OPINION by Bobby Syed

The Voice – 17 September 2006

May I start by saying that as a British Muslim, I’m against all forms of terrorism, in any shape or form as would anyone be regardless of race, nationality and colour and above all religion.

But somehow Muslims are always in the dock for this word, ‘terrorism’: was this the case for the Irish Catholic community in Britain, the U.S., or even Northern Ireland with the Catholic Church being blamed for the IRA activities?

I am grateful that the same now can be said with the ending of the Lebanese and Israeli conflict. Sadly, too many women and children died during this war. We all lost our innocence then, as we watched the region move towards chaos. For me, common sense won; this stupid conflict should have been stopped sooner.

Any future conflict had the possibility of being based upon economic loss not military gain, with a mutual destruction clause thrown in for good measure. A conflict is now more likely in Lebanon if Israel does not give back the Shebaa Farm or even exchange prisoners; this is why the world is a very dangerous place with many isolated Muslim states having nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Which poses the real question: what do British Muslims have to lose if they’re attacked for being a Muslim, as a spiritual or cultural entity? The proud Muslim communities are taught to care about others before themselves and they do, as seen through their anti-government ‘foreign policy’ stance. Some fanatics take this to another level through acts of terrorism or desperation, but sadly many are compared by the actions of a few through trial by the media.

We are told that Muslims should control their own. This is neither realistic nor practical, of many British Muslims. Some even pamper to their own pay masters, claiming to be the voice of the people without being elected by the people, neatly establishing the now government ‘integrationist’ model for dealing with minorities – leaving them to their own devices, rather than trying to absorb them into a national British culture.

This is why I founded the EMMA Awards in 1997. My own aim was to celebrate a real Muslim sense of Britishness, as my own childhood had been influenced from black politics, Chinese spiritual thinking through martial arts, Indian cinema and the British/English education system.

Bobby Syed is the founder of the EMMA Awards.

by BOBBY SYED, founder of the EMMA awards

The Voice – 11 July 2006

If we’ve learned anything from England’s World Cup efforts, it’s clear that our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic dynamics have changed the beautiful game and the way we celebrate it.

Isn’t it great that we as ethnic minorities can all finally celebrate England in its attempts to win the World Cup as a nation, because of the cultural shift that took place over the last few decades with football itself?

We have to all admire our new crop of black British players for this World Cup campaign, who, from the core of the England team, are in a position based upon their merit alone. With rising stars like Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, the future is not orange, it’s black!

Maybe the shift towards black players within the England team came about with the introduction of Sven-Goran Eriksson whose only objective was to win at all cost – at worst, a draw would do. He had to take risks in the eyes of the traditional and dubious FA, at times with the British press in tow.

Since 1966, the nation that invented football has failed to win the World Cup – surely it can’t be the players’ fault alone, because they make the Premiership rock, or are they just lazy and arrogant in an England shirt?

Where are the black football managers, or Asian footballers for that matter? Are black kids only seen as footballers and not managers? We should ask John Barnes about that case as well.

Are Asian kids – who are clearly excluded from the national game as professional players – forced to play for India Pakistan or Bangladesh due to a lack of forward thinking by the FA with an ‘even-playing field’ in mind – or is it all about the money?

In 1976, a race revolution took place in this country to make it a truly multicultural state.

I feel we’re going through a new 21st century multicultural revolution 30 years on, with a hope we should stop disabling people by judging them for their own culture or religion, we need to all demand the impossible – equality at all costs.

The Dutch recently went out of the World Cup – already they claim racism within their own footballing federation led to this.

The French team is predominantly black and has a genius like Zidane, who’s a Muslim. After the World Cup is over, football will be the ultimate winner.

Published: 11 July 2006
Issue: 1226

Daily Mail - Wednesday 14th September 2005

In these troubled times, I endorse Sir Gulam Noon’s plea to immigrants here to “get British or get out of the country”.

This demand is all the more important in respect of the many self-appointed Muslim “leaders” who have no theological legitimacy over Islamic scriptures, but claim to represent the diverse British Muslim Community.

The British media have given these extremists fame and a large audience so it’s good to see a platform given to a true moderate, a hard-working role model, who symbolises the true British Muslim values of our united meritocracy -- a highlight of our traditional liberal democracy.

We need to get people such as Sir Gulam into the House of Lords where he can be a moderate voice, pleading for common sense, reminding complacent “Muslim leaders” that it’s your character that matters, not your religion, political opinions or self-appointed tittles.

There’s a great need for positive role models in British Muslim Society, whose supposed religious and political leaders are largely out of touch. Sir Gulam, an industrialist and self-made millionaire can inspire us all.

Since I founded the EMMA awards in 1997, my aim as a British Muslim has been to tackle all forms of extremism and racism. We have had some success in fighting racism through adverts produced by Saatchi and Saatchi.

The award has successfully tackled extremism by acknowledging the likes of Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Lord Attenborough, Maya Angelou, Ray Charles and Bill Morris for Life-Time Achievement and Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther king and Bruce Lee for their legacies, accepted on their behalf by their closest surviving siblings.

It’s ironic that Muslims such as me are facing criticism from the main-stream media that we don’t integrate enough and from the minority media for awarding “multicultural” honours to white candidates. These award winners were selected by my judges and voted on by the UK public through a nation-wide advertising campaign.

This double standard doesn’t help younger British Muslims, who end up looking for guidance from extremist clerics. We need many more true leaders to counter the growing fanatical religious tide. 

Bobby Ayyub Syed

URBAN – profile (June 2003)

Founder of EMMA Awards

“My humble way is to build an oasis whereby peace – if I can use that word, peace, love and harmony can exist as an example not as a point of fiction”

Interview with Bobby Ayyub Syed

UN – Where were you born and where did you grow up?
BS – My biological background is Arab and my ancestors migrated to South Asia and I was actually born in a city called Lahore in Pakistan which I left when I was 6 months old and lived in South London all my life, between the lovely expensive West Dulwich and the outer place called Peckham, East Dulwich, so technically I’m a South Londoner through and through that’s where I grew up in fact, so I basically define myself as biologically Arab, culturally South Asian and socially British.

UN – Tell us about your schooling?
BS – My schooling is pretty humble and very basic; I went to a comprehensive in South London and my father decided to migrate back to Pakistan, he was involved in the media business as a film distributor, I migrated back with him during the ages of about 9 and 11, I was glad to ‘come back’ as they say. Whilst I was at school, I won a competition in photography and that gave me a bit of an insight into the media, I then had a keen interest in photography. My maths teacher said I’d be absolutely crap at maths and that does have an effect upon you. A flower has a history of the way it’s developed so do human beings, ones schooling, and ones experiences, and ones environment is so crucial to the growth of our personalities, our nature, our perceptions and our understanding.

UN – Did you go onto any further education?
BS – I had a keen interest in photography so I did a bit of training as a photographer, I realised straight away from my initial experience in the media that it’s not glamorous at all. I think that was good grounding for me because the glamour aspect was kicked out of me from day one really, working from about 9 in the morning till about 9 in the evening literally as an assistant doing crappy jobs.

I went to Windsor College and did sociology and geography A levels and then moved on to do a degree at South Bank University.

I went to the University of Bradford and did a degree called Peace and Conflict studies and that really opened my eyes. This was an even greater eye opener than going to the South Bank University because we met people from all over the world, I got really sort of stuck into my topic of interest. My own tutor was the first advisor to George Robinson who in those days was Shadow Defence Spokesperson, who then of course became the Defence Minister and subsequently now is the Head of Nature in Europe.

I then went to SOAS, did my masters, helped out with conferences and lectures, research and so on, ended up training diplomats there. I organised a very large charity show at SOAS raising money for Imran Khan, the cricketer, for his charity appeal for cancer, the whole Pakistani Cricket team turned up, the place was packed and we raised about £6,000 not bad for a student affair, a one night event, and ever since then me and Imran Khan have become good friends.

UN – What happened after you left university?
BS – I then went to work at Saatchi and Saatchi because ironically my father came back from abroad on a business trip and the front page of that paper in Pakistan was Saatchi and Saatchi they had an advertising campaign in Pakistan. I wasn’t working for a lot of money but I made it quite clear I wasn’t doing it for the money, but for experience, like a sponge soaking up information trying to learn to nurture and grow.

UN – How did you come up with EMMA including the meaning?
BS – I felt that because we’re always subjected to images that other people are projecting, we were unable to be taken seriously let alone to enhance and partake and here I am as a media professional trying to do a job, so during a discussion with Ajab Singh a good friend of mine, I said “wouldn’t it be a good idea to do an awards celebrating the best of our community within the media industry” and he said, “yeah great idea” and subsequently I went ahead to do it and become the forefront from that experience, because its taken a lot of hard work but he’s been a good friend in supporting me with good ideas and has given me encouragement so that is why EMMA took shape.  I would say on a broader level that I am very affected by the death of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent campaign that the Lawrence’s have taken for their injustice.  EMMA was a sense of promoting our professional ability within the media industry to explain that all of us have a role to play but also to say that Bobby can do a large event, give him a chance and give him a job basically to work for you. Ironically enough the event was a great success, because Natwest at the early stages were kind enough to give me some money but that was nowhere near enough to cover the production costs. I was determined to make sure that the event took place at the Dorchester Hotel but didn’t want a situation to occur whereby we were deemed to be ghettoised, that we were unable professionally historically, culturally, politically and maybe religiously to some extent, basically I know that’s the case with the Muslim community for example, we seem to be ghettoised in the way the media projects and portrays the not so intelligent Muslims and avoid the intelligent ones like the plague because they might say something that is mildly articulate, the EMMA awards, benchmark in progressing ourselves, educating the white community, employing the best of our community, so that was the idea, the awards the first event was a phenomenal success, I was too exhausted to appreciate it. The Dorchester cost a lot of money and my friend at Saatchi and Saatchi was very supportive and luckily I had Natwest who helped and made it happen and no more so than a man by the name of Peter Ibettson. Who had been continually supportive of EMMA as Collette Rose who is the Natwest Director hence our relationship with Natwest.

UN – Tell us a bit about EMMA TV?
BS – EMMA TV is creating a platform so we can communicate directly with the public, with regards to the positive images of multiculturalism and no more so than the music element because this is very much about poetry, about beat and because obviously growing up in South London I’ve listened and studied the beats and the sounds and I’m very fortunate to be where I am close to the African-Caribbean community.  Music has always been a part of their culture and whether its going back to Public Enemy of Grandmaster Flash, American imports of this cultural fusion, because African Americans and Caribbeans come from different parts of the world, they’ve still got fusion with the music and I was very much an avid lover and admirer of the musical dynamics and explosion that took place from the 70’s  and 80’s whatever you want to call it; the best fusion that I can project through the channel’s music. So you got back to back music on the channel which is cultural fusion of that genre, so hopefully we’ll expand into films, documentaries, a talk show, light entertainment and comedy, with EMMA a TV channel you know that regardless of race, creed or colour you can respect the comedy, the music, the story in that film and the debate/discussion because we’re basically living a life that is very urbanised and hence the channel; urban youth based to cover that so called university crowd, who’ve got strong cultural roots why should they have divided cultural groups, this strong fusion of being British, includes across the globe as well as within their own respective community and EMMA TV wants to reflect that culture, visually, here we are behind the scenes trying our best.

I started the awards in 1997 and it happened in 1998. It’s on Sky digital, between 9pm – 3am, on channel 238.

UN – What next for Bobby Syed?
BS – We’re hoping to launch at some point an EMMA record label to help young people to get into the music industry not to be cynically commercially orientated to say I want to be famous, I want to be somebody who lives a healthy lifestyle, take music back to its roots, to allow people to grow and express themselves from the world we live and the story they need to tell, and that’s the whole idea of the record label, so in all fairness Bobby from here will carry on to work on the projects that he’s instigated and try to make them perfect and that’s an ongoing process, also to expand into other areas where possible. I really love to help young people to get the education they deserve, especially within the media industry per-say because it’s the most powerful industry in the world and when you leave college, school or university, you’re at the mercy of the media to inform you what’s going on, and not to turn around and be a part of this so called ‘members club’ having to behave the way they want me to behave and the best way is to run around in a monkey suit, because it’s the done thing.

I’m always pushing EMMA beyond the next level and perhaps make it as big as the OSCARs for example as the greatest story telling awards in the world, EMMA is the greatest multicultural awards ceremony whereby people are now developing this 21st century culture called humanism, not tribalism, unfortunately I feel the world needs a lot of work before I can get better, too many young people are exposed to the violent ways of tackling a problem.

What I really want to do in my humble way is build an oasis whereby peace if I can use that word, peace, love and harmony can exist as an example not as a point of fiction, it shouldn’t be a few words in a book or mentioned as part of a speech, from time to time to rally the community or the troops in our society.

A word for Urban News readers
BS – Carry on reading Urban News because Urban News presents what we are all about, living in a city that has the richness, the depth, and the belief that we can enhance civilisation. We start working together and not against each other, we can expand the horizons of the other galaxies, the other universes and the earth become a city itself. This is something that Mother Nature has given us to appreciate, we’ve just got to learn to love and cherish it, and so Urban News represents the city and the people in that city.

Thank you.

EMMA is a greater initiative to bring together and acknowledge publicly the professionalism, expertise and contribution of the recipients. This award acknowledges that there are many young and old who have and will continue to make a great contribution to the ethnic and mainstream media in Britain”.

Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

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