The Refugee & the Bully

Disclaimer: Whilst some of the content in this passage is based on real events, the names included are not real. This extract aims to look into the lives of the two counterparts; the refugee and the bully.  

After viewing a video of a schoolboy experiencing abuse from his peers, it triggered a feeling of hate in my mind whilst my heart shattered into pieces. A Syrian refugee suffers discriminatory harm on a daily basis from young teens whilst I complain about my lack of caffeine intake in the mornings. I’m ashamed. I feel guilty that not only I but, others around me are oblivious to the harsh realities refugees face. I sit here wondering whether it is right for me to hate these bullies who torture innocent youngsters into believing that their existence in the country is “wrong.” Admittedly, after viewing those thirty seconds of pure cowardice, I exclaimed “f*cking b*stards” because, anything that puts minors in a difficult situation infuriates me. But, these perpetrators are his peers. They are educated under one roof. They are inhabitants of the same town. They are children of the same generation. How can it be that children who can barely string a sentence together, can be brave enough to carry out unthinkable, unforgettable and unforgivable acts?

Let me put things into perspective and let me put myself into both pairs of shoes; the bullies and the refugees.

Adnan is my name but, some days I’m called a foreigner and some days I’m called an illegal immigrant. I’ll be walking home from school and some even shout “paki,” which is wrong because I am Syrian. I moved to the UK approximately two years ago with my mother and my little sister. She is now four years old. She was very small when we first arrived here and I was 14. My mother still weeps every night, she misses Syria but, for what is used to be. It used to be a safe place, where we lived anyway. Mother will often say that it was inevitable. The war I mean. But, we never expected for it to spiral out of control to the point where we would be fleeing the country. The country where I grew up. The country where my family are situated.

It was hard moving to the UK. I didn’t know much English, I did study the basics at my school in Syria but, nothing too complex. My father used to tell me that the English language was almost a superpower because, with the English language in your bank, comes opportunities and a job that many would dream of having. Despite knowing very little English, I still felt uncomfortable coming to the UK. It’s not my home. I don’t belong here. People look at me and my family like we are animals. We don’t wear the best of clothes, we can’t afford to. My mother is very thankful that the local community centre provided her with a job, not many hours but, it’s something. The community centre also has a playgroup, which is ideal for my little sister. Whilst she plays with her friends, mother works.  She has to do everything by herself now. Father used to be the worker. He would have dreams of building his own business once the war ended. He always told us about his dreams. He used to tell us stories about the “man who made something out of nothing” and as the years passed, I clocked on that he was talking about himself in third person.

I was very excited to start school after Christmas. A new year means new beginnings. I had a mentor called Ben who is now one of my best friends. He introduced me to all of his friends and suddenly I had a handful of friends who were keen to help me progress my English language skills. Some of them even invited me into their homes to meet their families and to eat dinner with them. Unfortunately, there never goes a day where someone doesn’t target me. It is often racially motivated. It is often the same group of people too. I don’t tell the teachers you see because if I do, it will only get worse. Sometimes I think, maybe I should go back to Syria. But, I hear my father’s voice in my head telling me to be the better person followed by telling me to walk away. Sometimes I do fight back, how am I not supposed to when I am tackled to the ground with people punching and kicking me?

I don’t feel sorry for myself, I feel sorry for the bullies. They mustn’t have much else to do.

One day, I’ll eat my dinner in peace with Ben and the boys however, not today.

And one day, I’ll fulfill my Dad’s dreams and be the person who made something out of nothing.

My friends call me Toby, my parents call me Tobias when I’ve irritated them, which is often because I tend to get maybe two detentions a week. My detentions are mainly from swearing in class or not doing my homework. I like most of my teachers but, some of them are boring and to be honest, who needs to learn English anyways. I can speak it can’t I?

I spend most of my days at school and after school, I get to see my friends again. We all live in the same area and because mum and dad are often at work, they don’t really know that I am out until late in the evenings. I’m 16 anyways, practically an adult. I can make my  own decisions and quite frankly, I can do whatever I want. Mum works at the hospital, she is a nurse. Dad is a policeman, I think that’s why he gets frustrated with me when I get told off at school. Mum and dad always have friends around the house, they have a few foreign friends too which I don’t mind but, I do find it strange because I once read on Facebook that foreigners are taking all of our jobs. So, I do wonder why my parents aren’t scared of losing their jobs to their friends. Dad came home last week after a late night shift and I overheard him say to mum that there’s been some bother with the refugees. That apparently some of them have been lingering around the streets, homeless. There’s a few refugees at my school, does that mean they’re homeless too? That’s probably why they smell.

I go to the shop every morning before going to school, I get around £10-15 pocket money a week, spend most of it on sweets. Tariq who owns the shop has been there for years apparently, mum and dad know him from when they used to stop by before their times at school. He’s a nice guy, he always says hello and asks how my parents are doing. In his shop he has a stack of newspapers, I don’t tend to read the news, only if it ever comes up on Facebook or whenever i get tagged in something. Only recently I have noticed a lot of stories around immigrants. I think it was the Daily Express who’s front page headline was “Illegal Immigrants Pour Into Britain.” Which is bad because, if they are illegal then they shouldn’t be here right? The Sun also published something along the lines of “Illegals Have Landed.” I never know what to think of these stories, there’s a lot of fake news going around – our teachers have touched on this, kind of.

Steven tells me that anything that is printed is true and anything that is online could possibly be fake. I don’t know though. Steven also tells me that his mum and step-dad are struggling to find a job because all of the immigrants have taken them. Apparently we have let too many in, we as in the government. Steven will often shout things at the foreigners at school, he doesn’t really care. Steven is Steven. He lives with his mum and step-dad, his parents separated when he was at primary school. I couldn’t imagine life without my real dad. Today, Steven dared me to push Adnan over during dinner time because Adnan doesn’t belong here. I questioned it because, does he? I don’t know but, I did it anyway.

Steven recorded me pushing Jamaal over and now it’s all over social media.

I don’t know what to do.

Stop Street Harassment

Respect our GIRLS.

Take yourself back to your schools years. Ladies amongst you, do you recall having to pull down your skirt because you felt extremely uncomfortable with the glares that you would  received from fully grown men from across the street? Who would have thought that wearing a bog standard grey pleated skirt with 40 denier tights would cause such attraction and attention at the age of, let’s say 14 perhaps?

Today, the BBC released new statistical information published by the children’s charity, Plan International UK in where one third of participants (1,000 girls) expressed that they had experienced  some form of sexual harassment when wearing their school uniform, whilst two thirds of the cohort expressed that they have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public. Let us not forget to mention that girls as young as eight years old have also experienced or witnessed such actions. It baffles the mind that girls of such young age encounter situations like this in their day-to-day lives. The morning commute to school should comprise of girls nattering about their crushes or expressing their hate for their Physics Teacher who set a four page worksheet homework task the night before, not worrying about whether an individual from the opposite sex is gazing up their skirt or slyly observing their curves underneath their garments. Whether it be a 37 year old man or a 15 year old boy, this act of slimy behaviour leaves girls with that lump in the throat feeling, that feeling of disgust and that feeling of almost fear.

With recent scandals regarding sexual harassment breaking the internet; from the #MeToo movement to the women speaking up about their experiences at London Tube Stations, it is fair to say that sexual harassment is not as taboo as it used to be. Way back when, women often kept their mouths shut, they often kept such encounters hidden and often dealt with these recurring issues alone. Speak up and you’re accused of falsely accusing. Speak up and you’re told that “it’s your own fault.” Speak up and eyes roll because you’re not strong enough to ‘just deal with it.’ The act of groping, the act of stroking and the act of simply touching a woman with sexual and intimate intentions and without the consent of the individual is rightly classed as sexual harassment. The act of uttering profane and obscene remarks, again is rightly classed as sexual harassment. Once an individual oversteps the line by making one uncomfortable, this is an act of harassment in itself. Not a day goes by without this becoming a regular occurrence for many women across the UK and worldwide; something that should not exist as a norm but, unfortunately does. It is truly a sad day when children as young as eight year old will speak overtly about suffering this harsh reality that exists.

Whilst many have had the privilege of not encountering the unthinkable, sexual harassment which can lead to sexual assault has played a major role in many young people’s lives. Those who are exposed to the nature of rancid and revolting individuals who are sexually smug from making the vulnerable feel wholly minor, are often those who suffer in the long run. Barriers are raised higher than ever before, trust is lost, emotions are tampered with and all are tarnished with the same brush. Physically, girls are left shaken. Emotionally, girls are left confused. Plan International UK’s recent statistics are perhaps not news to us, we undoubtedly are aware that the sexual harassment of our young exists but, at what point do we intervene and ensure that this type of abuse doesn’t interfere with the development and progress of our children’s lives? We must continue to remind children and women alike that speaking up is the stepping stone to eliminating and eradicating this type of behaviour. We must be active teachers in ensuring that both boys and girls are aware of what acceptable behaviour is and what is not. We must allow any individual the right to express their concerns if they are made to feel unsafe in a society that claims to be safe for all to live in. Because, nobody should experience the emotion of discomfort when carrying out their daily business, whether that is walking to school or visiting the off licence across the store.

For more on Plan International UK’s research, please visit:  https://plan-uk.org/act-for-girls/street-harassment/its-not-ok

New Gen & Politics

Earlier this year, the hashtag #Vote16 became a national talking-point with thousands of users engaging and expressing their views on a topic that has generated much attention for decades on end. Whilst The Representation of the People Act 1969 offered 18 year old citizens to vote, now more than ever, it doesn’t seem enough. Arguments for Vote 16 derive from factors such as, “if I can have consensual sex, I can vote;” “if I can get married or register a civil partnership, I can vote;” and “if I can leave education at 16 for full time employment, I can vote.” Arguments against the Vote 16 address the concern that the lack of political education in schools can lead to a misinformed ballot. This is also combined with the influence of a digital era where fake news and advertising on social media can lead to decisions formed from our best friends, algorithms. Whilst algorithmic cleverness can inform us on promotions from our favourite retailers, when it comes to politics and influencing our young, perhaps this is not the effective approach to leading a democratic state.

Let’s start from the beginning. Who remembers learning about the difference between the Left and the Right? By that, we are obviously referring to the political stances and not the terms associated with directions and spatial awareness. Political education often falls under PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) and within this subject, students also learn about the different types of STI’s you can come into contact with (often comprises of a graphical powerpoint presentation that is “supposed” to put you off sex for life) as well as topics such as “what makes you a good citizen.” Admittedly, I do remember those lessons, not because I was the delinquent on the back row throwing screwed up sweet wrappers at my peers but, because those lessons were drier than a camel’s arsehole in a sandstorm. Without discrediting our teachers, placing PSHE fifth and final on our timetables was undoubtedly a regrettable mistake. Here you are trying to teach your class of 14-16 year olds how to be a law abiding citizen, how to not have sex and how to give back to your community towards the end of the day; at the time, as a teen, I could have thought of a million other things that I would have rather be doing. As humorous as it may seem, it does simply start here…

School, other than being around your favourite bunch of people, is an institution that delivers a curriculum to educate the young whilst preparing them for the “big bad world” – and boy is it bad. Primary school, years of imaginative play, constructing legible sentences together and adding two plus two to equal four whilst secondary school elaborates on these foundations that early years education provides. By the time we hit Year 9, we are now ammateur critical thinkers, most of us have hit puberty at this point and think that we know literally “everything,” because our minds allow us to do so. At this age, we are capable of forming opinions, we are capable of deconstructing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and we are capable of understanding that Apartheid was well and truly immoral. So, why is it that the curriculum doesn’t overtly teach our young the fundamental basics of how the country we live in functions? Okay, the curriculum tells teachers that they must educate the young on how to make a positive contribution to British society however, with guidelines so vague, where are teachers supposed to start? One week you’re learning about the hardships of the homeless, the next you’re utilising your PSHE lesson as time to catch up on your English coursework with. There seems to be very little specification of what the subject looks to deliver therefore, lack of structure and lack of an organised work-flow for students. This nevertheless disengages the students from learning and often you’ll hear the queue to the class sighing and rolling their eyes painfully because the subject is nothing but a doss.

The teaching of political education however, is not in the sole responsibility of the education system; at a young age, it is fair to say that the majority are easily influenced by their parents and family. This is when it starts to get tricky. Vote 16 seeks to allow universal rights in voting for those the age of 16+ but, what happens when PSHE isn’t taught sufficiently? Children turn to who they believe; their close ones. In this case, parents, because whatever mum and dad say is true right? Giving these 16 year olds the vote without compulsory political education could lead to ballots based on biased stances from parents – this could get ugly quite quickly. Not only are we stripping away the freedom to form individual opinion by allowing the influence of parents but, we embark on a potentially dangerous situation where the opinions of the ill-educated parents “rub off” on their offspring. This isn’t a criticism by any means against parents, though this is a criticism against the select few who preach their bullshit views and impose their views on their young, thus creating the next generation of dimwits who in time will eventually vote according to their parents’ beliefs.

Ticked off schools, ticked off parents. What about the politicians themselves? Do you ever switch over to Sky News/BBC News etc and listen to the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and oh, let’s not forget Theresa May and think “what the actual fuck are you talking about?” This is nothing against the Conservatives either, they’re all guilty of it, and yes I am referring to Corbyn. Their political rhetoric is quite a difficult one to grasp, even as a Political Sciences graduate, I struggle at times. So how, when the speeches are incomprehensible can anyone of any age engage? If voting at 16 was to become a movement, one of the first points the education system would have to address is the information that is distributed to the teens because, there is no way in hell that pupils under the age of 16 will fathom the complexity of the polysyllabic vocabulary of political jargon. Simplification is a must, combined with creating engaging content, you are onto a winner. This is not a case of “dumbing it down” because the young are not “dumb” but subjects of an education system that intends to prepare them for their future therefore, teaching them the foundations of how a country is run must be practised in a way that generates interest as well as understanding. Children should be walking into their PSHE lessons eager to learn about what shapes every aspect of their lives, showing them a speech filmed outside of Number 10 unfortunately won’t do that.

Whilst school leavers take on employment as opposed to continuing their studies thus paying taxes and national insurance, whilst teens express their concerns for the lack of trust society has in them and whilst our future generation want a say in the costs of their education, it’s time to provide them a stepping stone into the realities of politics. The education system and the curriculum are keen to prepare pupils for the future, yet compulsory political education is disintegrating into the abyss. Vote 16 must and should go hand in hand with a curriculum that works to utilise its resources to ensure a clear and coherent understanding of modern day governance. Compulsory political education is where democracy truly begins, teach our children that politics is a necessity and voila, you’ve produced a young electoral who empathise with the real impact voting in an election has.

We Women

Some of us have been lucky enough to live in the capital we call London. A place where the skyscrapers leave us with a strained neck, whilst the sunset down South Bank produces the prettiest of Instagrammable images.  In other news… 

The #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign initiated by the Mayor of London celebrates the progression of gender equality within the city, it looks to educate and inform inhabitants and travellers from far and wide that the city is a place where revolutionaries collaborated to create change. This change being the right to vote. For women. 2018 celebrates the 100 year anniversary where millions of women were acknowledged for their basic right in expressing their views and political stances. The Representation of the People Act was finally here to give women a chance to use their voice. A chance to be heard. A monumental event generating much cheer, joy and relief amongst the British population. After fighting for years and gaining punishments for their actions, women were given their time to shine. But all of this came at a price, of course. It wouldn’t be politics if exclusion of a particular group didn’t exist, right?

Whilst the piece of legislature changed the face of the electoral, it still had a long way to go. Only women who were 30 years old, owned property, were a member of or married to a member of the Local Government Register or were graduated from university were given the luxury to vote. So, indeed it is fair to state that the beginning of the success was still limited however, ten years later, women regardless of status and those over the age of 21 were granted such a privilege. 1928 was a year of the woman; at last, all “adult” females were now able to act upon their freedom of right to communication by ticking a box for their preferred political party. London was a one stop destination for protests; Trafalgar Square was often a tremendous site to see; women and men gathering in unison to fight for gender equality; which is why department stores such as Harvey Nichols, Harrods and Fortnum & Masons have supported the #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign. Smashing their windows and presenting breathtaking and spine chilling visual displays that portray the true dedication and commitment women expressed a century ago.

There was a true struggle in attaining the same rights as men, from the Matrimonial Act of 1937 to the Equal Pay Act of 1970, females across Britain waited several decades before receiving the rights that they were entitled to. The Equal Pay Act being introduced in the 1970’s can be difficult to grasp; did our grandparents and perhaps even parents really experience this indifference and discrimination? Although April 4th 2018 saw the press deconstructing prolific businesses and their gender pay gap, it is promising to see that these three department stores are supporting the progression and status of women in business. Harvey Nichols’ board members comprise of a female majority, Fortnum & Mason’s management team are 65% women whilst Harrods offers specific business courses for females – to be the boss ass bitches they deserve to be. These are three of many who are striving to ensure that equality exists in the workplace and thanks to these companies, women are left with hope for their future. However, recent magnification of the term equality is now driving debate with regards to considering all types of equality and how businesses need to take factors such as ethnicity and age into consideration, before claiming their establishments are fully promoting the “equal” rhetoric. That’s another topic of discussion for another day.

Here’s to our women.

Freedom of Speech VS Hate Speech

“The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may therefore speak, write, and print freely.”

In an era where social media provides many with the bravery to express their opinion, the audacity to appear as overtly racist/homophobic/sexist and the confidence to demonstrate their passions; freedom of speech has come a long way. Whilst the ability to state our thoughts on particular issues and matters stimulates our ever-growing minds, let us not forget the difference between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech.” As obvious as this is, the freedom of speech of a human being translates to being given the access to communicate our subjective opinions. However, the moment an individual invades a person’s/group’s physical, mental and emotional space in a discriminatory way, this is when freedom of speech becomes a toxic excuse for promoting derogatory and undermining expressions.

2017 saw a historical moment for the UK; 51.9% of those who voted in the EU Referendum made the decision to leave the European Union. Meanwhile, the remaining 48.1% of the voters woke up to what they perceived as a living nightmare. Waking up and performing the ritual of opening social media apps led to coming across tweets such as “now fuck off back to where you came from” accompanied by “we want Britain to be back British.” Try countering such remarks and you’re left with “this is my right to freedom of speech.” Here we have a perfect example of “hate speech,” where keyboard warriors are laughably defending their statements. Justifying them and priding themselves in a right that has been abused by a group of dimwits drinking tinnies whilst gaining entertainment from watching their mirrored lives on The Jeremy Kyle Show. For fuck sake. Not a consideration for the sensitivity of their peers, mind you, the term “sensitivity” comprises of five whole syllables; something this particular group of lager louts are not familiar with.

Of course, not all Brexiteers can be categorised and unified as prejudiced pricks. Long before the referendum, the Facebook page Britain First gained much popularity amongst those who stupidly believe that immigration is the sole reason for the decline of their country. Posts preaching narratives such as “get rid of every Muslim in this country,” published on a platform followed by two million Facebook users; users from far and wide. Whilst Donald Trump retweets a Britain First tweet, the group’s Facebook page reaches a grand total incorporating not only ignorant views of the British but, the Americans too. Once again, for fuck sake. However, luckily for us, Facebook banned the page and its leaders earlier this year because, let’s face it, political views should be expressed without far right fuckwits expressing  horrifyingly grammatically incorrect hate. The two million virtual supporters of Britain First will argue the diminish of their freedom of speech as a result of Facebook’s decision however, many will appreciate the exclusion of a page promoting outright discrimination. A sigh of relief amongst the majority of British people who are continuously let down by the ill-educated, vulgar and backward individuals who present themselves as fearless keyboard warriors.

The freedom to communicate is a concept taken for granted, used and manipulated by groups to create a sense of unity amongst people with similar views. In the form of speaking “fictitious facts,” peers are easily influenced by those who claim their statements are “correct.” Jamali Maddix, a British comedian worthy of a seat in parliament, once stated that Tommy Robinson is the far right’s Nelson Mandela. Mandela being an unforgettable political leader, a revolutionary. Perhaps Tommy Robinson won’t be replacing Theresa May anytime soon however, his courageous character has won him a tremendous tribe of followers who believe in his rhetoric. A group of supporters who engage with his speech, who trust his statements and who empathise with his loathe towards the 50 shades of browns who are obviously benefit stealing scum. His right to freedom of speech has somewhat generated a trend for speaking in the same manner, vocalising hate via a simple sentence is now sadly the norm. Normalisation of discriminating comments has to an extent damaged the privilege of freedom of speech.

Regardless of the documentaries that showcase our exceptionally attentive police force who deal with hate crime, unfortunately, hate speech is an ongoing phenomena. Social media, although a brilliant communicative device for personal and business use, can be a dangerous device that provides a home for discrimination in the form of a 140 character long broadcast.