Thursday, 17 January 2013


Yesterday afternoon I was approached by BBC Radio Leicester (twice), with a request to go live on air this morning to speak for the Council of Faiths about the incident on East Park Road and about the meeting between Leicester Council of Faiths and Leicestershire Police that was to take place that evening. Given the sensitivity of the issue, I felt that this one might be above my pay grade. Readers of this blog will know that normally I'm perfectly happy to go on the radio and talk about anything (within reason) at the drop of a hat. But I couldn't help thinking that it might be better for an Executive Officer of the Council of Faiths to appear on the radio this time. But at the end of last night's meeting at Mansfield House, I had a quick confab with the Chair, Vice Chair and Secretary and it was agreed I should go on. So I did the interview, by phone, with Martin Ballard (deputising for Jonathan Lampon on the Breakfast Show). Here's a transcript of the interview:
MB: It’s eight minutes past eight. Now: next this morning, police and religious leaders in Leicester are calling for calm following an attack on a restaurant in the city earlier this week. The police are continuing to question six men after a number of people were injured in the incident on East Park Road on Monday night. Now, detectives have also confirmed they’ve now spoken to a Sikh girl and her family regarding a separate incident.
Raj Mann is from the Leicestershire Sikh Alliance, and he’s worried these recent incidents could cause friction in the community.
RM: In Leicester we are a community of communities and we enjoy good standards of community cohesion; there is room for improvement on that. Unfortunately, the police yesterday mentioned two religions, mentioned Sikh-Muslim tensions.
MB: Well, Luman Ali is from the Federation of Muslim Organisations. He’s calling for calm and urging people to work with facts, not rumours.
LA: I think it’s up to us to monitor the concerns of our youth and make sure things don’t get out of hand. This is always the case when you have incidents of violence. It’s a process of misinformation which we have to work hard to work against, especially in the form of these text messages that fly around with misinformation that aren’t helpful to any of us.
MB: Now members of the faith communities in Leicester met last night with the police. George Ballentyne, from Leicester Council of Faiths, was there and joins us now. Good morning George.
GMB: Good morning.
MB: What exactly happened last night?
GMB: Well it was a very productive meeting and I think it was very positive. We had 30 people there in all, and there were representatives from the Sikh and Muslim communities, as well as other faith communities in the city. I should just mention that the two people we’ve just heard from, they were both at the meeting last night, both contributed to it. And we spoke with Rob Nixon (who’s the City Commander) and two of his colleagues, about the current situation of the investigation into the incident. Then we went on to talk about some of the underlying issues that are of concern to the communities, in terms of protecting young people and vulnerable people. And then we devoted the last part of the meeting to talking about how to move forward, how to preserve that unity amongst the communities that Leicester is so famous for and how to also work with (like) the city’s Safeguarding Board, with schools, with GPs, to make sure that these kind of situations are open, not confined inside the community networks and that there are actually practical ways of addressing these issues that don’t end up with the kind of incident that we saw a couple of nights ago.
MB: George, apart from the specific concerns about protecting vulnerable children and this specific incident, were there major concerns about any disruption to that unity and racial harmony in our city?
GMB: Well of course there were, because we have to be careful in Leicester that we don’t become a kind of site for working out a national situation and we were very conscious that we have to attend to what’s going in Leicester, what the people do in Leicester and keep things within our own community, rather than making it a place of working out difficulties that are happening in other cities around the UK. We’ve always been aware that the situation in Leicester tends to be different from what we see in other parts of the country. There’s a higher degree of integration, there’s a higher degree of a kind of happy living alongside each other and we really (uhm …). You know, that exists because people work at it, it’s not an accident; and when something like this happens, we have to be really careful to take action. Rob Nixon, the City Centre Commander, was praising the faith communities that within 48 hours of the incident, we had this quite large-scale meeting of people who are opinion-formers and influential speakers within their own communities. And he felt that this was a sign that we really do want to take this topic seriously and address it in a way that will deal with it and heal any kind of rift that may have emerged within our communities in the city.
MB: Now, much of this disruption seems to have been caused by the rumours that have been flying around on texts and so on – some of them may have been malicious, we don’t really know – but how can that sort of thing be stopped?
GMB: Well social media’s a great thing and I’m a big fan of it and even just in the ten minutes before coming on air, Radio Leicester and I have been tweeting and retweeting each other, saying to people: listen to this spot, find out what’s going on. But it’s also a terrible rumour mill it’s the way it is now that (you know) people can express their opinions or their beliefs or their misconceptions about things and it’s part of the freedom that we have to do that and people have to be very conscious, I think, and very self-aware that someone may only see one tweet, one Facebook post or something like that and it could really inflame things, it can give people the wrong idea. But it also meant that the police, the Council of Faiths, other organisations involved, like the Federation of Muslim Organisations, the Leicestershire Sikh Alliance, we’re all using social media responsibly right now to try to get the facts out there, get the names of the people that folk can talk to if they’re concerned and help to actually help to show the process that’s going on in a very live and transparent and current way.
MB: I have to say that we should take things at face value more than we do, we believe, or many people believe what they red and there are lots of untruths around on social network sites and so on and that can be damaging, can’t it? But no doubt the faiths in Leicester are determined to work together and that’s the strength of Leicester, isn’t it?
GMB: I really think that’s so. I mean, there were people there from every walks of the communities there last night, from the kind of folk who really pride themselves on having their ear to the ground and knowing what’s happening amongst people on the street, through to those people who are very involved with the places of worship and the community centres, working with all different kinds of different people within the communities. The most important thing, really is that the message we call want to come out from last night is that this is not a faith-on-faith issue, it’s not a community-on-community issue, the police are very clear that what we are dealing with is criminal behaviour, it’s criminality, not conflict of belief or conflict of practice among the communities and the important thing is to deal with the situation as it exists and everybody’s really now into this process of dispelling some of the myths, make people feel a bit more secure and happy about what the police are doing, how the communities are meeting together – and the Leicester Council of Faiths has such a good track record over more than a quarter of a century of helping to promote trust, understanding and co-operation amongst the communities. And it’s at times like this when we are put to the test and we hope that we are able to do it in such a way that serves the greater good in the city.
MB: Okay George, just remind us then, if it’s not “faith-on-faith”, how would you describe this: just pure criminality?
GMB: That’s the term that the police want to use. Whoever would have done this and however it would have arisen, this is criminal behaviour.
MB: George, thank you for joining us this morning. George Ballentyne from the Leicester Council of Faiths. And we’ll follow that story here on BBC Radio Leicester; any developments, you’ll hear them first here on 104.9 FM.
Just after a quarter past eight. The headlines on BBC Radio Leicester: As you’ve just heard, the Council of Faiths in the city has told this programme they’ll work together to heal any rifts in the Spinney Hill community after an attack on a restaurant on East Park Road earlier this week.

If you visit this blog before Thursday 24 January, you can hear the interview on BBC Radio Leicester's Listen Again facility, starting at 0808.

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