I adore Birmingham. Everyone who knows me, knows that about me. I share this fact about 3 times a week and especially with new people I meet.

Birmingham is my home. My parents arrived from Pakistan during the mid-1960s and both worked extremely hard to raise all 8 of us. It was a challenging time. During the 1970s and 80s we lived on a small street, in a small terraced house, amongst new friends. The pavement was our front garden and we all had small rear gardens. We all knew each other on our street. We were all good neighbours and we shared everything – food, clothes, street games, gossip – literally everything! We were raised in a diverse community built on shared values - love, respect and kindness. We were raised to help others first.

Faith was also a huge part of my childhood. My beautiful, patient Mom taught us how to pray. She taught us the recitations and the gentle, timely movements. A lovely neighbour who lived opposite us, to the right, taught us how to read the Quran. We would huddle together on her front room floor with about 12 other children from our street, eager to learn and recite the curly, complicated Arabic letters. She always greeted us with a warm smile and I will always remember her fondly.

My formidable, passionate Dad taught us the importance of a good education. He attended all our Parent’s Evenings at school and regularly checked our homework. I remember how he persevered with the teachers at Bordesley Green Girls’ School to ensure all the girls were entered for a Grade A certification in GCSE Mathematics. Previously, Grade C was the highest grade we could achieve. My first, memorable lesson in equal opportunities and community organising!

So, I was nurtured in a faithful family, with a good education within a friendly community. Even when we moved to a street 10 minutes away in 1991, those values remained, cemented in our lives and memories. I am happily married now and we are raising our 3 lovely children in the same way – after all, home is where the start is! I firmly believe that the majority of people in Birmingham are also trying to live the best way they can. They are good, loving, respectful and kind. They are also helping other people in their community.

But as much as I adore Birmingham, as much as I want to believe my home is the most perfect city, I must also be completely honest. As a society we are struggling. We are living in unsettled times. Unemployment is increasing daily; families are living hand to mouth and our elderly residents feel more isolated. But living amongst us are people whose intentions are neither good or loving nor helpful or kind. I don’t think they care much for helping others either. They are keen to dismantle the bridges we have built across our multi-cultural communities for decades. Their tool of choice? To hate and they handle it with precision.

Hate crimes can include threatening behaviour, assault, robbery, damage to property, inciting others to commit hate crimes and harassment. In October 2019, the Home Office published hate crime statistics for 2018/2019. The main findings of the publication include:

  • In 2018/2019, there were 103,379 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 10 per cent compared with 2017/2018 (94,121 offences). In the West Midlands, 5,715 hate crimes were recorded – 22% increase in just one year. In 2013/14 there were 2,664 offences.
  • There were increases in all 5 of the monitored strands of police recorded hate crime, with a 37% increase in transgender identity hate crimes (to 2,333). Religious hate crimes increased by 3% (to 8,566 offences), sexual orientation hate crimes increased by 25% (to 14,491) and disability hate crimes increased by 14% (to 8,256). Most hate crimes related to race (78,991 offences).
  • This is the lowest percentage increase in the number of hate crime offences since 2013/14*

 

*‘Lowest percentage increase in the number of hate crime offences’ is still an increase. Each crime has a victim and their story must be investigated fully.

These figures are extremely worrying. West Midlands Police are now handling 15 hate crime offences every day. 15 offences every day! Unbelievable! I genuinely cannot comprehend the thought processes of a person who intends harm to another simply because they are different. We are all humans first and foremost. So why does it matter so much that we choose to follow a particular faith, or that we decide our own sexual preferences, or that we choose to live our lives differently? Why is our ancestral heritage, our culture, our history the cause of 78,991 offences? Why on earth are disabled people treated with such disdain? I ask, seriously – what is wrong with these people?

Hate crimes spiked following the EU Referendum in 2016; Jo Cox MP was murdered by a far-right extremist shouting “Britain first”; and again in 2017 when the UK experienced devastating attacks in March and May and then two more in June. The innocent victims’ families were left trying to make sense of the senseless and hundreds more have suffered psychological trauma which has undoubtedly changed their lives irrevocably. These vicious events, orchestrated by hateful individuals and groups, only seek to cause suspicion and to divide us. Muslims, especially veiled Muslim women, have been targeted in their hometowns and online for years. There was a 700 per cent increase in anti-Muslim street incidents in the seven days following the Manchester Arena suicide bombing in May, with 72 incidents recorded compared to 9 in the previous week – Tell MAMA (2018) Beyond the Incident: Outcomes for Victims of Anti-Muslim Prejudice, p6.

As an active member of the Brummie community I am doing my best to ensure my city remains a peaceful, tolerant and respectful society. Over the last 15 years, whilst working, I have successfully organised, and attended, many citywide events designed to help people from different backgrounds come together and connect. Honest conversations are key to understanding one another. Silence and ignorance lead to misunderstandings which leads to suspicion and doubt. Those seeking to divide us thrive on these insecurities.

Last year I became the Co-Chair of the West Midlands, Nisa-Nashim group – a proactive network of local Muslim and Jewish women working together to build friendships and trust through regular, topical discussions. We have recently set up a book club and we alternate between Muslim and Jewish authors. Conversations are deep and meaningful when we meet. We are understanding each other more and more.

Recently, a residential area nearby was the scene of a hate crime targeting the Jewish community. My friend, Karen Skinazi, had seen a deeply offensive comment sprayed on a wall during an evening stroll with her husband. They were only 10 minutes from my home and even closer to my children’s old primary school. I silently questioned myself. Who would do something so horrible? Resident or visitor? Individual or group member? Lone attack or sequential? 

The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in the UK increased for the fourth year in a row in 2019 according to figures compiled by the Community Security Trust – a charity that protects British Jews from anti-Semitism and related threats. It recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents last year, an increase of 7% from 2018. The charity, which also offers support to those affected, reported a spike in online abuse – yet another reason for more robust monitoring of hate on the world wide web! Consequences need to be swift and serious.

Since March 23rd this year when the public was informed of a national lockdown due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, hate crimes against the Jewish and Muslim community have increased further. Lockdown life seems to have brought out the worst in some people!

Karen shared the photograph of the wall with us on our Nisa-Nashim WhatsApp group. Her grandparents had survived the horrors of the Holocaust so to see the chilling words “DIE JEWISH” that evening was deeply shocking and upsetting for her. Immediately the words of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, came to mind — “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” Driven by my faith and frustrations of what had just happened, I suggested that we meet the next day and scrub off the grotesquely graffitied comment together. My friends agreed it was the right thing to do.

Moments later, our Muslim and Jewish allies had contacted the local MP, the local police, a rabbi and another Birmingham community group for support. They all agreed to meet us at the location on Friday afternoon after the Muslim women in the group had completed their midday Dhur prayer. Respectful, thoughtful decisions like this are crucial if we are to fully support each other. We avoid gathering on Saturday so the Jewish women can observe Shabbat/Sabbath in peace. We may follow a different faith but it is necessary to make room for each other.

The following afternoon I met Karen and our concerned Nisa-Nashim allies. We held homemade bunting of positive pointers in front of the wall and with a reenergised sense of solidarity we had connected yet again. Standing before the wall and seeing the words for myself, I felt an overwhelming sense of despair for a person I had never met. This individual needed guidance, re-educating and prayers to be better!

The helpful police officer had brought with him some strong paint removal equipment and moments later the message had been effectively erased. A fading white smudge was all that remained. My Nisa-Nashim friends stood alongside the MP, the rabbi and the police officer for a photograph to document our collective, peaceful activism. It felt good. It felt right.

Our immediate, collaborative actions led to the swift removal of the aggressive comment. It was replaced with a beautifully chalked rainbow with clear messages of hope and unity: “NISA-NASHIM. STANDING TOGETHER AGAINST HATE.”

Now this may not seem a huge event to most but for me this was monumental. Hate simply has no place in my home, my streets or my city. I will stand up to all forms of hate whenever and however I am exposed to it. I will support anyone affected and to make a positive, permanent change we must all toil together.

Humanity is diverse and rich and beautiful. This should be celebrated! We must not allow those who doubt our differences fracture our future peace and happiness. My faith guides me, is purposeful and equips me with the right tools to stand up to difficult, unjust situations. I was raised to be loving, respectful and kind. I was raised to help others first. The actions we all took together that day stood testament to our upbringing, our values and our faith. I sincerely believe in the power of my community!

Salma Hamid is a community organiser and Co-Chair for Nisa-Nashim, West Midlands