Tuesday 26 July 2011

Outpourings of Hate must be countered with outpourings of Love

It has been hard to digest the evil that has occurred in Norway last Friday. The madness, the shear horror, the utter cruelty of it all. Anders Breivik has attempted to overturn the peaceful nature of Norwegian society, and unleash a wave of hatred toward all who favour multiculturalism, and violence towards those of other faiths.

He has failed miserably. The Norwegians have reacted with shock, but real dignity. "The answer to terrorism is not more 'security' but more democracy" was the reply of the Prime Minister. One survivor said "If this amount of evil can be done by one man, imagine the good that can be done collectively by those with good intent"

Breivik wants to provoke more hatred - but he has stirred disgust at all who work for violence and evil, and the reaction to his crimes will not be what he had fantasised. His outpourings of hate must be countered with a determined outpouring of love for our neighbours. He is not the future, but a throwback to the sick racism and fascism of the past.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Renewing Liberation Theology

Cheers to all at the Urban Theology Unit (UTU) in Sheffield for a stimulating day looking at the 'renewal of Liberation Theology'. John Vincent, Ian Duffield and many others provided much food for thought, and helped provide an intellectual framework for our own conference in Bradford on the subject in the coming weekend.

The UTU is a profoundly important place for British Liberation Theology, it has been its home for several decades, and has produced the most comprehensive UK based material on the subject. More importantly, it has lived it out, setting up community 'Ashrams', fair trade shops and cafe's and being a home to those on the margins.

Long may the work of UTU continue, and excellent place to study and to learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Watch out for a publication coming out of such a thought provoking set of discussions!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Council leader's sad reaction to the pleas of the children of Bradford

I went to the Bradford Council meeting yesterday, primarily to support the wonderful people of Whetley Hill Resource Centre. But alongside their petition to save their centre, came the petitions to save the three local pools to be closed.

As we got ready to go in, Bradford was stirred by the sound of a class of children from Whetley Hill Primary School. Their local pool has closed, and now, they will have nowhere close or suitable to learn to swim.

They were amazing, chanting and determined. In the council meeting, they pleaded to say some words, and Ian Greenwood was gracious enough to grant them the right to make a short speech. However, as soon as they had left, to get home for teatime, Mr Greenwood made the most outrageous slur. He accused the Tory party and the campaigners of 'Parading' these kids as a political move, and that campaigners should have made the children stay for the full meeting to hear why the pool should close.

These kids were not 'paraded' by anyone. They were not 'being used' by local activists. Their only local pool, in an area with few local amenities, was to close, and they had asked their teachers to help them do something. They were making a heartfelt plea, and to hear how they were dismissed by the council leader was truly awful.

Yes - this mess is the fault of the Tories, but our Labour local authority needs to do all it can to prevent front line services being cut that affect some of the most needy groups of people in some of the poorest parts of the city.

Monday 11 July 2011

The Murdoch Empire continues to crumble.

Finally, politicians, police officers and the public are finally voicing their opposition to the way the Murdoch Empire has run it's business. After the scandals involving Miller Dowler's phone and Gordon Brown's medical records, no longer will Members of Parliament and Prime Ministers cosy on up to the string pullers of fleet street. At least for a while.

Murdoch is poison, and his evil empire has finally lost it's veneer of respectability. Not even the vicious axing of 500 jobs at the News of the World will save the reputation of News International. If anything, it has made people angrier, as we watch Murdoch desperately trying to save allies like Rebekah Brooks by destroying the lives of people who had nothing to do with the illegal practices of their former bosses.

Rupert himself has come in to oversee the destruction of incriminating evidence, and to try and save his precious BSkyB project - all to no avail. He will hang on to Brooks for as long as he can, but I suspect he will drop her if share prices continue to plummet.

The self regulation of the printed media has shown itself to be part of that neo-liberal lie, that we can 'trust' big business to manage its own affairs. People like Murdoch crave power and influence, and finally, we can begin to chip back some of the damage he has done to our society. Media is too important to be left in the hands of big bucks business. It needs to be localised, democratised and above all, accountable to the people. Long may Murdoch's decline continue.

The EDL thugs are not to be dismissed easily.

On Saturday, the English Defence League attempted a new strategy in their attempt to spread fear and Islamophobia. Four regional demos were arranged, in Halifax, Cambridge, Plymouth and Middlesborough. Proposed EDL demos in Liverpool, Dagenham and Derby were called off after local opposition.

Although the EDL numbers were low (450 in Halifax, 200 in Middlesborough; 150 in Plymouth and 350 in Cambridge) it still shows that they are mobile and well organised. They do not look like they are likely to 'fizzle away' as had been hoped. Their next intended target is Tower Hamlets on Sept 3rd, and it will be important to do whatever we can to support 'Hope not Hate', 'Unite Against Fascism' and local opposition to this event.

One of our church members witnessed the violent thuggery of the EDL supporters in Halifax city centre. These people clearly are just going out for a ruck, they are mindless and dangerous, and because of this, they will fail to get wider support for their activities. This does not mean however they are not a danger. For perhaps thousands of young people, they are being socialised into the idea that smashing up a Muslim is a totally acceptable act. They are successfully breeding hate in our country and we must never ignore or belittle the threat they pose to our society.

Saturday 9 July 2011

A death on the doorstep

I awoke with the constant sound of ring tones, unusual on a Saturday morning. Messages on my phone led me to realise things were not well at Desmond Tutu House. I spoke to a resident, and realised that a tragedy had occurred. A body had been found outside at 6.20am, and now a huge cordon was placed around the building.

I raced in as soon as I could, and the PCSO's let me under the police tape. They explained that someone had been found by the wall, in the car park to the 'Treehouse Cafe' annexe. he had been 'found in drink', and the circumstances were apparently not suspicious, with the assumption that it was natural causes.

The increasing number of street drinkers is depressing. Many are from Eastern Europe. They came looking for work, and found only despair and the downward spiral of alcoholism. It is a short, sharp and brutish life. This death is the fourth on our street in 4 years. Two murders and two alcoholics left for dead by their 'friends'.

Our church must find a way of offering some hope to these lost souls, we cannot ignore as Lazarus lies dead on the doorstep.

Thursday 7 July 2011

10 years on from the riots, and Bradford is looking very good!

A decade ago, the far right ignited a night of violence and hatred in our city, and it had a devastating impact on multicultural relationships in the region. I had been studying in Durham at the time, and raced back the following day to see if there was anything to be done. I remembered being involved in the previous rioting in 1995, and knew this would have a lasting social and economic impact on Bradford.

Bradford 10 years later is doing surprisingly well. Last year, when everyone predicted that the English Defence League visit to the city would spark another riot, Bradfordians reacted with determination and restraint. The situation in terms of race relations has certainly improved, and the police have a much healthier relationship to the local Muslim community.

I have been invited to comment in the media about the riots, and there are plenty of 'forums' about discussing the 10 year anniversary. I think some of it is riot 'porn', though mostly I'm sure it is helpful reflection. But, apart from this blog, I've stayed well away from it all. Bradford has moved on, and should not be so associated with the riots. Yes, we have our problems to deal with, especially in terms of education, job opportunities and the health of the local population, but on the whole, we are in a better situation to deal with the issues than we have ever been.

The far right have disintergreted in our city, and instead, it is those who are struggling for a more just and respectful civic life who are winning hearts and minds. I want to celebrate Bradfords people and achievements, and not focus on the mistakes of the past.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Walking with Mark Thomas

For my our ninth wedding anniversary Cat and I couldn't believe our luck - Mark Thomas was performing a show in Bradford! The comedian has a very special place in our hearts because 9 years ago, two days before our wedding, we had walked with him around the American Spybase at Menwith Hill. He is a top bloke, who uses his skills as a humourist to highlight extremely important campaigns.

His books have been on the arms trade, the evils of Coca-cola, and now, recording his travels walking the length of the Israeli Wall, illegally built on Palestinian soil. His show, based on the book 'Extreme Rambling' is hilarious, but more importantly it tells of the plight of the Palestinians in an informative and accessible way. Those of us who have been to the region recognised so much truth in all the comedy. Mark's hatred for the folly of violence is only topped by his hatred of mime artists, clowns and street performers in general. His tale of the 'Martyred' giraffe in a Palestinian zoo was side splittingly funny, yet also said so much about the human spirit. Read the book to hear the story!

My thanks to Mark for doing what he does, and inspiring the rest of us to use the gifts we have for the service of humanity. Even if it is juggling.

Happy Birthday NHS!

Yesterday we had a very special party in Bradford's Centenary Square. It was the 63rd birthday of the National Health Service, formed on the 5th July 1948 by the post war Labour Government. Up and down the country, many of those employed by the service, and many of us who owe it a great deal, got out the streamers and the party hats, and celebrated with style.

Someone had produced a giant cake, and others were giving out sweets to passers by. I've never seen the NHS celebrated so publicly before, and it can only mean one thing. We are waking up to the fact that the ConDem government are on the verge of wrecking it. Their ill thought out reforms are designed to aid the privatisation of the service, adding more competition to the NHS.

A very senior heart specialist resigned today, and was on Radio 4. He had served under 6 different governments, but said that it was the policies of Cameron that made his job impossible, as it was destroying the quality of care that should be offered.

I don't want to see leading NHS practitioners being forced out - I want to see ConDem policies opposed and exposed for what they are. We want the NHS intact for our children's children and beyond. Decent healthcare is the perfect birthday gift for the next generation.

Monday 4 July 2011

Independence from America Day; Menwith Hill

I've just come back from a splendid party over at Menwith Hill, the American Spybase located near Harrogate. Each year on July 4th, a group of peace activists gather to celebrate 'Independence from America Day'. As US citizens rightly remember their struggle against British Colonialism, it is also right that we remember the present struggles against US Imperialism.

The US flag waved proudly at the gatehouse, guarded by British police officers and men with machine guns. This is US soil, on British Land. Not even local Members of Parliament are able to discover what goes on behind those gates, only the US spooks can hope to listen into the vast material gathered from the 30 or so 'giant golfballs', (simply covers for the satellite dishes, disguising which direction they may be pointing in)

From Drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, to bombing raids in Afghanistan and Iraq before that - Menwith Hill is far from innocent. It lies in such an idyllic location, hiding the horrors that are produced from it's intelligence gathering. It is called a listening facility, but listening is too benign a word. It is a facility of power and dominance, a facility of secrecy and destruction.

One day, when British foreign policy does not simply slavishly follow aggressive US empire building, one day we shall have our independence. We will not follow to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will not fuel their weapons industry with the folly of Trident - and this little piece of England will be returned to the beauty of the orchids.

Saturday 2 July 2011

What did you think of the Westfield exhibition?

Today, Westfield completed two days of 'consultation' with the local community. The exhibition in the Midland hotel was perfunctory, but less than inspiring. The new plans are not exciting, but are not an insult. The new scheme is, after all, a shopping centre, not a piece of great architecture.

There is no plan to woo local Muslim businesses, there is no plan to provide multicultural/multifaith space, there are no facilities for young people, there are no green spaces at all. Simply put - it is architecture that does not provide for community.

Nevertheless, when the first bit of work begins, we will need to applaud it, we will probably need to get behind it. There are too many people out of work in this city to knock the only decent chance of improving their prospects.

Yet I think of a shopping centre in Hungary, where instead of a carpark, on the roof was a great garden and children's play space. It is a place I always go back to and it is the most popular shopping centre in Budapest. Why is it not possible to think creatively with our shopping centres? 

Neil McClure from Westfield admitted that the timescale of 'work starting in a year' (T&A local paper) maybe a little optimistic. This is not, after all, a happy time for shop retailers. Maybe we can enjoy our urban garden for a few more years before the walls begin to go up.

I'm torn by it all. So, what did you think of the Westfield exhibition?

Street Angels say goodbye and thanks to the German Church!

Last night may well have been the last shift that the Street Angels operated from the German Church Hall. For 4 years we have worked with the German Church community, and they opened up their facilities for our daring project. Countless young people have been able to come and feel safe after some sort of trauma (last night we helped 3 young Latvian women, one who had severely injured her ankle) and it has been our base for thousands of patrols that have helped make Bradford a safer place.

From next week the police have offered us free space in their new facility in City Hall, and we begin a 3 month trial there. I'm sure it will be great for Bradford Street Angels, but I'll miss the German Church Hall - so many memories!

Bless the little old ladies of the German speaking community, who dared to realise that God had not finished with them yet! The realised that they had possessed a gift for the people of Bradford, and they gave it willingly.

The deepest cuts - defend those with disabilities from our cruel governments!

Yesterday I was invited to the most powerful campaign meeting I have attended in a long time. The moment I entered the Whetley Hill Resource Centre, I was bowled over by the sense of warmth and activity. In Bradford, this has provided a really important community for those with moderate to severe disabilities for the last 35 years.

Purpose built, with dedicated staff, it a remarkable gift to the city. It is well used and well loved by those who depend upon it, but now it is under threat. The local council have decided to cut the provision from March next year, to save a miserly £200,000.

The people who use the service, alongside their carers, sat in a large circle, 40 or so mostly in wheelchairs. They had action plans, petitioning and real gusto! Only one councillor has dared to actually visit the centre, and he has not publicly declared his support, only privately. The first task will be forcing those who want to make this cruel decision to actually see what goes on.

The staff have been told not to speak about it, though 20 of them face redundancy. The council are trying to argue that there is no need for the provision, and that it is under used. The reality is that senior council bosses are delaying and deterring referrals to the centre to try and give that impression.

The job now is to make this campaign visible, on the streets and in the council chambers. Cuts inevitably hit the most vulnerable first, and it is the duty of all of us to defend these vital services. We have a strong moral case, but more importantly, amazing allies. The users of Whetley Hill are not to be pushed around - they will make formidable adversaries for the bullies of local and national government!