Monday, September 27, 2004

Everybody needs good neighbours

‘Top of the morning to you.’ Its going to be a nice day today’. ‘Look’s like the weather’s going to be a bit mild today’. These statements sum up some of daily comments made by my neighbours. These comments appear to be similar in the USA too. During my trips there I tend to hear the friendly phrase, ‘Hey how ya doing’! Often I’m tempted to extend and change my reply from simply ‘Fine’ to ‘How’s it gong with you today’ and wait to see if the momentum appears for a fresh conversation. All of these phrases could be described as humans simply wishing to a gain a consensus of expression or entering a comfort zone. You may now be thinking, why analyse such a trivial set of common / everyday exchanges. I believe the acceptance of such apathy is wrong. For example, On Saturday I took part in a charity cycle ride, walk and jog in Bushy Park (Hampton Court, London). It was organised by a friend that is collecting sponsorship money for an orphanage in Jaipur, India. After the event she kindly invited us to have dinner with the other participants at her house in the evening. At the end of the evening we viewed a video made by the orphanage’s head mistress outlining the school’s circumstances and need for assistance. One of the most profound aspects of the short film was viewing the living accommodation of one of the students. We were shown the inside of the student’s house, comprising of a single room that twinned for sleeping and cooking (for 5 people). We were shocked. In the front of the room a rectangular concrete structure, approx 5ft tall by 2 fit wide was positioned. This is used as a cupboard for precious family items. The small half size 1 foot square door was then opened to reveal the families most precious items, mainly 3 to 4 pieces of crockery wrapped in brown cloth!

In the 21st century life is hard for many people. In certain countries, there has never been a better and widening choice of food. Yet in the same world possession of the smallest kind are held as the most precious.

On Sunday 26th September, The Prince of Wales joined more than 5,000 people in London’s Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the first reading of the Guru Granth Sahib Verses. The Prince also warned of the modern world’s lack of individual responsibility, described as “egocentric aspect of humanity which has grown unchecked”. The Bishop of London spoke of the importance of wisdom on man at this time. Another theme that emerged was the shared interfaith message - that working together to help others eradicates the distractions of personal differences.

Will marching in the streets stop government from acting in what they believe? I believe that sooner or later governments will have to listen to the majority. In an effort to make a change, we have to change ourselves first. We need to reduce and forget our egotistical states of mind. A false sense of cliché based phrases cannot solve the world’s problems - but introducing new ways to create empathy, debate and plan solutions is one approach. Many countries are on their hands and knees – they need their neighbours to help them stand-up and deliver hope. Believe in fair trade, freeing of world debt, target relief effectively and just as important recognise your national and global neighbour as part of your family.

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Reality Bites hard

How clean is your house? House Doctor. Get a new life. Big Brother. X-Factor. Pop Idol. Fame Academy. Changing Rooms…. The public thirst for reality shows appears to be endless. I’ve even seen an advertisement for a show that attempts to find a potential dwarf bride from a selection of dwarf girls!

The formula and interest in such shows is further fuelled by the press. In addition, dinner parties can be dominated by discussions of who’s in and who’s out. Favourites are suddenly adopted and discussion regarding participant attributes and daily activities is seen as something to be in awe about. It seems that a frenzy of being interested in ‘other people’ is the driver. The irony being that we wish to talk about people we don’t know on a personal level and we often can’t remember the name of our next door neighbour!

Technology has brought us colour, sound and moving pictures (and lets not forget 20,000 messages of what food to buy) into our living rooms, but the only ‘living’ we do appear to be involved in is away from real people.
Reality TV storylines are now reaching and seeking new levels of hype, for example deepening love interests and extreme exhibitionism. The 9.30pm watershed time zone is now no longer respected.

Bruce Springsteen once wrote a song entitled ’55 channels and there’s nothing on’. He was right all along, as since the The title was probably based on early American cable TV choice but with the advent of international multi-channel Digital TV we’re really just a channel hop away from another vacant thought.

Today we don’t see images of ourselves in TV adverts or social dramas, it’s what the marketers want to ‘push’. Their definition of life-style and socio-demographic categories keeps supplier driven compartmentalisation in place. The true reality is that we have everything to fear from this approach. i.e. A policy that limits our self-image - The true image of respectable public life is for some reason not allowed to be viewed. Stereotyping and inaccurate representation of our multiculturalism is a prime example.Just listen to accented voice-overs for certain community groups. Movies appear to be no different, with recent box office successes based only on cross-cultural relationship themes. Are producers afraid of representing a sense of normality? Why can’t we have movies about ordinary people succeeding against the odds or even promoting positive community success stories?

What was life like before reality TV? Unfortunately it was no different as game and talent shows would bring us public characters in an attempt to show that TV belonged to ‘us’ - as we continued to directly fund it through our TV licence. The future of TV is unfortunately bleak. Unless producers work towards removing elitism, we’re all going to be stuck with pretender celebrities – here today and gone tomorrow. Everyone wants to smell the roses but no one wants to plant the seeds of change.

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Sunday, September 19, 2004

50 years later

Just imagine a time when the UK and US were predominately missing our Asian presence. It wasn't just the Windrush boat that brought over many Caribbean immigrants. Post the West’s calls for labor, the message also 'rang out' to the East. Early migrants moved in the early 1900’s. People in North India also came over in boats in the mid to late 1950s. What were their hopes and aspirations? Greeted to placards of 'no wogs or dogs' the early immigrants had no shops to cater for their needs or reliable sustainable housing. Instead they supported each other, lending money to buy a flat or house. Often they would share both the cooking and rooms. Their determination is to be commended together with the motivation to strive for a better way for their future families. Our fathers and mothers (1st generation) worked hard to build the infrastructure that we all enjoy today.

I suggest that they must have originally considered that 'the west' had greater opportunities to offer. Little did they know that neither their qualifications, skills nor original vocations would be respected or honoured. They would send money back to their relatives.

Amongst local host negativity, they were optimistic. The sensation of a new country and hope is something that drives explorers and discoverers. It’s this spirit that drove them to understand their new surroundings and retain their culture and religion. Another word that comes to mind is resilience. In the 1960s and 1970s many of the early immigrant children faced being bussed out of education regions to satisfy an absurd quota theory. Over the years we’ve all had to face-up to the hate ignorance generated by racist attitudes, parties and associated rallies. What came as a shock to many was how isolationism professed itself. One could argue that the same happened to early Irish and Jewish settlers. However, the whole issue of immigration has been continuously hijacked as a political instrument, from a local and national perspective. Interestingly, inner cities still bare the scares of under investment of particular dense populations from sets of ethnic groups.
On a positive note, the vibrancy of multi-ethnic shopping districts has fuelled business opportunities. The Asian Rich 100+ continues to grow and many new business ideas are coming to the fore. Unfortunately, recently, The Economist suggested that in Southall, London, yesterday’s immigrants are today’s landlords, redeveloping their shops into multi-units for rent to fresher migrants – who’s being fair now?

Although our economic contribution is nationally recognised, why is it that after over 50 years of struggle we still have an integration and education issue on our hands. For example, 200 years of the British Raj isn’t emphasised in at school. Instead we’re reliant on distorted Hollywood interpretations of what happened.

Today, I suggest that you consider if the concept of multiculturalism is truly understood from an education and employer reality? Are we happy to call ourselves British, British Asian or does the term ‘immigrant’ still sting us?

What can we do about the current situation? Or, are we all happy that our history and heritage of how is often overlooked? Here are some suggestions:

Write to local TV channels to question their broadcast policy – otherwise ethic TV will continue to reach your screens at ‘around midnight’!
Complain to the advertising council if you see an advertisement that offends you.
Encourage your children to research the contribution of immigrants during the World Wars.
Write to museums to feature more exhibits on Eastern themes
Teach your children about what happened in the 70s and 80s when the youth of the time ‘stood-up’ against racist attacks.

The important thing is to respect your parents not just because they struggled through the early settlement issues but for their underlying passion to bring you the opportunities that you have in front of you today.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

September 11 Fallout

On the 4th anniversary of September 11th further shocking news has been revealed. Some say that carcinogens that spewed out from the burning debris may not cause a health risk to most New York residents. However, the infants of women that were pregnant soon after may face an increased risk of birth defects. Risk of health problems may also apply to over 1000 contractors, volunteers, police and fire-fighters, who spent months clearing up at Ground zero. These findings come from a recent study by University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Further studies from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York revealed that unborn babies are more sensitive to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). An estimated 1million tonnes of dust and smoke resulted from the twin tower being toppled by the two hi-jacked jets. One also has to wonder if enough has been done to clean-up the residue of dust and possible dangerous asbestos. Although these studies reveal the risk we hope that people will not suffer.

So there you have it, evil has installed itself physically and mentally. Generations to come will remember these traumatic events. Events that changed the world and brought about a new sense of paranoia, playing into the hands and minds of extremists.

The post September 11 2001 events of hate crimes and lack of understanding appear to be in opposition to what we should project: Respect, understanding, appreciation of our diversity. Instead right-wing extremist positioning is abound. Camp X-ray can be perceived as a global statement of abuse of human rights.

In my column my aim is to talk about solutions. What can we do? We can say that greater education and understanding is the route to enlightenment and comes in many forms - and that we should learn about our differences. Recently, I wrote about the interfaith organisations that forget their different approach to religion and instead focus on common humane causes. For example, let us take a look at the Sudan situation or the 80% of starving in India. Each person suffering is a soul that needs our souls to help them. Should we send them money? Yes but through a channelled effort. Governments should provide sabbaticals, tax breaks, debt reduction and subsidised volunteer schemes. We could also adjust our own debt to help harmonise developing economies.
We need to eradicate the route causes of the violence of September 11. If we are to destroy underground movements and their evil forces we need to strike at the heart of the problem: hate. Hate can only be removed if a sense of fairness is generated. People that are committing the crimes need to ‘see’ that fair approach is being taken. Territories in dispute need to be transferred to an impartial organisation that temporarily labels them as ‘open lands or open zones’. These zones then need to be left for a period of calm. No party should have tanks or weapons. Establishment of their sovernity is not allowed to confuse the issue. Instead, international peace keepers should roam until all parties can settle their issues. If snipers or terrorists attempt to interfere, they jeopardise the final agreement.

We can build planes and send people to the moon. We can even send a remote control robot craft to Saturn, surely we can stretch our brains to work together for peace with innovative approaches.

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Sunday, September 05, 2004

End of the innocence

What are they thinking? How deep is there emotion? Do they have any emotions? Are they in ‘it’ for revenge or do they view themselves as an ‘arm’ of change? Their pent-up emotions appear to be a key driver for their leaders. Together they attempt to ensure the slaughter of their potential victims to yield shock and leverage for their cause. Yet all they achieve is recognition of their cowardice, married to the death of innocence.
This weekend 338 people were killed when Chechen rebels seized a Russian school, while officials express remorse over the carnage. It appears that explosives had been pre-loaded or stored for the siege and when the recovery operation commenced, events took a terrible turn. Russian officials initially spoke of a 32-member group including Chechen separatists and 10 Arab fighters and said three of the hostage-takers had been captured alive. But later they said all the hostage-takers were killed and three suspected accomplices had been detained.

In just over two weeks, separatists, who have waged a 10-year armed uprising in Chechnya, have also been blamed for bringing down two airliners, killing 90 people, and a suicide bombing in which nine people were killed in central Moscow.

The violence appears to be reaching new levels and negotiation or settlement appears to be difficult to achieve.

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