Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘oona king’

This article originally appeared yesterday on Open Democracy under the headline ‘The neo-colonial plot to halt Bengalis in Tower Hamlets’. I’m reproducing it here via its Creative Commons Licence.

It is written by Ansar Ahmed Ullah, described on Open Democracy as “a community activist who has lived and worked in the East End of London since the 1980s. He has worked as a youth, social and community worker and has been an active anti-racist campaigner. He is currently involved with the Nirmul Committee, a campaign group set up to challenge the rise of religious fundamentalism.” As a disclaimer, he is also my brother-in-law.

Ansar Ahmed Ullah

Ansar Ahmed Ullah

Following and prior to the recent 12 June Tower Hamlets mayoral election results, it seems some on the liberal and white left are asserting that racism and Islamophobia were at play. But such well-wishers are in fact colluding, appeasing, empowering and encouraging the most right wing, reactionary and corrupt fundamentalist elements of the Bengali/Muslim community in Tower Hamlets. It seems that there is a group of white leftists, trade unionists & Christian faith leaders who would prefer to keep the Bengali community insular, ghettoized and away from the mainstream. They ignore the history of the Bengalis who came to Tower Hamlets as economic migrants during 1950s and 1960s to better their lives and those of their children, and overlook the history of that community’s stand against ghettoization by the GLC in the 1970s.

These self-appointed saviours talk as though the Bengali community is unable to resist racism. They forget how, following Bengali factory worker Altab Ali’s murder in 1978, it was the Bengali community that fought the racists off the streets of the East End  physically almost on a daily basis, dealt with the unannounced arrivals of the National Front and  Combat 18, and later the BNP – without the protection of 3,000 police.

altabalimetpoliceappealFor the Brick Lane Bengali community, who were under constant attack from the racists as early as 1975 – 1976, the murder of Altab Ali in 1978 was a turning point, especially of its youth. It led to their mobilising and politicisation. They began to organise youth groups, community and campaigning groups, linked up with other anti-racist movements and groups. The year 1978 saw the emergence of second-generation Bengali community activists who entered mainstream politics in the 1980s to bring about meaningful changes to their lives.

Defenders of Tower Hamlets First ignore the fact that the Bengali community elected Rushanara Ali to represent them at the House of Commons. They also ignore the large number of Labour councillors (including many Tower Hamlets First councillors who were once Labour councillors). Today Tower Hamlets Council can boast the largest number of elected Bengali councillors in any one borough with a total of 25 Bengali councillors. This didn’t happen overnight.

The community had to struggle within a political process for a long 20/30 years to reach this stage. The Bengali community in the 1980s forged alliances between the first and second generation Bengalis. The second generation’s strength was consolidated in the formation of Federation Bangladeshi Youth Organisations (FBYO) in 1980, a national umbrella body that spearheaded campaigns for better housing, health and education and stood up against institutional racism. The Federation was the first truly national campaigning organisation that made a public representation of Bengali interests and spoke for Bengalis across the borough and nationally. At the same time Bengalis also built alliances with activists outside the Bengali community, such as other ‘Asians’ from Hackney, Newham, Camden, Southall & Bradford, and those from the white majority community of the East End.

As a matter of fact Bengali political activism dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Evidence of the early activism of Bengalis in London can be seen in the formation of organisations such as the Society for the Protection of Asian Sailors in 1857 and the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League in 1943. The Bangladesh Welfare Association was formed in the 1950s, the largest community organisation with a membership of over 40,000. It was activists of the Bangladesh Welfare Association who went on to establish the historic Brick Lane Mosque in 1976. The East London Mosque was built by a very different group of people with outside finance.

As Bengali community activism grew, many activists took prominent roles in community politics. Brick Lane became the center of Bengali activism. Today Brick Lane has become merely a global icon, a branding concept as in ‘Banglatown’ and ‘the curry capital of Europe’.

Supporters of deposed mayor Lufur Rahman and his allies talk about Islamophobia but intentionally or conveniently ignore Islamism, working with Islamists who include those responsible for war crimes and other violence in Bangladesh. Thus these white activists and men of peace are colluding with the most extreme reactionary elements, inspired by fascism and far-right ideology, rehabilitating them and giving them legitimacy.

One such war criminal, who was recently found guilty by a Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal, got a clean slate by a Christian activist with utter disregard for Bangladesh’s judiciary. He called him a man of integrity! A man found guilty of the killings of Bengali intellectuals by aiding the Pakistani military in setting up killing squads. Another Christian faith leader even posed the question ‘What is Islamism?'(!) Far from challenging or distancing themselves from the fundamentalists they are colluding in the name of ‘engaging with neighbours’, for a quick gain of access to large ethnic audiences.

To highlight this point let’s revisit the general election that took place in 2005, when the local Islamists switched sides from the Labour Party and aligned themselves with George Galloway’s Respect Party which came out of the Stop the War coalition, a front organisation of the SWP. The SWP/Stop the War Coalition built up relationships with Islamists during the anti-Afghanistan/Iraq war demonstrations. Galloway used the religious sentiments of the local Bengali Muslim community in the East End of London for his own personal political gain. In his quest to challenge New Labour at the general election, he went into an un-holy alliance with the SWP and local fundamentalists, who went against their fellow Bengali Muslim candidates.

_78799875_shocks_2005_oona-king_george-gallowayDuring the election campaign the sitting MP for Bow & Bethnal Green at the time, Oona King, felt the justified anger of the electorate because of her support for the war in Iraq. Talking to a journalist she said there were other, less legitimate reasons for her unpopularity, too. “When you graft racial stereotypes and bigotry and religious stereotypes on top of everything else…We have a huge amount of Islamophobia in this country, and possibly as a response to that we have a huge amount of anti-Semitism.” Bizarre rumours kept surfacing during the campaign that she wanted to ban halal meat. “And this was on top of the usual, exaggerated Jewish conspiracy theories. A similar thing happened in 2001, when there were rumours spread that I was funded by Mossad…”

The white liberal left leadership has refrained from condemning the Islamists. These whites are themselves showing a colonial mentality and playing a dangerous game of divide and rule by fostering divisions within the community by supporting one section against the other. The community can do without these self-appointed spokespersons for the Bengali community. The 81,000 Tower Hamlets Bengalis can and have looked after themselves without the patronising intervention of white advocates.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Apologies for the lack of posts: I’ve been settling into a new job.

It’s full council tomorrow night and it’s likely that the two commissioners, Sir Ken Knight and Max Caller will be there for a bit of midweek comedy. I’m sure everyone will try to be on their best behaviour but at some point councillors are bound to visit the playground.

One subject which might provoke a reaction is Rich Mix, which is based in what traditionalists call Bethnal Green but which is increasingly known (incorrectly) as Shoreditch.

Rich Mix opened as a £26m arts and cinema centre in 2006 with a specific remit to tap into artistic interests in the Bengali community. From memory, I think it launched with a working display by an artist from Dhaka who was assembling an old car in full view of the public. Art can be a bit like that..

Rich Mix relied on various strands of public funding, including from Tower Hamlets council and the Arts Council. It was very much a Labour project, driven by the likes of Oona King, Michael Keith and Denise Jones…and a certain Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

One of the early board members in fact was a certain Lutfur Rahman when he was cabinet member for culture under Denise. I don’t remember and I can’t find any record of him ever opposing or being critical of the project back then.

I did. The place was a management disaster in its early days. Its business plan was flimsy and it had bosses who loved spending other people’s money.

In fact Rich Mix was the subject of one of my early posts on this blog in 2010 when I quoted an article I’d written for the East London Advertiser in January 2006 about the initial teething problems.

It’s worth reading that piece from nine years ago again because it provides some background for a row that I think will feature tomorrow.

Here’s what I wrote in 2006:

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about the financial viability of a major new national arts centre that is due to open in the East End later this year.

The Advertiser has obtained a secret report revealing that the Rich Mix Cultural Centre, which is being built in Bethnal Green Road, needs extra taxpayers’ help to meet soaring costs. Tower Hamlets councillors have been asked to top up loans to the project and some are now deeply worried the borough’s £3.5m investment in the £26m centre is at risk.

They are angry that costs have spiralled and are concerned more money is being sucked into what could become a huge white elephant draining the public purse for years to come. One councillor has branded the project ‘scandalous’ and a ‘bottomless pit with no proper business plan’. But his claims have been angrily rejected by the centre’s bosses.

The prestigious arts complex, whose board members include former Bethnal Green and Bow MP Oona King, is seen as crucial for the regeneration of the deprived area around Brick Lane. Concentrating on ethnic cultural projects, it will house BBC London, a three-screen cinema, art galleries, a Sunday market place and music and dance studios.

Ms King dubbed it the East End’s ‘very own Tate Modern’ and it is Mayor Ken Livingstone’s flagship arts project.

With most of the six-storey structure completed, designers are currently working on the internal fittings with the centre due to open in the spring. However, the project, run by the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation and funded by backers including Tower Hamlets council, the Arts Council, the London Development Agency and the Millennium Commission, has been dogged by delays and cash problems.

A new management team was put in place last year and since then cost controls have improved markedly, but some councillors still fear a future financial crisis.

It is expected that by the time the centre opens, Tower Hamlets taxpayers will have paid into it some £3.6m. The council has also pledged a further £300,000 to contribute towards the annual £4.6m running costs in the first three years of operation.

Bosses at the centre are currently trying to attract sponsors but if crucial income from the centre’s cinemas fails to materialise, a council loan of £850,000 could be at risk.

In a confidential report for last week’s council cabinet meeting, Chris Holme, head of resources, wrote: “It will take robust cost and income management to prevent the centre falling into deficit on an annual basis.

“Failure to generate levels of income identified will have a significant impact on the sustainability of the centre.”

However, Lib Dem councillor John Griffiths said: “The whole thing makes me want to cry. Because the foundation itself is the accountable body for the project, there’s no proper scrutiny of the spending. They keep coming back to us asking for more money, but I’m really worried we’re walking right into a debt trap here.”

But Nick Kilby, chief operating officer for the centre, described the councillor’s remarks as political posturing. “There are no substance to them at all. This is a well-run project, costs aren’t out of control and there is no crisis. This is a terrifically exciting project and we look forward to persuading the councillor how it will benefit the East End.”

I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix.

I suppose it was inevitable that such a politically driven project would become a political football but there does seem to be something spiteful and illogical in the way that Lutfur’s administration appears to be hounding the organisation to a point where closure is a real risk.

For the past four years, the council has been pursuing legal action (at an undisclosed cost: maybe we’ll be told tomorrow night how much) to try and force Rich Mix to repay that initial £850,000 loan. In that legal process Rich Mix argued it was in fact owed another £1.6million by the council as part of an agreed s106 planning gain fee from a nearby development.

The parties went to court and a judge ruled partly in favour of the council late last year on what some might say was a technicality. Because the wording of the s106 agreement deal was so vague, it was unenforceable.

The upshot is that Rich Mix has offered to repay the £850k in instalments. For whatever reason, Lutfur has demanded it be repaid in one go.

The East End Review, an offshoot of the Hackney Citizen, wrote a decent piece about the issue here.

That article was based on an interview with Rich Mix’s chief executive Jane Earl. Jane is a former chief executive of Wokingham Borough Council who has strong views on good governance. She’s the reason I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix (and I’d have her as one of the Tower Hamlets commissioners).

She’s made Rich Mix sensible, popular and relevant.

The area has changed massively and maybe this part of the problem. As I said, it’s no longer regarded as the old Bethnal Green; this is now hipster country and it will eventually spread into the southern stretches of Brick Lane. Maybe it’s better to embrace and accept than be a bunch of King Cnuts.

Here’s one event that’s worth seeing next month, for example.

Rich Mix

Perhaps Lutfur should attend.

Or perhaps his “cabinet member for culture”, Cllr Shafiqul Haque (another former Rich Mix director when he served under Denise), should go. He’s paid an extra £13k a year on top of his £10k a year basic allowance for doing that job.

But apart from pocketing his cash and posing in the odd photo looking at a book, I have absolutely no idea what he does or what he’s done. I can’t wait to see him explain that tomorrow.

Culture? What culture? Is there actually a council culture strategy?

Here’s a thought for the council: get Rich Mix to write one for the borough. I bet they could easily do it for £850k… .

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: