By Islam Issa
Mar 27, 2017
My brother, who lives abroad, surprised me with a text message this week saying that everyone is asking him about Birmingham. "Our great city's name has been spoiled," he typed. It wasn't just national press and television reporting about Birmingham, apparently, but the international media too.
I was born in Sparkbrook, the area highlighted in so many reports as a terrorist hotspot after the Westminster attack. The Daily Mail even called it "the Jihadi capital of Britain". Soon after the horrific events in London, I realised that as a Brummie Muslim, I was now saddled with a double burden. It's hard when someone stereotypes your home and your religion like that — but I still consider my identity to be a double privilege.
I am proud that Sparkbrook survived soaring unemployment during Margaret Thatcher's years. In one of its areas, Balsall Heath, the violence of an infamous red light district was defeated by the local community. This city has a long tradition of surviving hardship: the Birmingham Blitz in the Second World War, damaging factory closures and disproportionately low funding from successive British governments. A few years ago, it was confirmed that London has multiple amounts spent on its infrastructure compared to the West Midlands, with only the North East receiving less. Apprenticeships for youngsters remain capital-centric despite Birmingham being the youngest city in Europe, with almost 45 per cent of its population under 25.
If we want to stop radicalisation, let's create apprenticeships and jobs, have a go at improving the quality of schools, and reinvigorate a struggling but diverse arts scene which offers people alternatives in expression. That means stopping the recently promised cuts to the city's creative arts and the drastic city-wide cuts in school funding.
Reporters have been floating around certain areas in the last few days, conducting vox pops with perplexed locals who have nothing sensational to say. These locals have never met an extremist or anyone who would contemplate extremist actions. I've seen journalists crowding outside a lovely family-run restaurant under a raided flat as though something new and terrifying could happen there any minute.
These latest news developments about Birmingham are something of a non-issue. I didn't feel any different when walking around the city since the raids, reports and journalists have come pouring in, because they have nothing to do with me or my community. The real issue is that we might be allowing one heinous crime to ostracise a community already facing low levels of employment and attainment, and compounding that by allowing them to feel victimised.
Despite all the pressures facing Birmingham, this is a beautiful city: not a terrorist hotspot but a tourist hotspot to which Londoners are flocking. So, dear media, unless you genuinely care about it, then please leave my city alone. The secret to radicalisation cannot be found on our beloved streets.