THE BLOG

Birmingham's Diversity Doesn't Separate Us, It Brings Us Together

13/01/2015 09:43 GMT | Updated 14/03/2015 09:59 GMT

It's not every day you wake up to the voice on the radio of your neighbouring MP and friend, a German-born immigrant from Catholic Bavaria, confirming that no, she is not in fact a Muslim. Really?

It was, a disconcerting start to the day, it would be fair to say. And until my phone started ringing with the press asking for comment, I've got to be honest I put it down to the fact that I'm not great at early early mornings. We just don't get on.

But it transpired that Gisela really was on the radio. And she really was denying that the entire city of Birmingham was a no go area for non-Muslims.

At this point I did momentarily mull the wisdom of my decision to start the fifth book of the addictive Game of Thrones series on Sunday afternoon. I hadn't checked Twitter in the last 369 pages and was wondering what on earth was going on.

And what was going on was the most amazingly hilarious fight back from and about the city I was born in, live in, and now represent in Parliament, to the most ludicrous and ridiculous depiction of "Birming-ham" I have ever seen. (@wainwright_star and @Historyneedsyou I'm still deciding which of you is funnier)

Steve Emerson's expert opinion that "In Britain, it's not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don't go in" has created the best twitter banter I've seen in ages. And when I've stopped laughing I will be a little bit offended. I promise.

And offended not at the mischaracterisation of the religious makeup of the city - the city is 21% Muslim - but at the mischaracterisation that our diversity is something that separates us rather than something that brings us together.

In my own constituency I see this coming together in abundance. It's not just the Irish you'll see tapping their feet to the Irish tunes at The Spotted Dog; or just the Chinese community enjoying the amazing Chinese New Year Celebrations in the Arcadian. The thriving shopping centres of the Soho Road and Coventry Road (which serve predominately African Caribbean and Muslim populations respectively) are visited by discerning shoppers from across the city.

Which is not to say that multiculturalism is not without its difficulties. It's irritating to be a non-Muslim child or parent in a mainly Muslim school when Eid comes. The school won't shut but most of the children won't be there. Wedding venues that cater for upwards of 1,000 people over several days can cause parking mayhem for other residents. And don't move your car from your parking space when the Blues play at home. It's not just that your space will be gone - every square inch of spare parking for a mile will have disappeared.

But, let's face it, my own family irritate me sometimes. It just goes with the territory. Irritation is however a far cry from irreconcilable conflict.

In the main, it seems to me, we - the 494,000 Christians, the 32,000 Sikhs, the 22,000 Hindus, the 234,000 Muslims, the 4,780 Buddhists, the 2,205 Jews, the 206,821 of no religion and let's not forget the 2,238 Jedi Knights - of this city get along just fine.

With our quirks, our idiosyncrasies and our differences we do and we will thrive as we use our inbuilt links to the markets of the Indian Sub-Continent, China and Eastern Europe to grow our own economy.

So where Emerson sees a threat I see power. What Emerson sees as frightening I see as enchanting. And where Emerson sees danger I see hope.

And as for the Mecca Bingo hall in Kingstanding Circle (hat tip to @wainwright_star); it's definitely not my Mecca. But it's Mecca for some people in this city. And do you know what? That seems perfectly normal to me.

Shabana Mahmood is Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood and Shadow Exchequer Secretary