After Steven Emerson of Fox News’ “Muslim-only city” comment received great backlash, Emily Marsay, having come from Birmingham herself, reflects on the cities brilliant multiculturalism.
On the evening of 21st January, this came up on my news feed: “You heard it here first guys. American experts live on FOX news explaining how Birmingham UK is a Muslim city and that non-Muslims do not go here… Words escape me.”
I too was lost for words, at first. ‘Laughable’ was one that sprang to mind, ‘Expert? Really?!’ another two. Having gone through a Catholic primary and secondary school education just 15 minutes from Birmingham city centre for a total of 12 years, it was hard to believe that as it turned out, I was actually a Muslim. How did I not realize for so long?
The backlash from Birmingham friends ranged from the outraged: “Can’t believe they have the audacity to call him an expert. Ridiculous,” to the hysterical, with good old Mobeen from Small Heath on Youtube: “Finally fam, finally we did it bro: Birmingham is OFFICIALLY a Muslim country, after years of hard work sending bare manz from the Asian subcontinent over here.”
But it soon transpired that this wasn’t just local indignation: as a country we united, affronted, against the poorly researched and unbacked statements made by Steven Emerson, an American terrorism commentator.
The link to the Fox News clip was being reposted everywhere I turned on social media: it was shared as part of the backlash on twitter, with #FoxNewsFacts trending as people inventing humorous “facts.” It received 689,000 views and counting; it was even posted into group conversations of mine by people who had never been to Birmingham, but who all shared in the feeling of outrage that came from the sub-standard reporting, with some even deeming it akin to propaganda.
The nation responded with a Change.org petition. 3200 signatures were collected overnight, demanding that Fox News issue an on-air “apology to the people of Birmingham UK, for saying non-Muslims cannot enter our beloved multi-cultural city.” It became apparent that this broadcast said a lot more about the credibility of Fox Broadcasting than the inclusivity of the city of Birmingham.
Having lived near Birmingham my entire life, I have been witness to remarks ranging from flippant by classmates to more serious concerns by adults, surrounding the changing demographic of our city. Comments such as “On our road, so many foreign families have moved in that my family are now in the minority.” So what are the facts?
Census data from 2011 indicated 22 per cent of the population of Birmingham identified themselves as Muslim. That’s a good 78 per cent less than the expert of Fox News proposed – and unsurprisingly, upon reviewing the matter, presenter Jeanine Pirro concurred that: “We could find nothing that indicated Birmingham is a so-called no-go zone.”
Yes, the number of Muslims in Birmingham has increased drastically over the past two decades, but so too has the number of people from other religions. In research conducted by the University of Manchester, Birmingham is believed to become Britain’s second plural city, where no ethnicity forms a majority, by 2024.
What is my response? The UK as a country is becoming more culturally diverse. Not just by Muslims, but by all religious denominations. When people express dissatisfaction with the increase of Muslims in Birmingham, this is an opinion shaped by the media agenda, which focuses attention on the increase of people that could become radicalised or become a danger to society. It is an opinion that people such as Steven Emerson kindle and keep aflame, to keep ratings high, fear rife and their area of ‘expertise’ firmly in the news agenda. This is made clear in his Fox interview, as he states that the failure of governments such as our own to take action against ‘no-go’ zones “fosters the perpetuation of radicalised generations of Muslims.” What is instead fostered is an uncomfortable feeling of fear and intolerance among those unfortunate enough to take such reporters’ words as truth. The rise of UKIP illustrates the ability of politicians to play on this anxiety, and use it to their advantage.
What people need to realize is that it’s not just an increase in people who practice Islam, but a diversification of culture from people who practice Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and more, that is causing the change in demographics being brought to our attention. Far from endangering our freedom, such diversity enriches our society. Statistics can be manipulated in dangerous ways. It is wrong to assume that the increase in Muslims in cities such as Birmingham is indicative of them becoming ‘no-go’ zones for those who do not subscribe to a particular religion, rather it is indicative of the increase in openness, increase in diversity and tolerance of these cities. An unexpected and much-needed effect of Fox News’ broadcast was to unite Birmingham and the rest of our country in being proud of this tolerance and diversity, rather than being concerned about it.
It takes something outrageous to be the wake-up call we need, to prompt us to realize that maybe we’ve been looking at a situation from the wrong perspective. People would snigger under their breath at the child with an unorthodox name such as Latisha before Katie Hopkins came along and we all united against her bigotry and realised discriminating against any child because of their name is wrong. We mocked ‘chavs’ before Owen Jones came along with his No.1 Bestseller and made us realize that the term demonizes the working class. It took Nigel Farage to come along before we realized our statements about ‘becoming the minority on our own street’ weren’t constructive observations, and that we should instead embrace our multiculturalism before it’s taken away from us.
The very people who are scared about ‘becoming the minority’ are the same people being less inclusive of said minorities. I’m proud to say that within a decade Birmingham may become a plurality. I don’t want to be the ‘majority’ if the people who make up that majority feel they have an intrinsic claim to be entitled to ‘more’ of our country than those of a minority heritage.
Having taught Maths and English to children in the inner-city, a highly multicultural area in Birmingham of King’s Heath, I have noticed that the children I teach don’t see colour. They are curious and ask intelligent questions about religion. When Priya is being quieter than usual, her friend Billy will explain that it’s because it’s Ramadan, that we’ve got to be understanding of her being hungry or tired. When it’s time to celebrate Eid, children of all religions will all make cards together out of colourful materials in the creative zone, which they will then give to each other, and to lucky staff like me. Different parents will bring in boxes of chocolates for Christmas, Easter, Eid and Diwali, celebrating each of their happiest times of year with us.
Multiculturalism is about sharing, learning and celebrating a richness of culture with each other, not about exclusivity. The 5 year olds who work and play together at my after-school centre have taught me more about this subject than I could ever teach them.
Emily Marsaybookmark me