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I have just returned to London, where I have lived since I was 11. I have been away for four years, living as an ethnic minority in a monocultural part of the world, amassing a host of stories to tell to disbelieving friends. On the whole, I am glad to return. I shan't miss some locals' assumptions that, being a white woman, if I was outside after dark, as I occasionally was, usually to walk the few metres between my house and the church, I must be a prostitute eager to give them a blow job. I shan't miss the abuse my priest husband received: the daubing of "Dirty white dogs" in red paint on the church door, the barrage of stones thrown at him by children shouting "Satan". He was called a "f***ing white bastard" more than once, though, notably, never when in a cassock. I will also not miss the way our garden acted as the local rubbish dump, with items ranging from duvets and TV sets, to rats (dead or twitching) glued to cardboard strips, a popular local method of vermin control to stem the large numbers of them which scuttled between the rubbish piled in gardens and on pavements. Yes, I am very glad to have left Britain's second city.


Brum Deal: Everyday life in Britain's second city (Photograph by Julian Anderson)

For four years, we lived in inner-city Birmingham, in what has been a police no-go area for 20 years. We know that because some plain-clothed cops told us when they asked to use our vicarage as a stake-out to bust drugs rings that pervade the area. Having heard a parishioner's tales of what his neighbours did to him when he was wrongfully suspected of having grassed up a cock-fighting ring, we refused, explaining that we had to live here, they didn't. Even during this time we saw the area change. When we arrived, the population was predominantly Pakistani. Now Somalis are there in equal number. Most of the run-down Irish pubs were turned into mosques during our time. 

As a woman, it was difficult for me to gain many first-hand impressions of the Muslims. I was generally ignored by both men and women, and on the rare occasion that I had to interact, when for example a car was parked illegally and blocking my gate, I was addressed as if inconsequential. My husband, however, faithfully reported conversations which you may find somewhat alarming. One of our favourite dinner-party pieces is this: opposite our vicarage there is a "library" which has some computers, some burkas and occasionally tracts that say offensive things about Jews and Christians. My husband did his photo-copying there, and got on rather well with everybody. One day he was chatting to a man with a passing resemblance to Lawrence of Arabia, who had just arrived from Antwerp — one of an increasing number of Muslims who are arriving here with EU passports. He asked him why he had come to Birmingham. He was surprised at the question: "Everybody know. Birmingham — best place in Europe to be pure Muslim." Well, there must be many places in Europe where Muslims are entirely free to practise their faith, but I suspect there are few places in which they can have so little contact with the civic and legal structure of a Western state if they choose. It seems to be particularly easy to "disappear" if that is their intention. A parishioner once described a lorry pulling up outside his house, the side opening to reveal stacked mattresses full of sleepy, and presumably illegal, immigrants, who staggered out into broad Brummie daylight. We heard tales of how houses are exchanged for cash payments in our area. An untaxed car was once clamped by a frightened-looking official at 8am, but within hours the owner of the vehicle had organised the clamps to be sawn off, and he sped away.

Another instance of separation from the Western world is revealed in the following: my husband frequently chatted to a neighbour who could be described as one of the more questioning Muslims, and who has often provided an insight into the locals' mindset. Even this man, however, believes what the whole community thinks: the 9/11 planes were organised by Jews. Everybody knows there were no Jewish people in the World Trade Centre that day, as they had been tipped off. Oh, and the Mumbai terrorists had been kidnapped and brainwashed by Indian people. The tendency towards denial is strong. When my husband mentioned the "dirty white dogs" graffiti to a local Muslim, the response was, "One of your people did it." I have to say that the police's response was no better when the local Methodists complained about the same thing. They chose not to believe it had happened, since we had removed all sign of it with the buckets of anti-graffiti chemicals we had stocked since we arrived. They asked, somewhat pathetically: "Are you sure it was racist?"

To a London reader, born and bred with multiculturalism, I know that my stories may come across as outlandish and exaggerated, and that I must surely be a BNP voter — I have observed people's expressions as they have listened to my tales of life in Brum. When I recently told a friend how a large Taliban flag fluttered gaily on a house near St Andrew's football stadium for some months, her cry of "Can't you tell the police?" made me reflect how far many of our inner cities have been abandoned by our key workers: our doctors and nurses drive in from afar, the police, as mentioned before, have shut down their stations and never venture in unless in extremis — they and ambulance crews have been known to be attacked — even the local Imam lives in a leafier area. 

Only the priest remains, if you can get one — the thriving but clerically-vacant church down the road has had no applicant in two years. In their absence, we get stabbings that never make the news, dog- and cock-fighting rings, cars torched as pranks and cars used for peddling heroin. (One of the more amusing moments of our time came when a local lad provided one reason people often gave us stares when we drove past such deals: "Two white people wearing seatbelts — you've got to be cops.") In their absence, we simply have the witness of those who are unlikely to be heard, who, through a variety of unfortunate circumstances, have not been able to move out: the elderly, the infirm, the illiterate, the chronically poor. Indeed, some of the Muslim residents deeply regret the flight of the non-Muslim population. It is they who now have to live in a crime-ridden ghetto.

On holiday in Germany recently, we watched a TV documentary about how schools were coping with Essen's growing Muslim community, and how the community itself felt. When it was over, we turned to each other, and said simultaneously (a drawback of having been married for a while), "This could not have been made in Britain." At the moment, also in Germany, the whole country is debating Thilo Sarrazin's controversial book Deutschland schafft sich ab ("Germany abolishes itself"), in which the author — a former member of the board of the Bundesbank and the German Social Democrats — examines research about immigrant communities and then makes specific recommendations about the integration of the Muslim community. I have only seen scant reference to this in the British press, which usually dismisses it, wrongly and lazily in my view, as good old German racism. This has nothing whatsoever to do with race. The Muslim community in Birmingham, for instance, is made up of people from many continents and races, including Afghans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Indians and Somalis. 

There is no doubt in my mind that we need to have the same openness in discussing what is happening to many cities in Britain. If current demographic trends continue over the next few decades, the West Midlands, as well as other parts of the country, will become a predominantly Muslim area. Much more needs to be done to integrate the communities among whom I lived, and we need to be much less negligent of our own values too. Frankly, if we happened to walk down Broad Street on a Friday night, where mobs of identically undressed and mostly aesthetically unpleasing gals and lads were on the piss and pull, it was almost a relief to drive back to our ghetto enclave. 

It is time to rub the rime from our eyes and to look clearly at the shape of Britain today. Everyone living here needs to be able to talk about what they see, without the lazy or fearful, but certainly paralysing, accusation of racism. Only then will we be able to discern what is best for the future.

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Uland
February 11th, 2011
3:02 PM
It seems clear to me that the issue isn't "Islam", per se. It is that many immigrants have no desire to enjoin themselves to British culture, and are openly hostile to it, viewing those in authority with contempt and otherwise operating under the assumption that State authorities wish to de-Islamify their population. Whether the roots of this kind of paranoid and xenophobic thought lie in The Koran, or are the result of varied socio-political happenings is irrelevant; They are Muslim whether the liberal intelligentsia wants to count it as meaningful or not. The very real social problems persist in these areas and will continue unless dealt with in a frank and strident way.

Flashback
February 9th, 2011
6:02 PM
And where in Birmingham was this? You don't say, so we can't check up on it. I'm white and I've lived in one of the most Muslim areas of the city for 18 years, and I never felt like an outsider. The community is very accepting

Caroline
February 8th, 2011
8:02 AM
The writer's description of her life in Birmingham indeed sounds worrying. Where I take issue is with the implication that crime and anti-social behaviour are an inevitable consequence of the area being largely Muslim. Surely the fact of her neighbours being Muslim is incidental to the problem, not causative of it? Islam is not a race, but the majority of Muslims in Britain are not white and it is splitting hairs to suggest that the plurality of non-white ethnic origins mean that race and racism is not a factor. When talking about crime-riddled, pre-dominantly white and at least nominally Christian areas, we never see a flicker of a hint that their whiteness or Christianity is to blame. Yet in a Muslim area, the suggestion is always there: that their religion, or skin colour is somehow influential in the social disintegration of the area. What leads people to shout "Racism!" is the double standard in drawing lazy conclusions about Islam or brown-skinned peoples, but not about Christianity or white people.

Post Colonial Revenge
January 30th, 2011
1:01 AM
In the wake of the post-colonial era it would appear that the UK and indeed Europe is about to implode. The 5th column is within your borders and growing. This is not hidden or covert but rather overt and in your face. You deny what is happening and those who see the truth are branded with the r word. Your traditions and freedoms and your very people are now decreasing and still you do nothing. There is no collective will and no sense of community. Once more you do nothing. In your own cities you are a minority and yet you do nothing. Before your own eyes you are declining and will one day be no more then a an absolute minority in a land you neither own nor have legal rights in. Welcome to the real world. I recently visited London with my English boy friend and was horrified at how it has changed. We hardly saw any English people at all of working age. We saw Somalis verbally abuse an Elderly Englishwoman for no reason on a bus and the city just felt like a third world slum. Your ancestors who created a wonderful city and gave the world freedom of expression and democracy would be ashamed of you for being so spineless. Like the Roman or the Greek or ancient peoples of the Americas it seems you have sealed your own fate.

Ace
January 27th, 2011
9:01 PM
Realitycheck, what on earth made you choose that username? I suppose you think the barbarism reported daily at www.thereligionofpeace.com is inspired by or caused by the CIA. Incredible. Are you a convert?

Gerry Sinclair
January 25th, 2011
3:01 PM
The two major reasons you are most likely, along with the USA to lose are the same two reasons every one loses throughout history in circumstances like this. 1. Refusal to recognise the problem - the easiest one in theory. 2. Lack of will - always the hardest to overcome, hence the continuing cycle of civilised peoples being taken over Barbarians or their equivalent. Classic example from ancient times was Carthage/Rome, but there are many others. Until both those points are addressed, and very quickly, any rational wagerer or unbiased student of History would be backing the Muslims. Here in Australia, the common comment is get to Europe as quickly as you can and take in its history because it isnt going to be there too much longer - mind you our clock on this issue is ticking as well but you have a huge head start over us and we have the Chinese out here as a buffer, and they do have the will and the means to take on Islam.

Zack Homeless
January 24th, 2011
12:01 AM
I was born and grew up in Birmingham. I am mixed raced - I have 6 nationalities and my parents have friends from different racial backgrounds. My next door neighbours are mostly Asian and they are friendly, respectful and polite. On the other side of us we have the Irish elderly couple who are friendly, respectful and polite. Both have invited me and my brother into their home and brought us food many times (maybe they know about my Mom's cooking? Only kidding). I like in North Birmingham and it's pretty mixed down here, we have lots of Polish and black people (I'm part black) and we all get on. The only people that ever had a problem with us is white English people who become abusive towards my Eastern-European sounding Mom (who lived in this country for 21 years but still speaks like a foreigner even though she understands everything). I was bullied at school by kids of every nationality because that's human nature - there are bullies in every nation. But I also was befriended by kids of every nation because there are - AND I MUST SAY MOSTLY - decent good-natured people everywhere. Treat others the way you want to be treated and you will be fine. Eve the normally racist and class prejudiced British police are changing for the better because a new generation who grew up alongside others of different backgrounds enters the force and no longer feel it's acceptable to be racist sexist righteous bigots and I'm GLAD!!!

tejas
January 21st, 2011
5:01 PM
This is your own fault. Most of the Europeans have no Idea of the thing going in the world. Remember the days where NATO bombed Serbia to make a new Islamic country in Europe. And the way Europeand leaders are opposing Israel. You people are commiting national suicide. And whenever any muslim perpetrate any crime in Briton he is described as 'asian' by mainstream media. I don't know if it is your political correctness or utter ignorance towards people living in your country.

Morgan
January 21st, 2011
5:01 PM
birmrugby a policeman stated, "Race/hate crime is not common in any way, and I'm sorry but I just don't believe any of what you are saying." The preacher refused to give the PCSO his address because he felt the officer's manner was "threatening and intimidating". The ministers claim he also advised them not to return to the area. As he walked away, the PCSO said: "You have been warned. If you come back here and get beaten up, well you have been warned". West Midlands Police, who refused to apologise, said the incident had been "fully investigated" and the officer would be given training in understanding hate crime and communication. West Midlands Police, who refused to apologise, said the incident had been "fully investigated" and the officer would be given training in understanding hate crime and communication. Question for you birmrugby if hate crime is not common why is training given about it to the police? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2058935/Police-advise-Christian-p... Nurses warned to avoid "no-go" areas BIRMINGHAM Children’s Hospital has told its staff to avoid “no-go areas” after three lone nurses were harassed and chased on late night walks to their cars. Read More http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2010/03/11/nurses-warned-...

SelbyPost
January 21st, 2011
4:01 PM
Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told to get out of Australia I understand, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.. Separately, PM Gillard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying she supported spy agencies monitoring the nation's mosques. Quote: 'IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT.. Take It Or Leave It. Personally I am tired of this nation of ours in Britain worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on London, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of indigenous Brits although not translated to the ballot box sadly, but only too apparent in the clubs and pubs. This heritage and culture of Great Britain has been developed over centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom 'We speak ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese,French Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian,Polish, Ethipian, Somalian or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, Learn the language! This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, developed and fought for this nation. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God and/ or Christianity offends anybody, then I suggest they consider another part of the world as their new home. 'We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.' 'This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great British freedom, THE RIGHT TO LEAVE. 'If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted.' Now how simple is that for the mainstream politicians and those who choose to arrive here to understand?

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