Doner kebab and integration: A story worth telling
Let us swim around the melting pot, enjoying the mix
On 29 June the Queen’s Speech marked the opening of parliament under Theresa May’s new government. With a reduced mandate and no overall majority without the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, the government has scaled back its plans. The result is a legislative programme that has few priorities other than leaving the European Union.
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Does a kebab demand a particular type of beer?
To Ibrahim Dogus, the Kurdish kebab king of London, the answer is an unequivocal “yes”. “Grilled food, especially charcoal-grilled food, is special,” Dogus said on a recent afternoon at Troia, his kebab restaurant a short walk from the House of Commons.
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But Lambeth has always been one of the most open and vibrant parts of London, made up of intersecting, diverse communities, each of which has breathed new life into its streets. It is high time that Lambeth had a voice to reflect its diversity.Read more
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In many ways, Britain has never been so divided. It’s not just the vote on Brexit that has split the nation. There are other more deep-rooted problems.
Unable to get on the housing ladder and often with limited job prospects, many young people feel their lives are a world away from financial security of those who went before them.
As well as the intergenerational chasm, a divide is opening up between the three million EU citizens living here who fear what the future might hold for them and the rest of the UK’s citizens.
And, there is the alarming gap that appears to be opening up between some ethnic minority communities and the authorities and the police.
This was seen with the anger over the shambolic response of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council to the Grenfell Tower disaster and the unrest in East London following the death of Rashan Charles after he was pursued and apprehended by police.
As someone who was welcomed when I came to England as a teenager and a Kurdish refugee from Turkey, these changes are worrying. There is a risk these divisions will deepen unless we act.
The fabric of our society is not torn apart, but it is badly damaged. We need action to fix that and make sure we heal these divisions to make Britain safer and more inclusive.
That work should start with the youngest. Too many children are still living in poverty in a country where the richest are so wealthy they can afford to leave multi-million pound mansions in London empty.
According to Barnardo’s, there are 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK – a shocking figure by any standards.
Around 400 Sure Start centres, places that gave children such a great start in life, have shut under the Conservatives. An injection of £500 million in early intervention funds promised by Labourwould be enough to reopen the centres and restore their services.
But it is not just about securing more funds. We also need communities get much more involved in tackling some of these deep-seated problems and helping to strengthen society.
We saw that with the fantastic way the community rallied around to provide food, support and practical help in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and filled gap left by the local authority.
There are also established schemes that do an excellent job in the community like the Near Neighbours programme which has helped more than one million people.
The scheme – which encourages people of different faiths to work together - uses small grants to strengthen local communities, build support and trust and break down obstacles that stand in the way of better community relations.
In south London, there is a great example of a community project that is continuing to grow and bring people together. A few gardening enthusiasts turned a waste site on Clapham Common into a thriving community garden. From a humble start, the Bandstand Beds Association is now Clapham’s biggest food growing project.
But we also need to see more help from central government to improve community cohesion by reversing some spending cuts.
Teenagers are particularly hard hit after the government scrapped the educational maintenance allowance in 2011, cut the youth services budget by almost £400m since 2010 and hiked tuition fees.
When it comes to crime, young people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately victims of knife attacks. But the police struggle to deal with the problem after years of budget cuts.
There is no easy solution. I have been involved with charities in London that are trying to halt the epidemic of knife crime. We have seen volunteers team up with police to search for hidden knives and other weapons.
But there is only so much that volunteers can do. The promise from Labour of 10,000 extra police would make our neighbourhoods safer.
The money pledged by Labour to abolish the student tuition fees that cripple the finances of so many young people would help reduce the intergenerational wealth gap between the young and old.
And, those EU citizens worried about their place in the UK would be reassured by Labour’s guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status due to Brexit.
All these measures would help. But we still need to do more to strengthen our society.
That includes the Muslim community in Britain – the vast majority of whom are, like me, rightly proud of their British identity. From their ranks have come doctors, nurses, teachers and businessmen that have done their part in to improve our society.
There are multiple other examples and there is much to celebrate when it comes to the contributions of multiculturalism – despite the threat posed by those who want to attack us for our tolerance.
In my case, it was the proud moment my staff and I at Troia restaurant gave meals, help and a hospitable environment to the emergency services after the Westminster attack in March.
Against all the efforts to divide us, we need to work together to strengthen the pillars of our society. It will help make Britain a happy, safer and more prosperous place.
Relieving tensions in our society means more than just anti-terrorism strategy – it means a government ready to make real reforms across the country.
The appalling terrorist attacks on Manchester and London left us all facing a host of important questions.
There are the obvious ones such as who or what inspired the killers to commit such horrendous crimes and how can the police and security services prevent future outrages. But there are also questions that we need to ask ourselves about how we can strengthen the fabric of our society to make Britain a safer, more inclusive and more united place.
At present, that fabric is not torn apart, but it is badly damaged. As well as the terror attacks, there are some very different factors that have increased levels of distrust in our community.
There was last year’s European Union referendum that saw the nation split over Brexit and more recently, the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower that left many rightly furious with the slow response of Kensington and Chelsea council.
Those that are seeking to divide us try to capitalise on that distrust to spread their own brand of discontent.
The worst elements of those divisive forces are contained in Islamic State which has the capability to inspire terrorist atrocities across the world. Britain remains at risk from so-called jihadis – fighters who have returned from Syria, Iraq and Libya, often with technical and military expertise they could use to harm us.
Despite its poisonous ideology, Isis has managed to offer its sympathisers an outlet to express their grievances. It has been able to tap into those grievances and the aspirations of its followers with its sophisticated propaganda and skilled use of social media.
Isis will, however, not win and is losing the war on all fronts. Their so-called caliphate is on the edge of collapse after the defeat of Isis in Mosul. But we cannot rely with certainty on their total defeat just because they are being beaten in their strongholds. There is always the risk they will try to rebuild and return to commit fresh crimes.
While our communities came together after the attacks on Manchester and London to prove that terrorists cannot divide us, we need to do far more to strengthen our society and make us even more resilient.
That includes the Muslim community in Britain – the vast majority of whom are rightly proud of their British identity. From their ranks have come thousands of selfless doctors, nurses, teachers and businessmen that have each done their part in making our society stronger and more prosperous.
There are multiple other examples and there is plenty to celebrate when it comes to the contributions of multiculturalism. In my own case, it was the proud moment for my staff and I at Troia restaurant when we gave meals, assistance and a warm and hospitable environment to the emergency services in the aftermath of the Westminster attack in March.
However, we must all do more. There needs to be a national debate on what not just the Muslim community, but all communities can do to repair our society and strengthen the bonds between us.
I believe that a crucial part of that change is fighting to get a Labour government elected to give us the stronger and fairer society that we all need and deserve.
Since coming to power, the Tories have axed more than a million public sector jobs; our nurses, emergency services and police have been denied the pay rises they deserve. Cuts to police budgets have made us a less safe country, ill-equipped to meet the challenges of crime and terrorism in the 21st century.
In stark contrast, Labour will end the public sector pay cap, build 100,000 council homes, scrap tuition fees, ban zero hours contracts and put an extra 10,000 police officers on our streets.
Labour will also address the increasing social inequality that has forced record numbers of people into poverty and help young people left disillusioned and disaffected by the Tories.
A Labour government would offer us a chance to heal and rebuild our society. In the face of all the attempts to divide us, the most powerful message we can send is that we will work together to build a better society for all. Against fear and hatred, the British public’s quiet optimism remains our greatest strength.