Yesterday was quite an unusual one for me. I had been told to attend an event at the mosque in the afternoon which was being held as the Secretary of State MP Eric Pickles was visiting. Now you must understand that the local mosque is not one which usually hosts these types of visits so I found it quite unusual. What could have brought this on and why had I been invited?
The night before at 10:38pm, I received a call from one of the organisers who gave me a bit of information regarding the events. That’s when the penny dropped, he wanted me to say a few words about my experience growing up in the local community. It was basically an event to show the Right Honourable Gentleman that our community is a peaceful and loving one and that we have nothing to do with those despicable acts being carried out around the world by those inhumane people as well as showcasing the great work local faith-based organisations have done.
Now of course when there is an event like this, it is difficult to know where to draw the line with regards to politics. He is of course a Conservative MP so it would have been quite easy to interrogate him on all the actions of the Government that we disagreed with. I remember when two MPs visited my college last year and the students absolutely grilled them to the point that it was more of an attack on them rather than a productive debate. Although one of the MPs may have deserved it after arriving an hour late (with a pathetic excuse), the other certainly did not. The students crowed about how they’d performed in interrogating him but it seemed to me that they had missed the point. Rather than befriending the MP and showing him the legitimate and very real concerns that students faced, they instead pushed him away.
So politics were put aside for the afternoon in terms of policies which did not concern the specific role of Eric Pickles but issues were raised which affected our local Muslim community and things which the MP could actually help us out on. I think many elder members of the gathering were a bit star struck given the fact this was such a rare event. It was quite funny to see one of them who usually talks in excess and without any difficulty suddenly turn into a more meek voice. It was actually quite a heart-warming event because on one hand, it was an olive branch from the Secretary of State as we normally feel marginalised and forgotten due to the tsunami of misconceptions in the media. Another fact is that Hackney is not a rich area and so naturally, politicians are regarded with a bit of distrust and perhaps contempt. So it was nice for the people to see and interact with one of these politicians whom we see on the news everyday yet never really feel that he represents us. By us I not only mean Muslims, but also Jews, Christians (who were also invited to the event) and the underprivileged of Hackney.
Coming back to the personal aspect of the day, I arrived to find that I would be talking for three minutes after a local girl talked about her experience growing up in Hackney. She was practising in front of the organisers and that was when I began to feel that perhaps I had underestimated the status of this event, as I had hardly prepared except for a hastily typed up few words. I had thought it would be a little chat, some tea and biscuits and off we’d go. The reality was very different. The room was laid out elegantly, chairs and tables with refreshments in the middle and after a short wait, the event began.
As I awaited my turn to speak, the nerves were beginning to get to me although I had remained quite calm beforehand. When I did finally stand up to take my place at the microphone, I began a bit shakily but then I felt my confidence grow. It was plain sailing after that and when I sat back down again, it was with a sense of happiness and surprise at how I’d performed. It’s not like I talk publicly everyday so I was glad to have gained the experience as well as voicing my thoughts and opinions. Oh yeah, at least I did not call him Eric Pickle like an elderly man did. Somehow that sounds a whole lot worse than Pickles right?
UPDATE: Text of speech has been posted.
Until Next Time
A Worried Student