Ruminations on running a political campaign

Recently, following a rigorous training process and campaign period, I was elected as Deputy Young Mayor of my borough (Tower Hamlets) for the term 2017 to 2019. As cliche as this may sound, this entire experience has been wonderful; I have learnt so much, about different people and their cultures, about who I am, and about politics in general. 

I will not lie by attempting to claim that this process has been easy for me: following a training period that spanned over the course of three months and consisted of various meetings, interviews and training sessions, the number of candidates was narrowed from an initial cohort to approximately fifty, down to ten final candidates. Promptly after this, we were left to our own campaigns for over a month- from mid-December 2016 to late January 2017. This allowed me to develop my organisational skills, as I needed to create a necessary balance in my life, what with my political campaign, alongside preparation for imperative mock exams, as well as preparation for my entrance exams to get accepted into my desired sixth form.

Below are some of the lessons I have been taught during my campaign, which I would have given to my former self prior to my campaign. I have decided to share these words of advice in order to assist anyone who may be going through a particularly challenging stage in their lives:

1) Some people will hate you for no apparent reason. 

The unfortunate reality of the world is that some people will find a reason to detest you, without even knowing you. Perhaps they are members of an opposition party’s campaign team, or even a random person from a different school. They may dislike you based on something as trivial as your accent or facial structure, but the key thing to remember is that they do not know you; they are simply attempting to fill an unfillable  void in their lives. So keep your head up and shrug off any negativity.

2) The support you receive will be overwhelmingly heartwarming.

This process will reveal to you who your true friends are. They will rush to the streets to campaign with you, attend meetings with you and relentlessly update your social media feeds for you. However, most importantly, these friends will (metaphorically) hold their hands out beneath you, ready to catch you if you fall, and catapult you back on track.

But the support you receive will not solely come from the people you know and love: you will receive an overwhelming amount of support from people you have never even met before, and new friendships will undoubtedly be forged.

3) This will be tough. 

But you are tougher. These months will drain you- mentally, physically and spiritually, but eventually you will respond to the strenuous nature of your situation, and you will adapt to it accordingly. It takes courage and determination, but most of all, it takes a high degree of organisation. Sometimes I was forced to endure days that comprised of meetings, followed by lengthy revision sessions, followed by family gatherings, followed by an hour or so of outdoor campaigning. Thankfully, this allowed me to develop my skills (especially those pertaining to communication and organisation) and have fun with my friends.

4) Some may start to view you as nothing more than a vessel. 

Through this comparatively small-scale political campaign, I have realised that people are quick to perceive political candidates as mere political vessels, rather than human beings with true emotions. The amount of hostility one can receive simply by running for a political position is absolutely atrocious. Despite this, it is important to focus on the positive rather than the negative aspects of life, for we become whatever we ponder upon constantly.

5) Hold on to who you are, but be open to positive changes. 

Ultimately, the best possible advice I can impart is as follows: know yourself, accept yourself, and seize every opportunity made available to you. Success lies not in winning, but in taking a chance, and in being the very best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who voted for me, and I look forward to working alongside my friends Fahimul and Shaiam over the next two years to make a positive impact on our borough.

And finally, good luck to anyone considering running for the role of young mayor in two years’ time!

Response to Daily Mail’s Littlejohn

The Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn is a very pleasant, intelligent chap, known for writing about pressing issues such as immigration (a manifestation of “extremist, expansionist Islam”) and calling a new mother a “gypsy”, before asking her why she “even [came] here in the first place”. 

Recently, I came across an article by him about Michelle Obama’s visit to Mulberry School- a girls’ school in Tower Hamlets, earlier this year. I was simultaneously humoured and appalled.

See the article here

In the article, Littlejohn begins by asking a very crucial question: “Did Michelle Obama not see the irony in delivering a speech on female emancipation to a school full of girls in headscarves in the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets?”. I must admit, I found this hilarious. He obviously believes (without cited sources or statistics) that the Hijab is somehow a symbol of oppression, and that it is absolutely impossible to be a liberated female British human being if you wear a scarf on your head. With regards to the ‘Islamic Republic’ aspect, according to the borough’s website, Tower Hamlets is the only British local authority where the Muslim population is the largest single religious group.  35% of people in Tower Hamlets are Muslim, whilst 27% are Christian. The rest of the population is made up of atheists, Jewish people, Hindus e.t.c. I don’t think such figures add up to make the borough an ‘Islamic Republic’.

Littlejohn claims that “majority [of the pupils] have no option to wear headscarves and long robes”. I wonder if he’d conducted a survey of some sort before reaching this conclusion, or whether his statement was entirely speculative, designed to conform to an Islamophobic agenda. Hmm… I’m going to go with the latter.

He goes on to state that his “guess” is that the Department for Education chose the venue deliberately to showcase “our new, rigorously enforced State religion: ‘Celebrating Diversity'”. Well, sir, your article seems to be full to the brim with similar “guesses”, unsupported by solid evidence of any kind.

The term ‘ultra-religious’ is used to caption an image of the First Lady standing in front of a group of Mulberry students. Granted, most of the girls are pictured in Hijabs, but does this reflexively mean that they are ‘ultra-religious’?

Many conjecturable statements are made in the article, including Littlejohn’s view that “Mulberry School is one of the least diverse schools in Britain”. I doubt he has ever ventured out of London to schools in Kent, where most of the students are white. My cousin attends a grammar school in Kent; she is the only Hijab-wearing student in her entire year, and is one of the only two non-white students in her class.

The idiocy does not stop there. Littlejohn claims that the article is “not directed at the…pupils”, however he mentions how the pupils come from a predominantly Bangladeshi background. He goes on to talk about the then “Muslim mayor” of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, as though religion was a central factor in his vote-rigging fiasco. Essentially, through this article, Littlejohn is denigrating Islam; he finds it ironic that the First Lady “delivered a speech on female emancipation in front of a [mainly Muslim] audience”, as though the students are feeble, submissive, voiceless victims of oppression, who “have no option other than to wear the restrictive clothes imposed upon them by their parents”. When will the media accept Muslim women as the powerful and creative people that they are?

Littlejohn speculatively labels  the Hijab a “symbol of seperatism” and “female oppression”, but who are the oppressors, I wonder? The truth is, Muslim women who choose to express pride in their religious identities are oppressed by ignorant imbeciles who write entire articles about their ‘oppression’ without even consulting them first.

In an attempt to save himself from inevitable accusations of racism and Islamophobia, Littlejohn makes clear that his intention is not to vilify, but rather to prevent “young Muslim men and women” from being “susceptible to extremist interpretations of Islam”. Yeah, right. If that was truly the case, he would have portrayed the fine students of Mulberry school in a positive light- for they are brilliant individuals, as the school’s achievement statistics show. Littlejohn unfairly uses their Hijabs to demean them, insisting that they will probably be “forced to stay at home” or “take part in arranged marriages”.

“Now try to gauge your reaction when you discovered that Michelle Obama was actually in London”. Here, Littlejohn conveys just how disgusted he was at the fact that none of the prefect students pictured with the First Lady were white. How adorable.

This was not the only instance where a Daily Mail columnist openly expressed Islamophobic attitudes: when the Queen of the Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya Hussain, was crowned, journalist Amanda Platell was actually offended by the fact that Flora Shedden did not win, claiming that she would have stood a better chance if she’d made a “chocolate mosque”.

In conclusion, the Daily Mail is an ocean of bigoted tears, and its columnists are in desperate need of a lesson in intersectional feminism.

Unfair media representations of Muslim women