Justice and equality in a great city: Book Review `Dear Birmingham` by Karamat Iqbal

Robin Richardson 


‘Dear Birmingham,’ writes Karamat Iqbal, ‘thank you for being my home for the past forty plus years. Thank you also for welcoming my father and others in our family and community during the fifties. You as a city welcomed them, us, because you needed their labour and they came willingly because they needed jobs. As we have learnt, it has benefited the city in many ways. It has certainly benefited our community, both here and back in Pakistan. I grew up in a brick house, the first in our village, thanks to the money earned in Birmingham.’

Iqbal’s book is an extended thank-you letter, almost an extended love letter. It is not, however, just one long outpouring of gratitude and affection. The city which he holds dear can be disappointing and deplorable, a hell-hole as well as a haven, a place of negligence and neglect as well as a nest, woeful as well as wonderful. Iqbal loves his fellow citizens of all backgrounds. But also he wants change, and wants it radically, deeply, urgently. He wants and seeks justice and equality, and wants them for all communities in Birmingham – not only the newer communities which have settled there in the last sixty years but also those whose ancestors settledin the city rather earlier. Read more of this post

 Book Review: The Great Tax Robbery by Richard Brooks

Frederick Cowell 

Image© DS Pugh

Simon Hoggart’s diary column in a recent edition of the Saturday Guardian, whilst not referencing Richard Brooks’ detailed book, captures its essence

“Suppose you got a letter from HMRC saying: “Your tax bill of £3,258.47 is now overdue. If it is not paid immediately further action will be taken.” At the end is a scrawled note, saying, “but if you buy me lunch, and give me a job when I leave, we can call it quits for £105.”

That’s not a joke – that’s actually a reasonable summary of what the Inland Revenue actually did. As Richard Brooks details in exhaustive depth in Chapter Eight of The Great Tax Robbery the Inland Revenue has form in this area – in 2011 they negotiated what can only be called a sweetheart deal with the authorities in Switzerland which simply wrote off billions of pounds in evaded and avoided taxes. Only last week the heads of government at the G8 seemed to be waking up to the scale of tax avoidance which is astonishing given that just five years ago it was still a fringe concern of a few left-wing campaign groups and a handful campaigning writers. Read more of this post

Jesus in the Qur’ān by Geoffrey Parrinder, Book Review

Lincoln Green 

Image © Handyhuy

Islam has been described as the religion of the point.  Muslims worship the One God.  The key text of Islam is one book, the Qur’ān.  Prayer is physically directed towards one place, the Kaʽba or Sacred House of the most sacred mosque of Mecca.  Muhammad is the last prophet sent by God.

Despite image making being associated with idolatry and hence proscribed, it is striking that the historian Ahmad al-Azraqi recorded in 858 that when the Prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca in 630 and supervised destruction of its idols, he placed his hands over a painting of Jesus and Mary and said “wash out all except what is below my hands”.  The relationships between Islam and Christianity, between Qur’ānic and Biblical versions of the life of Jesus, are complex.  Parrinder’s short book of 187 pages is rich in content and a highly rewarding analysis of these relationships.  He applies close referencing of both Qur’ānic and Biblical texts to his study, examining subtleties of translation and interpretation by both Islamic and non-Islamic scholars, and underscores his work with perceptive awareness of historical and social influences on how these texts became definitive.  The book is inclusive and highly accessible to the interested reader, whether or not from a religious background. Read more of this post

Michael Gove: Poor listening skills are education department`s core problem…

Dan Walsh  

So our education secretary has unveiled his tremendous plan to repair British education. He believes in more rigour. I’m with you Mr Gove. Driving up standards? Yes with you there too. But your utter inability to listen to what people are saying means your policies have the opposite effect from that which you allegedly intended. The man has a very legitimate point when he talks about grade inflation and so forth. British exam results have been colossally high for a long time yet our standards of literacy, numeracy and other key skills lag behind much of the rest of Europe. This is a direct result of a curriculum and statistic obsessed approach which means children are taught to pass exams rather than to learn. Exams have become almost a glorified memory test which doesn’t necessarily equate to a well rounded and capable person. I say this without remotely intending to belittle the great efforts many students undoubtedly make at school and I’m not suggesting that exams are simply ‘easy’ but schools strategically teaching to boost their league table results is not the approach that should be taken to educate a child. I’m not completely blaming the schools – politicians looking to make cheap political points are the root cause of this educational problem. If the prime minister can stand at the dispatch box and say ‘results are up by such and such a percentage’ it sounds good even if it overlooks the fact that our actual standards comparable to Europe are not so good. Read more of this post

Love and Marriage

Image © Ryan Somma

Dan Walsh

It was a sign of the times when Ian Paisley jnr was almost ridiculed, for his staunch opposition to gay marriage. However, he is not alone in his reactionary views. Tory MP’s did their best to block the bill they detest so much by tabling an amendment because of the contrived ‘injustice’ that a civil partnership is not available to heterosexual couples. It seems highly doubtful that any couple would actively desire a civil partnership over a marriage. After all, registry office weddings between heterosexuals are called marriages, not civil partnerships. Civil partnerships, an important step on the road to gay rights are essentially a Tesco-value marriage for gays underlining the notion (still held by the church in its various guises) that gays aren’t quite as ‘ok’ as heterosexuals. So even if the amendment proposed was genuinely put forward for the reasons claimed, which logic suggest it wasn’t given the unsound reasoning at the heart of the proposal, the Tory amendment was in fact an old fashioned filibuster and therefore hardly a coincidence that the amendment would delay the bill by years and possibly destabilise it altogether. Read more of this post

British law in an era of retrenchment: Access denied…

Legal Eagle 

Image © Cawi2001-Carsten Wieman

Who would want to be a junior solicitor at the moment? It appears many would answer this question in the affirmative. This is odd given the incredibly difficult road they must follow in order to qualify, a situation made worse if you have no legal connections and come from a working class background. The vast majority of junior solicitors only succeed by amassing huge debts used to finance the myriad of academic and professional courses. To meet the criteria you must gain a training contract, these are usually applied for during the LPC, or at the academic stage whilst undergoing the LLB or GDL course. Gaining a training contract has always been highly competitive, though the current economic downturn means significantly fewer contracts are available. This makes qualifying, which has always been an arduous process almost impossible to achieve. In 2008 for example, many firms simply withdrew their training contracts, with dire professional consequences for those who had applied. More disturbing, is the prevalence of law firms currently offering candidates applying for training contracts, non-paid internships as an inducement, the first run on the ladder for consideration as a trainee. Read more of this post


Katherine Edwards

Image © Simon Harriyott

The 25th of June this year is the 110th anniversary of the birth of the creator of that most darkly compelling and well known of all dystopias, Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Like all such speculative fiction Orwell’s dystopia holds up a distorting mirror to reality.  It subjects some of its distinguishing features to extremes of enlargement and extrapolation, to explore them and warn of their implications.  Such flights of imagination stand or fall by their plausibility, their emotional power and what they reveal about reality by recasting it in a different and distorted form. Orwell would not engage his readers if his dystopia didn’t communicate something significant about the human condition. One aspect of his message, I will argue, has particular current significance. Read more of this post