DEAR Editor I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the Post was critical of Councillors Compton, Parkin and Smallbone’s comments on the City Council’s Gaza debate.
They were, however, wrong to state that the debate served no purpose – it actually served a very important one – that of improving the parliamentary election prospects of Coun Salma Yaqoob.
Speaking as a Muslim, I actually find it offensive for the Post to assert that because of the “depth of feeling about the loss of life in Gaza among Birmingham’s 150,000 Muslim population” the Council had to discuss the matter and that if it did not “there would have been many hot heads, and others with more evil intent on their minds, ready and willing to portray such a stance as an insult to Islam”.
You make it sound as if we are some kind of lumpen mass who, not understanding the distinction between central and local government, will hold the council to ransom unless we get the discussion (and opinions stated) that we want.
For the record, there are many Muslims in this city who understand the distinction perfectly well and realise that, whatever we think about the Gaza conflict, we do not pay our councillors to pontificate on these matters. Just like everyone else in this city, we contact them because our rubbish has not been collected, our children cannot get into the school we want, or a phone mast is being built on our doorstep.
When we wish to express views on international matters, we contact our MPs (although my Labour MP obviously paid no attention to the views of his electorate when he voted for the Iraq War).
By raising this matter in the Council Chamber, Coun Yaqoob was, of course, seeking to act as a spokesperson for the city’s Muslims (which I can assure you she is not) and generate some publicity for her bid to become Hall Green’s MP. She is quite free to do this in her own time, of course, but I don’t see why she should take up council time in doing so.
It is true that for many Muslims in the city the fact that most Palestinians are Muslim makes this conflict an emotive issue for them. Coun Yaqoob is aware of this and seeks to build her support by galvanising the “Muslim vote” behind her by making it a touchstone issue.
However, I do not think this is a sensible road for us to go down. By emphasising conflicts and issues where Muslims are the victims of oppression and injustice at the hands of non-Muslims, Coun Yaqoob implicitly draws a line between “us” and “them”, which plays into the hands of “hot-heads” and those with “evil intent” you refer to. I do not for a moment believe that Coun Yaqoob has such an evil intent, only that it serves her electoral prospects to tribalise Muslims in this way.
Having this debate may have seemed like “a brave and calculated attempt to address the concerns of a significant proportion of the city’s population” but in fact it was just another example of good old fashioned politics, with a self-interested politician using the Council Chamber as a forum to mobilise her core vote.
It’s not the first time it’s happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but please don’t credit it with being anything more than that. The only example of bravery in this saga has been on the part of Couns Compton, Smallbone and Parkin, who spoke the truth when others dared not to.When commenting on such matters in the future, I would ask the Post to remember that Coun Yaqoob and her supporters do not speak for Birmingham’s Muslim population (itself a diverse group), they are simply the ones who shout the loudest. A paper that serves such a diverse city should not resort to such lazy generalisations.
Raja Khan, Stockland Green, Erdington
Most improved school in the country should have got a mention
Dear Editor, I was astonished and seriously dismayed by your article “Challenge schools fall after exam grades boost” (Thurs Jan 15), in which you show that Birmingham has reduced its National Challenge schools from 27 to 20.
I feel for Frankley Community High and Kings Norton High with their very low GCSE scores, and I congratulate the five schools currently taking on Academy status who have increased their GCSE A*-C including English and Maths results very slightly - Sheldon Heath, Shenley Court, St Albans, The College High and Harborne Hill who increased to just under 30%, plus the Academy, Heartlands High which actually got to 30%.
But why is Perry Beeches Technology College not mentioned?
We are the most improved school in England.
Our GCSE A*-C including English and Maths results went up from 21% to 51%.
That’s almost double the best those other schools managed - it is a nearly 150% improvement on our previous best!
Perry Beeches, School Governor
Victoria Square not
for BBC big screen
to be placed
Dear Editor, The matter of our public broadcasting facility, or BBC big screen, has reared its ugly head again, as the City Council makes another attempt to get it working, following the injunction slapped on it last year.
The interesting detail we find out recently is that the BBC deny any involvement in determining the location of the facility and state that it is solely a matter for the council to decide, as all that the BBC is concerned with is the content of the broadcast.
This position of the BBC reveals a disparity to what the city’s Chief Executive, Stephen Hughes, represented to me in correspondence in January 2007 when he made it clear that it was the BBC who were not happy with any other locations that had been suggested, other than Victoria Square, as the foot-fall came nowhere near that of this prestigious city square.
Mr Hughes made a great play that it would be good for the city’s image, as at major public broadcasting events the cameras would pan out across the assembled crowds and all around the country, they would see the delights of Birmingham’s architecture.
That is to say, its Victorian architecture, in the guise of the former Central Post Office, the Town Hall and the Council House – all splendid essays in neo-classical pastiche.
So, who is it that wants it to go in Victoria Square? Certainly none of the organisations who have a long term desire to maintain the city centre as a treasured place for inhabitants and visitors alike. And seemingly not the BBC!
The simple fact of the matter is that Victoria Square is not the appropriate location for this facility to be placed.
The Victorian Society is not against the provision of such a facility, just that it should be suitable to its location and we maintain that Centenary Square is the ideal place for the screen to be placed.
The footfall here cannot be that much less than Victoria Square and if the BBC is not concerned as to where the screen is located, it comes back to the City Council who are pushing for it to go in Victoria Square – and they are applying to themselves for permission to do it.
Centenary Square would provide an ideal location and (if it is so important) panning across the spectators would show Baskerville House, the Hall of Memory and the former Birmingham Municipal Bank building – all good examples of twentieth century Birmingham architecture.
I guess the only downside to this proposal is that it would show John Madin’s Central Library – a testament to another time when Councillors railroaded plans through, without a care for public opinion, with the resultant loss of our fine Victorian Central Library.
Don’t they ever learn?
Vice Chairman The Victorian Society
Birmingham & West Midlands Group