Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The City Circle’

All White in Barking

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th May, 2017

InteGreat_BritainLast night I was at the Stratford Picturehouse for a special screening of Marc Isaac’s 2007 documentary,¬†All White in Barking, organised by the City Circle, with which I have been marginally involved for a few years now. The Circle, originally based at Toynbee Hall in Tower Hamlets, provides a safe space for communities to self-critically discuss and debate issues that concern them. According to its founding principles it aims:

i) to empower the Muslim community network to regain the moral and ethical voice of Islam in Britain and to promote this actively in the mainstream British media

ii) To provide a genuine opportunity for strategic alliance building between Muslim and non-Muslim groups

iii) To challenge the belief that there is a conflict between a Muslim and British identity

iv) To channel talent into strategic projects which practically help to put back into wider British society.

All White in Barking 1The City Circle runs a range of outreach programmes, such as feeding the homeless in central London, Saturday schools and regular talks at their new base off the Edgware Road. Currently it is showing a series of films looking at related issues of immigration, integration, race and identity in Britain, “InteGREAT BRITAIN,hence¬†All White in Barking. Though now a decade old, the film still has relevance (by no means only to the borough of Barking & Dagenham) in its exploration of people’s often irrational fears and prejudices regarding other races and religions. Most of it is fly-on-the-wall style reportage, following a small number of central characters, such as the late middle-aged white couple who suddenly find Albanian and African neighbours living on either side and have to be coaxed into having anything to do with them, or the elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor living with his much younger Nigerian “carer”. The dialogue is at times shocking, at others hilarious. At least one of the people featured never faces up to the new multicultural reality and moves to Canvey Island.

When the film was made, there were 12 BNP councillors in Barking & Dagenham. All of them subsequently lost their seats, though I was saddened to see that there is a BNP candidate standing in Dagenham & Rainham constituency in next month’s general election. The BNP wins were a wake-up call not only to the Labour Party that has dominated the area for decades but also to local community organisations, and I believe the situation has improved a lot since then. Barking & Dagenham is, if anything, even more diverse than it was a decade ago, but there does seem to be more interaction between communities, not least among the young. But that does not mean everything is hunky-dory. The central message of¬†All White in Barking¬†is as relevant today as it was back in 2007: confront your inner fears and prejudices, engage with those who are different and open your minds.


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Nick Clegg and Muslim Professionals

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st July, 2008

Nick Clegg was the guest speaker at a meeting held at Abrar House in central London tonight, organised by the City Circle, a group of predominantly young Muslim professionals, delightfully described by former London Mayoral aspirant candidate¬†Fiyaz Mughal as ‘an open circle for open minds’ — a¬†label Nick threatened to co-opt for the Liberal Democrats, if it is not copyright-protected. Nick gave a short presentation (without notes) about some of his fundamental beliefs and current concerns, with the sort of off-the-cuff sincerity that is fast becoming his trademark. Some of the themes were familiar, such as his justifiable claim that ‘politics is broken and needs to be fixed’. More people didn’t vote than voted Labour in the last two elections. He also articulated well the twin anxieties he has sensed while touring the country over the past six months, doing Town Hall meetings: first, the economic anxiety which is leaving many families worried about their short-term future; and second, an anxiety rooted in a feeling of powerlessness, which is dangerous, because it can lead to anger and apathy — a toxic combination.

More than half the meeting was devoted to a question and answer session, which encouraged Nick to speak up for restorative justice (as practised by community justice councils in LibDem-controlled areas, such as Chard in Somerset), more democratic accountability within a decentralised health service, and his newly enunciated policy of tax cuts for the poor, thereby giving them hope that they can change their lives. I particularly liked the robust answer he gave to an interviewer from Islam Channel TV, who asked on camera whether the LibDems are the party that can appeal to all Muslims. Nick replied, correctly and bravely: no; the party does not seek to co-opt various communities in some sort of sectarian struggle, but rather to appeal to individuals who share common values of fairness, tolerance and mutual respect, which can be religious or secular-based.


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