, that there are no "quick fixes"; our commitment is long term. I appreciate your commitment as a newspaper to the social welfare of our city, and thank you for setting the record straight.
Rev Dr TOBY HOWARTH
St Christopher’s Church, Springfield
Inter Faith Adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham
Here's the original letter from the clergy in full:
No go areas? A view from some Birmingham clergy
Writing as clergy living and working in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham, we would like to share some reflections on the debate, which we welcome, begun by the Bishop of Rochesterís comments published last Sunday.
Firstly we want to affirm that in all of the predominantly Muslim areas of our city, there are Christian congregations committed to being present and engaging with their neighbourhoods in love and obedience to Jesus Christ. While we are concerned that there is a tendency for some of these areas to become increasingly self contained, we do not yet recognise the phrase, ëno-go areasí in the sense of neighbourhoods in which we as clergy feel unsafe to walk about in or to visit.
There have been incidents in which members of our congregations or others have been made to feel unwelcome, sometimes even with violence. However, these incidents are not, as far as we can tell, motivated by Islamic extremism. They are, rather, examples of anti social behaviour of a kind which unfortunately is growing in many areas of our country.
Similarly, where elderly White people feel sometimes pressured to move or sell their homes, the motivation is not an Islamic ideology but rather the desire of people to buy houses near to family and friends. We are very aware of other, predominantly White areas of the city in which Asian and Black people who we know have experienced racism and been made to feel unwelcome as well.
We also want to recognise the significant support that we receive as clergy from our Muslim neighbours, and especially many Islamic religious and civic leaders who value strongly our presence as worshipping Christian congregations. In some recent incidents, it has been Muslim friends in particular who have been on to the police to address the problems and bring the perpetrators to justice. On Good Friday, we hold an ecumenical ëWalk of Witnessí around the area and talk with many local people as we are walking. The overwhelming reaction that we find is one of support and friendly encouragement. Sometimes Muslims tell us we should be out on the streets more often!
There is a real and urgent issue for our city of ethnic, religious and economic separation that has been noted by, for example, Trevor Phillips. We are very concerned at the number of Christians as well as Sikhs and Hindus who are moving out of our neighbourhoods, which is the main reason that they are becoming increasingly Islamic in character.
We, along with other religious and civic leaders are committed to working for neighbourhoods in which our children are able to grow up in genuinely mixed areas where there is real engagement across the different communities. We also call on fellow Christians to consider prayerfully the challenge of moving back into our areas in humble, confident discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ, who as we have been celebrating this Christmas, ëmoved into our neighbourhoodí out of love for all people.
The Revd Dr Toby Howarth, St Christopher, Springfield
The Revd Henriette Howarth St Christopher, Springfield
The Revd Peter Smith, Christchurch, Ward End. Area Dean Yardley and Bordesley Deanery
The Revd Lorraine Dickson, Deanery Missioner
The Revd John Self, St John, Sparkhill
Fr Barry Smart, All Saints, Small Heath
Rev Simon Cartwright, St Margaret, Ward End
Fr Allan Townsend, St Saviour, Saltley.
The importance of Digby
Dear Editor, In November last year, a UK Trade and Investment delegation (including companies from Kidderminster and Derby) visited Wuhan in China to promote British business. It was led by Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham. From all reports the visit was a great success.
What might interest your readers is that the promotional brochure produced for this important Chinese business region had pictures (both on the front and the back covers) of Selfridges: in Birmingham. Why does that matter? Because Wuhan is twinned with Manchester.
That story illustrates Digby’s importance to our city. Wherever and whenever he can he is banging the drum for Brum abroad, and that is why I was sorry to read John Duckers’ snide digs at Digby (Why Labour is falling out of love with Baron Jones).
It is not as if there was anything new in what Mr Duckers had to say. He recycled old stories and based his comments on “reports from inside” and unnamed “cynics”. It was tabloid journalism of the laziest kind – and to what purpose?
Digby of course, like any politician, has his faults, but he is the best ambassador for this city around the world by miles. He will apparently be in India, China, Algeria, Morocco and Malaysia in the next few weeks. Every time he is on television or reported he is billed “Lord Jones of BIRMINGHAM” and you can be sure he will be selling his home town whenever he properly can. How many thousands of pounds would Marketing Birmingham have to spend to get that kind of exposure for us?
Digby is broad-shouldered enough to take this kind of gratuitous criticism from John Duckers but it does us no good as a city. The credibility of the Post is such that it reaches out to Parliament and Whitehall and beyond: and London and overseas observers must be as bemused and saddened as I am when Birmingham’s most high-profile advocate is slagged off in this way … without any obvious trigger or justification for it.
JOHN JAMES, Director, InTandem Films Plc
A blow to social mobility
Dear Editor, The news that New Labour is to withdraw funding from second degrees is a further blow to social mobility.
It will make no difference to the rich, whose children will be able to afford tuition fees, but will bar the working and middle classes from study.
At a time when government policy has damaged the quality of the first degree, a second degree is vital for career progress. Unless this decision is reversed only the rich will be able to gain top jobs.
If the argument is that the money will be put into widening access to first degrees, then the Government should be looking to those critics, like the Director General of the CBI, who complain that graduates lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The plan does not just have bad social effects, it is electorally damaging.
When the aspirant working and middle classes realize that Brown’s government is reducing the chances of their children getting top jobs, there will be an electoral backlash.
Tony Blair, for all his faults, realised the electoral importance of aspiration.
Does New Labour under Brown have no idea of the electoral effects of their policies?
TREVOR FISHER, Stafford
Households grow faster than homes
Dear Editor, Your recent article on new housing quotas completely misrepresents how the Government is working with West Midlands Regional Assembly (West Midlands told to find space for 420,000 homes, Post Jan 9).
It is nonsense to suggest the Government rejected the Assembly's proposals. I made it clear in my letter to the Assembly that I was not pre-empting the public examination.
Our population is ageing and more people are living alone, which means new households are growing faster than new homes. If more homes are not built, house prices will get worse and the next generation will have nowhere to live.
The evidence, and National Housing and Planning Advisory Unit advice, suggests that a higher numbers of homes are needed in West Midlands. My concern is the spatial strategy may be unnecessarily constraining longer-term development which will have implications on the affordability of housing in the region. And this is why I asked the Government Office to commission more information to put to the independent review panel.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Communities & Local Government
Dear Editor, People across Britain must have their hearts in their mouths as they watch the weather this week. Only months after hundreds of householders were flooded out of their homes, their houses are once again under threat from the rain.
How much will it take to make the Government realise homeowners need help? If the floods hit again, their houses will be uninsureable, unsaleable and worthless. More money must be given to develop proper flood defences across the whole of the country. The current piece-meal approach simply pushes the problem from one area to another.
CAROL CHAPLIN, Worcester