Can you be politically active and religious?

I recently spoke to a journalist who was berating a Sikh UKIP supporter because he believed the party’s policies went against Sikh values. This got me thinking – is it possible to support a political party if you’re religious?

Many, if not most, politicians will lend themselves to a particular faith, but how religious they are is down to personal perspective. When they follow a party, I wonder if their faith plays a part in who they decide to support…

We often hear the government say we’re a Christian country (especially after growing allegations of radicalisation). The British constitution was developed at a time when faith meant a lot and the men who ran the land claimed to be God fearing. So whether we realise it or not, religion has – directly or indirectly – influenced modern day policy.

But can you be both politically active and religious?

I am born into a Sikh family, I went to a Catholic school, and have grown up with Church of England, Hindu and Muslim friends. So I have had some exposure to a multitude of faiths. I don’t consider myself ‘religious’ per se, but I do believe in God and the fundamental principles of Sikhism, which include equality – a phenomenon advocated 500 years before the anti-discriminatory act we now have in the UK – voluntary service (charity) and making an honest living (working). I suppose the latter could make me more inclined to support the Tories who advocate working and discourage benefits culture. But I don’t agree with everything the Conservatives stand for.

Likewise I don’t agree with all Labour or Liberal Democrat policies – UKIP doesn’t even come into the equation for me – but I do support elements of each party, such as boosting entrepreneurship, supporting first time buyers, getting rid of tuition fees.

I work in news and there is a buzz in the office as we run up to the elections. I asked colleagues whether they thought it was possible to practice a faith and be politically active. The majority responded ‘yes’; because you would support a party that, generally – and this is the crucial part – generally reflects your views, not necessarily wholly (pun not intended!)

And speaking generally, regardless of whether you follow a faith or not, maybe you are swayed to one party more than another because you agree with the majority of what they advocate.

And that’s a probable likeness of the electorate – they agree with a mixture of policies from all the political parties but one party may, overall, best reflect how that person believes the country should be run. I guess that’s where you would think a coalition would help bridge the gap but when one party has an overriding majority, a coalition seems to mean very little.

The 2015 elections will be exciting – to say the least – because for the first time, in a long time, a coalition is almost determined. To me, that proves none of the major parties reflect what the electorate wants. Or maybe their policies on certain issues – like security and immigration – are loosely the same but fluffed with rhetoric.

So where does that put people who feel policies are a mockery of their faith? Or maybe they don’t realise it and simply vote for what they think is best for the country.

I suppose the only firm conclusion I can make is that it isn’t fair to judge a person’s religious integrity by their political persuasion, because I doubt anyone could be fully in support of a single party’s policies. Moreover, no party fully reflects a single religion. Thus, people will support the party that is closest to their personal views, be they religious or otherwise.

The farce that was Trojan Horse

This week MPs criticised an investigation in which five Birmingham schools were being accused of Islamic extremism. The Education Committee has concluded the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal was baseless…not surprising when the ONLY evidence was an anonymous letter mentioning one school.

This one letter led to five major inquiries. That is all it took to stir national panic. The letter could’ve been from a disgruntled ex-employee, supremacist or even someone with mental health issues.

It has caused a huge expense to the taxpayer for officers to investigate five schools in the city where staff must’ve felt ridiculed and their livelihoods at risk, students academia affected, their parents unnecessarily panicked…all over one anonymous letter!

I’d be livid if I were a GCSE student whose education would’ve been setback, or even the parent of a student who would be stressing over the alleged damage caused to my child by so-called extremist school agendas.

In one case, the schools watchdog, Ofsted, had downgraded a school within a month of calling it ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Failing’ – why did alarm bells not ring as to how Ofsted could get their ratings so very wrong.

For those schools and parents affected, their confidence in the Department of Education (which was run by Michael Gove at the time…) and Ofsted have been stigmatised. Sentiment in Birmingham is that there was a witch-hunt against schools that are in largely Muslim populated areas. Schools that, by Ofsted’s own admission, were performing so well were tarnished due to groundless allegations.

Terrorism, radicalisation, extremism – these words have been hitting the headlines virtually every day since 9/11. Terrorist profiling has been an inevitable consequence. Terrorists are often branded as young, bearded, Muslim men dressed in traditional attire, or young women wearing a headscarf. The other day I was watching the BBC News at 6 in which the top story was about a Muslim teacher – pictured clean-shaved – who had been radicalised – then pictured with a beard. It is such profiling that is causing fear and prejudice in society.

I wrote about this recently when I questioned whether terror was skin deep. Trojan Horse is another such example of fear perpetuated largely on face value at schools where there are an overwhelming majority of Muslim pupils.

Such inquiries and profiling are further marginalising a large community in Britain – the Muslim community. People who are going about their daily lives are feeling under the microscope constantly, their every move monitored and anything they do or say being taken out of context.

I have such endless conversations with my friends – Muslim and non-Muslim – and sadly the only conclusion I can come to is that we will be continuing such conversations for a long time yet.

Making a difference: donating blood

For some time I have been contemplating on donating blood. Three years ago my father was attacked and left with a potentially fatal wound. He lost a lot of blood, crucially because he is diabetic. It was thanks to a blood donor that he is with us today.

For my 30th birthday I have set myself a challenge – 30 new experiences at 30 – a couple of which I have already achieved. A lightbulb moment last night made me decide my third and so I booked an appointment to donate blood.

It was such a straightforward procedure that I felt compelled to blog about it, hopefully inspiring others to follow suit.

One in four of us will need blood in our lifetime – that’s one person in the average family. So in less than a lunch hour, you could be saving somebody’s life.

I was advised to eat regularly before the appointment, get a good nights kip and avoid alcohol. First off you’re asked lots of routine questions and a nurse tests you for anaemia. If you test positive you can’t donate because it would be harmful to you.

A pinprick in my finger and blood was ejected into a solution. If it sank we were good to go. But in my case, it just stayed floating at the top. At this point I was heartbroken because I thought I would be unsuccessful in my quest. But the nurse reassured me that there could be an issue with the solution so she took an additional test.

Hey presto! Not only was I not anaemic; but my iron count was better than the average man! (Get in!)

In all this time I was encouraged to drink plenty of water/squash. And off I went to the seating area, next in line to lye on the reclining chair for almost a pint of blood to be sucked out of me.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the range of donors – from gender, age and ethnicity – people from all walks of blood donationlife were there to donate blood. And they all looked like regulars!

After a few minutes I was called up. I was advised that it shouldn’t take more than a quarter of an hour depending on the individual. And also, you should move your legs and thrust your pelvis throughout for the blood to continue circulating – you can imagine I was having a whale of a time thrusting!

I won’t cotton wool it – the needle is huge. I mean it’s very thick and it does hurt when they inject you – especially when the circulation was going low so the nurse was jerking the needle around. More discomfort than pain actually.

While this is going on I’m lying back, watching TV while kicking my legs around and thrusting my pelvis – what a scene (thankfully I wasn’t with a friend who would undoubtedly have taken embarrassing pictures!)

Ten minutes in and we’re done. I’m 470ml of blood lighter, with a light head. I’m directed to the refreshments area where they provide hot and cold drinks, crisps, biscuits, chocolates, cereal bars and fruit. I was advised to avoid hot drinks as it was my first time, and to avoid any strain on the arm from which blood was taken.

I sat there for another 5-10 minutes and was on my way – a very productive lunch hour that made me feel humble and grateful that hopefully I would’ve helped someone in need.

If you’re inspired, you could book an appointment online or just drop in to your nearest blood donation centre.

It really is the simplest noble act I have ever done.

Is terror skin deep?

Walking in to work I am prompted to show my ID. Even those who have worked here for decades and present local TV and radio programmes are instructed to prove their identity when entering the building. The fatal attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris has left news organisations around the world feeling vulnerable. Suddenly, acts of terror feel closer to home than they ever have before. But what impact does this have on the average British Muslim trying to go about their daily life?

One of my best friends is Muslim and she wears the headscarf, or hijab, as well as the shoulder to toe loose-fitted garment, called the jilbab. I have grown up with personal and family friends wearing such traditional attire, so it isn’t something that stands out to me. However, after 9/11 I felt a palpable difference in how I was acknowledged in public when I was with her, or any other Muslim friend wearing a hijab. A few years later these attitudes seemed to dwindle. But more recently the attitudes are re-emerging.

Commonly, these are demonstrated through fearful or angry stares, people keeping a distance and sales or services staff showing the cold shoulder or arrogance. And all this because one of us is wearing a hijab.

What hasn’t helped is the growing attention on young Muslim women becoming radicalised. Namely, the three east London girls Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum who flew out to Turkey allegedly to head on to Syria. This has left people like my friend feeling more vulnerable in public and feeling discriminated against.

And it’s not just Muslim women. Anybody who appears to be Muslim is often tarnished with the same brush. I have relatives and friends who wear a turban and they are compared to Bin Laden. Of course it’s down to ignorance of faiths or just lack of education, but it is worrying that such stereotypes exist in a ‘modern’ western world where religious education is compulsory in the national curriculum.

It may seem like a crude comparison but it frustrates me that so much media attention is given to anti-Semitic attacks yet there is little, if any, recognition of how Muslims, or Asians in general, are feeling the side-effect of terrorism: hate crime and discrimination.

I work in the media yet agree the media has a large role to play in stereotypes. But are we all that naïve and impressionable? Can we not judge characters in a rational, mature manner?

Ironically, it is these very prejudice attitudes that are aiding radicals to fuel their fire and infiltrate extreme views into those who have experienced discrimination. Hate is the biggest cause of terrorism. And singling people out based on their appearance is hate!

We aspire to live in diversity and multiculturalism, yet we view anyone ‘different’ with fear or anger.

Grow up Britain. Not every Muslim is a radical; likewise not every White person is fascist.

The enemy within

Today was a black day for France and journalism.

The cold-blooded, unexpected and unprovoked killing of cartoonists at the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and two police officers, has stunned the nation. Such a bold attack by men who spoke fluent French and are thought to be French natives has reiterated a fear in the West – how do you deal with the enemy within?

Admittedly, I appreciate the frustration satire can evoke. As a Sikh, if one of my Guru’s was mocked in satirical animation, I would be angry. But not to the extent that I would condone revenge attacks, let alone murder!

As a journalist, I am fully in support of freedom of speech. Journalism has no bounds in creativity and producing thought-provoking material. And even if you don’t agree with what is being published, nobody deserves to be killed for satire.

The motivation of the attack has been to intimidate the media and to shackle freedom of speech. Ironically, I believe it has only strengthened journalistic prowess and determination. The mass support for Charlie Hebdo the world over is testament to this.

Journalists have long been attacked, ridiculed and hated. As such, they’re probably seen in the same light as politicians. But one thing is for sure, if there were no journalists (and I’m not saying they’re all honourable but I believe the majority are) how would we hold people to account? How would we learn about news the world over? How would we gain different perspectives of an argument? How would we educate and be provoked to think?

One thing is for sure – fear of terrorism is at its peak. Acts of terror range from mass scale, such as 9/11, which shook the world and transformed travel protocol, to amateur attacks by individuals who go on an angry rampage, such as the recent case in Canada. In between, there are calculated, well-planned acts involving sophisticated weaponry, such as the attack today.

I doubt Paris will sleep tonight in fear of the attackers who are on the run. Crucially, will they attack again? Moreover, will there be reprisal attacks on French Muslims who have nothing to do with this but may be scapegoated in this so-called jihadi war.

Yet, when I went to Paris last year I admired the multicultural mix of the city. People of all faiths, practising and non-practising, were living in solidarity. I hate to think how fear and anger from today’s events will impact the otherwise peaceful people of Paris.

Could journalism come to the rescue to prevent further social upheaval? After all, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Will women ever receive equal footing to men?

A certain video has gone viral in the last week and been the talk of South Asians across the world. The video in question features a particular ‘Deepeh’ and his friend who have received heroic status on social media. The woman in the video, on the other hand, has been branded a slut. All three participated in the same act so why the stark contrast in how they are being judged by society?

It absolutely sickens me that the guy who filmed the intimate liaison in a hotel room decided to share it online. Allegedly the girl had no idea he was going to do this. Personally, I believe it was naïve and downright stupid of her to allow any kind of filming to go on. Let’s face it, when it comes to sexual photos or videos it’s not long before they’re leaked, be it deliberately or not.

But this chap shared the video online himself. He was gloating with pride at his actions – a shame he doesn’t realise he is possibly the scariest thing I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing!

I’m no one to judge what people get up to behind closed doors. In fact you’d be surprised at what the most innocent looking on the streets could get up to in the privacy of the bedroom. But keep it private. Why share it? And that too in the age of the internet where videos can go viral worldwide in minutes?

Apart from the stupidity of the three involved in the making of the video, the biggest shock has been the reaction of people online. Overnight, Deepeh and his mate have become idols and gained kudos. However, the woman has been identified, her identity shared and she has been slaughtered with taunts that would scar her and her family forever.

in the 21st Century, where equality is seen as a basic human right and most people in the developed Western world are literate (or at least received some sort of schooling) I am stunned at the sexist, patriarchal and chauvinist views that are rife in men AND women. And these are no different to views shared by social media users in the East.

So it seems no matter whether you’re from the developing or developed world, views and opinions on the equality of women have failed to evolve.

Will women ever be considered equal to men? Will they always be accused of dishonour and shame when there is always a man involved as well but he will escape being a social scapegoat?

I recently wrote about whether women are to blame for sexual attacks, which is commonly thought in South Asia. But this week’s viral video proves the opinion is widespread the world over, regardless of socio-economic status, education or exposure to the modern world.

For a guy to share such a video and gloat – what does that say about his upbringing? His lack of respect for women must’ve been nurtured and not nature because not all men are like that. I wonder how he would feel if his sister was exposed in such a way.

It amazes me that people will take drastic actions like sharing intimate videos online, without considering the consequences. It’s not just the three involved that have been affected. Imagine what the families of each of them must be going through.

Thankfully, a recent legislation has made it illegal for revenge porn to be shared. Hopefully, this will be a deterrent for bitter or jealous ex-lovers to expose their past partners when they were intimate.

Unless you’re a Kim Kardashian who has no route to fame other than a sex video, I’m sure no woman would want her private life branded as entertainment and to be judged by a prejudiced society.

New Year, new start…or is it?

Over the festive period there is a build-up of excitement – Christmas, holidays and the New Year. We talk of new resolutions and fresh starts, but do we actually turn a new leaf or drag the past with us?

I’m a firm believer in positivity – negative attitudes are such a turn-off. But even I find it difficult to let go of some past experiences that have hurt or angered me. I try to see the positive in every situation. I seek to find what I have gained or learnt from an experience that would otherwise be seen as upsetting or sad. But is it human nature to cling on to some aspects of the past even when you know it’s best not to?

I’m short tempered – which a lot of you reading this may have experienced the wrath of (!) but a lot of the time I lose it when I am passionate about something. Granted, that’s not the best excuse to justify my anger but I’d rather be passionate than indifferent or unenthusiastic.

This outburst often occurs when I haven’t let go of a situation that has evoked negative emotion. I think many girls are guilty of this (and many guys but they have a different way of expressing it). Us ladies fall foul of not raising concerns at the time and let them simmer at the back of our minds. Over time, these thoughts are exacerbated by other situations, which may or may not be relevant but by that point we have reached an irrational state of mind because of the overflow of simmering thoughts.

It sounds ridiculous and easily avoidable. All you have to do is speak your mind, communicate and explain your feelings rather than boiling up internally. But so many of us do it I can’t help but wonder whether its human nature.

Maybe we do it so not to hurt another person’s feelings (which is ironic because ultimately an outburst will hurt the other person anyway). Maybe we do it because we’re too lazy or afraid to have the conversation or consider the consequences. Or maybe we just ignore it thinking time will heal.

The fact is things can only change for the better if we take action. We can only turn over a new leaf if we make the effort. There can only be a new start if we communicate our feelings.

I’m hoping 2015 will be the year where I put these words into action and either let go of my thoughts with conversation, or let go of them altogether.

Who would’ve thought Disney could pen lyrics that could affect all ages!

Let it go, let it go…

Happy New Year!