The group, “United Birmingham”, had arranged a well-organised event in less than 36 hours which attracted dignatories from all over the region, music, speakers and media. At first glance it had the feel of something that had been a number of months in preparation and all credit goes to the organisers for such professionalism.
The event started with some lively music which pumped out into the crowd, involving many youngsters from the local community. A couple of people from the area were the presenters for the occasion who introduced an array of young people from different backgrounds, and ethnic groups, as well as local Faith leaders, and Politicians. All of them were at pains to point out that they were all “united in Birmingham”, that “we all live as one”, we all respect each others, creeds, colour etc. Some of the councillors went to the trouble of starting their speeches by saying “Hello/Welcome” in a few different languages – such was the level of integration and unity.
The high point of the event was the arrival on the stage of Tariq Jahan, the father of one of the 3 that had been killed, and other family members of the 2 other men. It was a moving occasion, and Abdul Qudoos stuggled to speak through his raw emotions, and was comforted by the other men on the stage. A truly human occasion that was felt in the heart of those who watched and cared.
Earlier on in the timetable, it was announced that there was due to be an Islamic recital from 2 Pakistani men; then it turned out that they had not arrived. The presenter made a jokey quip about Pakistani timing. He had clearly been reprimanded by someone, as later on he had to apologise profusely for this remark which some had found offensive. He back-tracked significantly, and pointed out that he had some Pakistani blood in him – a man from the audience shouted out “It’s true”. Other people later on in the show were at pains to point out that their ethnic grouping was also bad at time-keeping. Not convincing.
There was some disquiet from the Muslim community that the music at the beginning of the event was disrespectful to Islam. Mr Jahan intervened at this moment, highlighting that there were not many options for Islamic music, and for the second time within a week, appealed for calm.
A special T-Shirt had been printed for the day containing the names of the 3 men that were murdered. A group of 20 or so Muslim youths stood together, with the black version, “gang like”, staring into the crowd. As one of the family members made his way through the crowd the group followed him, as if, to protect him.
Whilst I was moved during some parts of the occasion, I also felt slightly uneasy that everyone seemed to be trying too hard to re-inforce the message about unity. When wholesome young people were being introduced onto the stage, it was clear that these were not representative of the majority….and where were the white youths? Where was the lad from the local Roman Catholic church, or the middle class student reading Finance? This was supposed to be about a United Birmingham, not a United Winson Green.
At the end I walked round the crowd, and it was a mixture of all ethnicities and religions, but there was a distinct lack of white people – this had not captured their imagination, and especially not of the working class groups. This had been predominantly about the Islamic community making a show of strength, with the other faith groups respectfully joining in.
I heard the word “Unity” and “United” countless times that afternoon, but something inside me left me unconvinced about its relevance to Birmingham as a whole.