Birmingham Lit Fest Presents….

The Birmingham Literature Festival Podcast - Welcome to the very first Birmingham Literature Festival podcast, bringing writers and readers together to discuss some of 2020’s best books. Each Thursday we’ll be releasing new episodes of the podcast, including wonderful discussions about writing, poetry, big ideas and social issues. Join us each week for exciting and inspiring conversations with new, and familiar, writers from the Midlands and beyond.

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episode 13: Season 2: Sarfraz Manzoor in Conversation with Will Buckingham


In this week’s episode, writer Will Buckingham talks to journalist, screenwriter and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor about his latest book, They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other. Join them as they talk about the deep divisions in British culture and the way that stories can connect us and promise a much more hopeful future.

You can download our podcast episodes from all the places you would normally get your podcasts every Thursday and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @bhamlitfest. All of our festival events can be found on our website www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org. 


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Credits

Curator: Shantel Edwards (Festival director)
Production: 11C/ Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands

TRANSCRIPT

BLF Series 2 - Sarfraz Manzoor 


Intro


Welcome to the second series of the Birmingham Lit Fest Presents…podcast. We are really excited to be back for a second season and to continue to connect readers and writers in the Midlands, and far beyond. 


You can download our podcast episodes from all the places you would normally get your podcasts every Thursday and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @bhamlitfest. All of our festival events can be found on our website www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org. 


In this week’s episode, writer Will Buckingham talks to journalist, screenwriter and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor about his latest book, They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other. Join them as they talk about the deep divisions in British culture, the history of Muslim Britain and stories that promise a much more hopeful future.


Will Buckingham

Hello, and welcome to this Birmingham Lit Fest podcast. I'm Will Buckingham, and I'm your host for today's show. I'm a writer and philosopher originally from the UK. I'm currently an immigrant to Sofia, Bulgaria. And today's guest; I will be talking to Sarfraz Manzoor whose brilliant book They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other has just been published. Sarfraz is a journalist, an author, broadcaster and he's written and presented documentaries for BBC Radio and Television and is a regular columnist for The Guardian, the Sunday Times and The Times. His first book, a memoir called Greetings from Bury Park, was published to critical acclaim in 2007. And it was adapted for the big screen in 2019 and released as Blinded by the Light which I've just added to my to watch list. Sarfraz lives in London, he's married with two children and a cat called Socks - I'm hoping that Socks will also call by to have their say in this podcast at some stage. Sarfraz’s book They is an insightful journey across and between cultures, an attempt to cut through what sometimes seems like the clamour of mutual misunderstanding and to take a long and intensely personal view into relationships between Muslims and Non-Muslims in today's Britain. So welcome on board Sarfraz. 


Sarfraz Manzoor

Hi Will, good to talk to you.


Will Buckingham 

Very nice to chat to you. I thought a good place to start talking about your book was about your own experience as somebody who is a living example of the complexity of identity and belonging that you explore in the book. So, the title of your book might suggest to readers that Muslims and Non-Muslims are kind of distinct blocks of people. But in reality, things are much fuzzier, more interesting and more tangled. So, I'd love you to start by telling us a little bit about yourself and how, throughout your life, you've navigated these complexities.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, I mean, it's interesting, because I always think with identity, there are two sides to it. One is how you identify yourself. But there's also how others identify you, you know, and so it's interesting. So, the book title is They: what Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other, but growing up, the Muslim part wasn't really a big part of my identity. So, I grew up in working class Luton, in the 70s, in the 80s. My dad worked at the Vauxhall car factory; I went to a bog-standard comp. And if you would ask me at that point, what my identity was, it would have been Pakistani, really. It was much more about that, my dad never really talked about religion, but he talked about Pakistan, he talked about it in opposition to England, even though we happened to live in England. So, my identity was Pakistani, and then I guess it was also working class, you know, I wouldn't have used those words necessarily, because that was all I knew. But, certainly, when I went to university, I was really aware about, you know, the things that weren't available to me, the social networks that weren't available, that was all about class. So, I think class, and nationality were my identities. And I really, to be honest, didn't think about the religion stuff until other people started thinking about it for me. You know, with the Rushdie affair in the late 80s, that obviously was a big moment. And then obviously, since 9/11, as well. And that's when those identities start becoming more prevalent, and so, then you get into different sorts of lives. And so now, I would say, frankly, my identity is more husband, father, you know, middle aged man, all those kinds of things. But this is the part that I was interested in, when I walk down the street, most people still don't see those things, they still see skin colour, they still see ethnicity, they still think maybe religion. And so that's the thing is what I'm fascinated by: whatever narrative we have of ourselves compared to what others have. So, for example, you're in Bulgaria right now. Now, because of the fact that you are white skinned, if you were walking down the street in Sofia, nobody would know that you were British, would they? And so, the identity that you have of yourself, versus what anybody will see of you will be totally different. And it's only when you open your mouth that might get revealed. Whereas if you come from a background like mine, people are always projecting their ideas of what they think you are. And so that's part of the story in the book as well.


Will Buckingham

Which is, I suppose, in a way why the book is called They, because it's about that ascribing identity to other people.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Exactly. And it's also this idea about otherness that we talk about, you know, otherness is quite a fashionable word. But I'm always fascinated by what is it that allegedly binds us and doesn't, you know, and so, we can talk about the structure, but what I try and do in my book is sort of imagine I was sitting opposite an Islamophobe. And I was asking them, so what do you think Muslims are like, and I imagined that they would have a list of all these kinds of things. That they only live amongst themselves, they only want to marry other Muslims, they hate Jews, they hate gay people, their religion is extreme. And I just thought I'd go through each one of those, and start sort of examining it, interrogating it, and doing that sort of thing. But the interesting thing about that is the idea of They. I started looking into the chapter, for example, about extremism. And I was thinking, these people come from my same ethnic/religious heritage. But they've got nothing to do with me, you know. Whereas if you and I both like going to second-hand bookstores, I would think of you and me as part of the same tribe. And it's interesting to me about how fluid those things are and how much one is allowed to shift those borders, and how much one isn't. So that's also part of the story that, you know, as you said, we're more than the label that seemed the most obvious labels to put on ourselves.


Will Buckingham

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was how the stories - we can probably talk about storytelling later - give a real sense of the massive diversity of ideas, views, practices, ways of life, within people who identify as Muslim within the UK. And one thing I am interested in is how a greater appreciation of that complexity can bring more nuance to those intractable problems of you know, we versus them?


Sarfraz Manzoor
Well, I think, the thing about that is, it's much easier to be certain, when you don't know very much.

Will Buckingham

That's definitely true.


Sarfraz Manzoor 
 Don’t you think? So, I just recently turned 50. And I now feel so much less certain about the things that I thought I knew than I would have done even 15 years ago, you know. Which is partly why this book isn't a polemic, you know, it's not a book, which I sort of bang out one particular opinion, and then just sort of, you know, bash you around the head with it. It is much more nuanced because I just don't feel as sure about things. And so, part of that is about what do you think Muslims are like, and it's about the fact that, actually, we're more complicated. And this is the thing about real life, people are way more complicated than the labels that we might attach to them, you know. And so, when it comes to how can that help us, well, you can help us because every stereotype that you might have about a “Muslim”, there will be stories that will challenge that. There will also be stories that confirm it, don't get me wrong, this isn't some sort of rose-tinted portrait, which suggests that, you know, everybody is enlightened, and everybody is progressive, and it's all just a media conspiracy. There are definitely challenges. But for every story about someone who tells somebody that that their son who is gay is never going to be seen again and expelled from the family, there's also a story about a very traditional Muslim mother who embraces her gay son. And so, I guess the point about that is, it makes you rethink what you think you know. And one of the thoughts that I had when I was trying to write the book is, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, I wanted there to be things in the book, which would surprise you and challenge your worldview. And that would be true whether you're a progressive or whether you're not. I just think that real life is a bit more messy than that. And I think once you start getting into the nitty gritty, and the granular details of how people live their lives, they don't fit into neat boxes, and they don't fit into neat boxes of either the liberal or the conservative side of things.


Will Buckingham

So, is part of your aim really to use those stories to dissolve that monolithic sense of “they”, so that we can actually start thinking about connecting with real human beings and real human stories a bit more.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah. And don't you think? I mean, tell me what you think. I mean, one of the things I was thinking of was that I imagined my mother walking down the street, you know, wearing her dupatta and just walking along, this is back when she was a little bit more, she's quite frail now. And if you saw her, you would just think: traditional Pakistani woman, doesn't speak English, she's probably a nice person, but what have I got to do with her? But it's only if you could get to know her story that you would sort of see that this is a woman who had arrived at Britain in 1974, not having seen her husband for 11 years, because he had left 11 years earlier, and then raised four children, worked as a seamstress until one in the morning. And sort of given all of her life so that her children could be happy. And if you humanized her, then you’d think: Oh, that reminds me of my mother, it reminds me of my grandmother, it reminds me of someone. And suddenly you see her as a human being, and not as this sort of slightly othered person. But it's only by getting to know people that you can do that. So, I mean, don't you think that as well? Because it's some of the work you've done as well, isn't it, the writing you've done? But it's about humanizing people, and then you realize that you've got more in common with them.


Will Buckingham

I think it is. I mean, I think it's on first encounters with anybody. So, my last book was about strangers, Hello Stranger, just out from Granta, and about the how, when we first meet strangers, there's that often very immediate sense of fear, or unease, and how that's actually quite natural and about how you connect across that and how you can find points of connection. And those can, as you say, be in all kinds of interesting places and be found where you least expect it. So I don't know what your mother's hobbies and obsessions are, but maybe, if I got chatting to her, we'd find that there was this thing we shared, or I, in my own experience, I've travelled in Pakistan in the past. And so that might be a point of contact.


Sarfraz Manzoor

It could be food!


Will Buckingham

Or food, always food, isn’t it? And quite a lot of the stories in your book take place around tables at various points.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, I mean, I think it's interesting. For example, with my wife, she's white, she's Scottish, and she's not a Muslim. But what was interesting is that she had spent a lot of time traveling around India and having spent so much time, she actually had a working knowledge of Hindi. And so, when my mother first heard about the fact that I was seeing this woman, she's put her in the “they” box, white person, what is she going to have to do with me, blah, blah, blah. It took a while for her to not put her in that box. But one of the ways that it happened is that when she started actually talking to Bridget, Bridget was able to understand what she was saying when she was speaking in Urdu and also respond not completely fluently, but enough. What was interesting is that the language bridge meant that, for that moment, my mom sort of forgot that Bridget was white, you know, because the language sort of trumped skin colour and ethnicity. She was like: No, no, she's really one of us. And the language helped do that for her.


Will Buckingham

Do you think that's part of the trick: forgetting that somebody else is different, rather than making heroic efforts to overcome difference, but just somehow forgetting?


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah! And I think it's interesting, because when Blinded by the Light came out, I was in New York, and we did a screening for it in New York City. And there were quite a few Springsteen fans who were at the screening, and I remember afterwards, this couple came to me, they were from New Jersey, and they were almost stereotypically New Jersey, hardcore Springsteen fans, you know. And they said that they love the film and then were going on about it. And I was like: Can I ask you a question? You know, have you spent an hour and a half, two hours ever with a traditional Pakistani family? And they were like: No, no, of course we haven’t. And I said: Isn't it weird that you have just spent that time watching this story? And the guy just looked at me. He said: Yeah, but you're just like a Pakistani version of me. What was interesting is that the fact that we both were into Bruce Springsteen, it made him forget that actually, I was British and Pakistani. So, I think that's about storytelling, but it's all about that commonality thing as well, isn't it? And I think it's about finding that, but you only find that if you actually interact and one of the things that's a theme in the book is that too often communities are not interacting. So, whether it's for example parts of Birmingham, parts of Bradford, parts of Luton, parts of Blackburn, there are these communities that are still almost living in sort of a homogenous very, very separatee lives. Or, whether it's about how many Muslims actually get to know anybody who's Jewish and have them as a friend. So, it's about breaking down what you think you know. But you can only do that if you reach across. You can only reach across if you have the opportunity to meet someone who's different.


Will Buckingham
And the book is full of lovely stories, as well as being full of terrifying stories about division. It is full of lovely stories about those points of contact. The connections between Jewish and Muslim communities in Bradford, for example, or the story, which I also talk about in my book, about the York mosque and the EDL who turn up to protest.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Oh, yes, yeah, well, the EDL came, and then the guys in the mosque offered to make a cup of tea for them, and they…


Will Buckingham 

…and they end up playing football in the mosque grounds and cracking jokes. And suddenly, there's this point of contact because I think that the one of the mosque elders said: Tea, the great connector, particularly in Yorkshire.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, yeah, I mean, it doesn't mean that everything can absolutely always get solved. I'm not trying to say that, if we could all just sit around, we'd all get better. But I just feel like it might be that the divisions are actually between people who are reasonable or not reasonable, rather than between religions. It's really just about whether you can be reasonable or not, there are unreasonable people in all communities. And we just mustn't always assume or let them only have the microphone.


Will Buckingham 

Is there also, I think, an element in these big issues of how we live together, of getting used to living with some degree of discomfort, because actually, people are not always like us, they're not always going to do the same things we're going to do.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, no, I think that's a really good point. And I think it's about who do we choose to feel uncomfortable around? And who do we tolerate the uncomfortableness around? You know, so a good example, I guess, is about the niqab, isn't it? So, as I say in the book, I feel a sense of discomfort or I certainly did in the past, where I would just feel: what is the message you're trying to send? Then I would start thinking there's all sorts of agendas. Why would somebody deliberately wear something like this, et cetera, et cetera. But then you sort of spend time talking to people who wear the niqab, you get some sense of a perspective of how few people actually do it in Britain. And then you think, well, I actually get discomforted by people who've got massive amounts of tattoos and piercings walking down the street. But we don't find politicians necessarily weaponizing that, but we just put up with that, you know, or we tolerate it. And so, it's interesting to me what we choose to be okay with in terms of discomfort, or what do we choose to make a big issue about.


Will Buckingham

There's a couple of things when you talk about the niqab that struck me on reading the book. One was you go to Leicester and talk to a group of women in Leicester, if I remember rightly. I lived for a decade in Leicester, and the moment you were talking to people from Leicester, I felt a sense of, Oh, well, they're okay. They're us. They're not them. And so, for me that sense of mutual belonging to a place trumped other things, but when you were chatting to people, it was really fascinating how the women you were talking to all have very, very different reasons for wearing a niqab. 


Sarfraz Manzoor
They did, yeah. Just to backtrack on that a little bit. I really wanted to sort of talk to somebody because, obviously Boris Johnson had made his thing about letterboxes. And it was something that was a story in the news and it had been for a while. And I was really conscious that I actually didn't know anybody who wore a niqab. Nobody in my social circle did. But then also when I asked people within my social circle, if they knew anybody, they didn't either. And I was just like, well, what does that say about the world that I'm in. But also, you know, that's a journalistic failing for me to not to talk to anybody. So then I sort of worked harder to find people. And then I spoke to quite a few actually. And what was interesting is that wasn't one single reason. Some people believe that it was genuinely a religious thing. Other people did it because, you know, one person said to me, the more I was told that this was something that was a problem, or the more that other people pointed the finger at it, the more it made them feel more desiring and more confident and wanting to do it as well, you know. So, if you tell me that I can't, that I'm going to do it more. That sort of idea. The thing I found the most interesting about it was - I think I included this in the book - when I met them, one of the women said to me, you know, it's only because you're Muslim, that I'm wearing the niqab today.


Will Buckingham

That's really interesting. Yes.


Sarfraz Manzoor
 And I thought that meant that she was dressing up for me as if like, you know, somebody who's sort of in a historical re-enactment or something. They were just like doing this because I'm writing the book. But it turned out, no, she said, if you were white, I would have been respectful of the fact that you might have found that a bit uncomfortable, and I would have worn something else. But because you're Muslim, I assume you understand my need and my want to wear the niqab. And so that's why I'm wearing it for you. And I had always just thought it was much more black and white, you either wear it or you don't. And I mean, maybe that says something about my ignorance, but I didn't realize that somebody would just decide on Monday that they would and on Tuesday, they wouldn't. Do you know what I mean?


Will Buckingham

I mean, one thing that, again, I liked about the book is the way it moves away from that sort of black and white, to plunge you into a sea of complexity and nuance and everything else. And I'm wondering what the responses to your book have been so far, because a lot of people might want clear answers, a program of action. You know, this is Sarfraz Manzoor’s program for changing the world in response to these issues. Has there been from some corners a certain frustration that you're not giving that? You're giving nuance upon nuance and complexity upon complexity. But there's no one problem and no one solution, maybe. 


Sarfraz Manzoor

That's a really good question, to be honest. And there's a couple of different ways to answer that, really. One is that when I first offered the idea of the book to the publishers, and to my agent, and we sort of initially started talking about it, it was, I think, going to be more of what you've just said. Like, you know, not like a manifesto as such, but you know, there would be sort of a blueprint of how does one make things better? And I think that is what the publishers were expecting, to be honest, at the beginning. And then what happened actually was the reaction to Blinded by the Light. Because what happened when that film came out was I just started getting responses from all around the world. It's on Netflix now. You know, I'm still getting it now.


Will Buckingham

Oh, is it? Good!


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, hardly a day goes by that I won't get somebody messaging me about it, you know, because they'll have seen it for the first time. You'll probably message me later this week after you've seen it, you know.


Will Buckingham

I will do, yes!


Sarfraz Manzoor

But what was fascinating to me was people would say, this is completely connecting to me. But they’ll be Korean, or somebody will be Mexican, or somebody will be American, or whatever. And I realize it's a bit like what I said to you earlier about the guys in New York, that they were being compelled emotionally to believe and be interested in a story because of the storytelling. You know, because of character and storytelling. That film was not a polemic about race and class, about Muslim identity and belonging, it was nothing about that, it was just storytelling, but all those things were in it. And I just thought, you know what, I want to engage people emotionally. And I want them to care about the characters, and I want them to care about individuals, and I want them to care about, you know, my journey. And I think that's more interesting, then trying to write a manifesto, you know, so I genuinely just made a decision that I was actually going to go and highlight, and foreground storytelling, and let the issues and the possible policy implications flow from that organically. So, there are some things I talk about. I talk about the importance of trying to meet people who are different, I talk about breaking down catchment areas in schools, for example, I talk about English lessons. So, there are some tangible things in the book. But I just thought it'd be more interesting to write a book where you care about what you're reading story wise, rather than the other kind of book. Now, the second part of what you're saying is, has there been any kind of kickback on that, or whatever. It's still early days, and there hasn't been so much of that. But there is a more interesting question that just flows from that, which is, do people want nuance? Do people want complexity? So, a book which says, you know, this is what you need to do to be an anti-racist, or this is what you need to know. Those books will just tell you what to think and what to do, which are very clear and bold.


Will Buckingham

So, a book that's more or less a listicle. You know, like one of those online lists.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, you know, those sorts of things, what white people need to do next, or those sorts of books. I can see the appeal of that, for somebody who wants that sort of thing, but ultimately, I just wanted to do the book that was going to serve what was in my heart and what I really wanted to do. And also, I'm kind of not that interested in a book, which is only about this moment. I just sort of feel like this is a book that could be read in five or ten years. And it will be a resource that will still stand the test of time, you know. And so the answer is, I think you're probably right, there might actually be a  more commercially successful or you know, whatever book which is more of a manifesto, which is much more blunter. But I can live with that, because I wanted to tell a more complicated and a richer story. And you know, I'll take the punches as they come, whether it's about critics or whether it's commercially, because I wanted to write this book.


Will Buckingham

And just to pick up on that thing of standing the test of time. Is it - in your view - really stories that do that above anything else? Above arguments, above polemic?


Sarfraz Manzoor
I think so. I mean, what do you think? I just feel like, you know, when I think about the things I return to, I don't like being bashed around the head and being told what to think, personally. And I also just feel you're more likely to engage with people on an emotional basis than on an intellectual basis, you know. The leave campaign on Brexit, that was an emotional story, that was a piece of emotional storytelling, wasn't it? It was about the idea of Britain, the idea of past glory being returned, about control. Those are emotional storytelling, you know. That's just what interests me as well. That's just what I would like to do. I don't want to be, you know, I'm not a polemicist. I'm not a politician. This is not the world I want to go into. But the interesting thing is, I think there's a lot of nutrition in the book. It is just disguised and buried, rather than being the thing that you immediately go to. 


Will Buckingham 

Did working on the screenplay for the film - so just a bit of background for those who haven't seen the film or read the book. Blinded by the Light is an adaptation of your memoir, Greetings from Bury Park. And you contributed to the screenplay as well. 


Sarfraz Manzoor

Well, I wrote the book and then I worked with Gurinder on the script, I work with Gurinder Chadha on the screenplay as well.


Will Buckingham 

Yeah, did that shift your approach to storytelling doing that, as a writer?


Sarfraz Manzoor

It did a little bit. I mean, I've talked a little bit before about the emotional storytelling. What was also interesting about it is that it sort of tapped the universal you know. So essentially, there are certain universal things. We all want to make our parents proud, you know, most of us want to live lives less than ordinary, you know. And, and I think those kinds of universal ideas, about love, about escape, about ambition, about parental relationships, those are the universals. So, in the book, you know, there's quite a few stories about people leaving home. Like a 17-year-old girl will leave home because her parents wanted her to get married to somebody she didn't want to get married to. Like one of the things which is really fascinating to me about writing the book has been to be able to sort of imagine how my life might have turned out had different things happened. So, for example, when I was 17, 18, my dad suggested a girl back in the village in Pakistan, for me to marry. And I've written about this in the book, and it's an easy thing for people to sort of serialize and pick up on. But the interesting thing for me was, I didn't do that, I didn't get married at 17. But I was fascinated to know what it would have been like to have done that. And so, in the book, there are people who on that same year, at that same age, had their dad say to them, there's a girl who's on a plane, she's coming all the way from Karachi, or Zanzibar, and we're going to go and get a bus to Heathrow and you're going to marry her. And then they did. And it's fascinating to see how that turned out, good or bad, you know. And so, anyone can understand how that might feel or be interested in those kinds of big emotional responses. And so, I think that is one of the things I learned in the film. Just these big emotional moments because this book, I think, is full of quite big, emotional moments. Whether it's about something tragic of like, you know, somebody who ends up killing themselves, because their parents will not accept their homosexuality. Or a massive, upbeat moment of somebody being reunited with their parents after 20 years on the run, you know, those sorts of things. And so, I think that was one of the things I learned; was just the power of the big emotional peaks.


Will Buckingham
When you were talking just then about how life could have been otherwise. It does strike me the book is underpinned by a sense of the contingency of human lives with all those different stories. And how you get on the train running from Hay-on-Wye is it? And you turned right rather than left and flopped down opposite the woman who becomes your wife. And that underlying sense of how different life could have been had you turned left, I think that's one of the interesting things about stories, is they awaken you to that contingency. 


Sarfraz Manzoor

Yeah, it's really interesting. I mean, I've actually got chills just you telling me that. I've just got chills just thinking about how different life could be if you just want to turn left. You know, there are two children who exist in the world who wouldn't be here if I had taken left. But then also going further back, my dad came to Britain in 1963. He was the only one out of his siblings who did. So, you know, it's kind of interesting to me about like, how much we think we're the author of our own fate, and how special we are to have achieved whatever we have achieved. And you think, well, if my dad had been like his brothers and sisters, and decided, no, I think I'll stay in Pakistan, none of this would be happening, you know. And so, it is amazing, just as you say about those choices people make. But one of the things that's interesting in the book is, because I wanted the book to essentially be a search for hope, a clear-eyed search for hope but still a search for hope, there's quite a lot of moments in the book where somebody faces a decision. And then they make a decision and that changes something. So, for example, you will remember the story from a couple of years ago about the Muslim woman on the tube, who saw a Jewish guy being harassed by some, guy. She made a decision to step in, you know, and she didn't realize it was being filmed, or that it was going to go viral. But then that ended up helping change the narrative, or at least complicate the narrative around Muslims and Jews. And I spoke to that woman, Asma. So, there's a lot of those moments as you say, those taking a left or taking a right moment in the book where people make an active decision to search for something positive, or search for something hopeful. 


Will Buckingham

Maybe hope is a good place to bring things to a close with a final question. So, you talk right at the end of the book about a journey towards a more hopeful land. And after these years of research, and talking to so many people, does this more hopeful land feel closer to hand than it did before? Or does it feel further away? And why? 


Sarfraz Manzoor

Well, it certainly felt very, very hopeless round about 2016/2017. Which is when I first sort of started some of the work towards the book, you know. 2016/2017 was Manchester arena, London Bridge, Westminster Bridge so that felt very, very bleak. So, if it was still as bleak as that, things would be in trouble. So, the answer to that is, I am not somebody who just believes in hope, just for the sake of it, but I do feel more hopeful. And the reason I feel hopeful is twofold. One is, I've just met a lot of people whose stories I did not know. Who were just on the ground, doing good things in their own small ways, which are helping build bridges or showing that, you know, the religion of Islam can be a religion, which is about fostering better community relations and helping people and being hospitable. And they don't get the notice, they don’t get on the news. But if you just hear enough of those stories, you think, okay, that's not as bad as I thought it was. So that's the first thing. And the second reason is, you know, there's people who sort of think that everything about this subject is about politics, and is about policies and is about institutional understandings of, you know, racism, etc. And all the responses have to be institutional and political. And I don't know if that's true. I think there is definitely a role for that. But I also think there is a massive role for the people and what they do. And I think that the reason I feel hopeful is because there have been so many stories that I've read, and I've talked about, and I've included in the book, which remind me that all of us have the power in our own decision making to make things more hopeful, you know. And I think that's what's quite interesting because, in 2016/2017, I felt a bit powerless. I was just like, is this really the country I want to live in? The Tommy Robinson brigade were everywhere, it was feeling like an ugly place. And what this book and what writing this book has reminded me is that every day all of us are faced with decisions that we can make. And we all have that version of turning left or right about something. And whether that's about engaging with somebody in a shop, who looks a bit different to us who's serving us, but we have a conversation with, or whether it's about stepping in or whether it's about, you know, giving some charity, giving some of our spare clothes to the Afghan refugees who might be arriving in our town. We all have something we can do to build and shape the nation we want to live in. And so, when you're reminded of that power that one has, you can feel a bit more hopeful.


Will Buckingham

Great. Well, I've got about 120 more questions I'd like to ask you, but I think that seems a really good place to end. So, thank you so much for chatting Sarfraz Manzoor. And They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other is available in all good bookshops. If you want a bit more nuance and insight in your life go and get yourself a copy. Thank you very much for talking.


Sarfraz Manzoor

Thank you so much, Will. 


Outro


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The Birmingham Lit Fest Presents... podcast is produced by 11C and Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands.


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 2021-10-21  35m