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Bird’s Eye View (May 27, 2015)

(Greetings one and all. If you are sitting comfortably then I shall begin. A good friend of mine, Valley resident Steve Sparks, who is possibly known to a number of you, sends this report from his current visit to his homeland in England.)

You may recall that, about six months ago, a Fox News “terrorist expert” claimed that Britain’s second biggest city, Birmingham, was “a totally Muslim city and a no-go area for non-Muslims.” American author Steve Emerson eventually apologized for his stupid remarks but not before they had sparked a national outrage across the UK and Prime Minister David Cameron had called Emerson “a complete idiot.”

Cameron went on to say, “He should actually visit and look at Birmingham and see what a fantastic example it is of bringing people together of different faiths, different backgrounds, and actually building a world-class, brilliant city with a great and strong economy.”

Emerson’s website describes him as “one of the leading authorities” on Islamic extremist networks, and states: “Emerson and his staff frequently provide briefings to US government and law enforcement agencies, members of Congress and congressional committees.” Dear oh, dear, what the hell is going on here?

On Fox News he was described as a “terrorism analyst” and he informed viewers that parts of London have a Muslim police force who “attack people if they don't dress according to religious rules.” He also told viewers of the American tv network: “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actually cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims simply don’t go in."

This is utterly and completely incorrect. He later apologized and offered to make a donation to Birmingham Children's Hospital. He said: “I have clearly made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry. My comments about Birmingham were totally in error.” He added that he should have been “more careful,” before adding: “There was no excuse for making this mistake and I owe an apology to every resident of Birmingham.”

Birmingham's one million plus population is actually 57% white and 26% Asian, 8% black and 4% mixed race. In the 2011 census, only 21% of the population identified themselves as Muslim.

However, if you do find yourself in one of Birmingham’s communities where the majority of folks are Muslim, then, like myself during a visit in the past few days, you will be treated as if you are anywhere else in this vibrant, multi-cultural city: with friendship and hospitality. It is not known as “The Big Heart of England” simply because it is in the geographical center of the country!

As an example, just a couple of days ago, I was on Slade Road in the white/Asian/ black/muslim/non-muslim/whatever district of Erdington on the north side of the city, with my friend Paul, a Brummie (a person from Birmingham) like myself. After the traditional bacon and fried egg breakfast sandwich, it was time for something even more civilized: a “proper” haircut and shave. For years Paul and I have been visiting the nearby “Hair by Imad” whenever I visit this particular part of the world. The expertise shown in Birmingham’s several Kurdistani barber shops is second to none, with Imad and his staff of barbers being among the very best. Imad was not there upon our arrival but immediately one of the staff phoned him to inform him of our unexpected visit. Fifteen minutes later he was there and greeted us with a beaming smile and long hug before providing us with a refreshing cup of Kurdistan tea and beginning what was to be a haircut, wet shave, and pampering that was to last for an hour-and-a-half. The aforementioned “idiot,” Steve Emerson, would probably have run a mile upon seeing Imad with an open razor, no doubt fearing for the status of his empty head. But for me the “arrival” of this vital tool of the trade was the sign that Imad’s unparalleled skills with such a “weapon” were about to be used on my beard. The superb shave that followed was accompanied by a head and face massage, the “threading” of my face with thin cotton to remove even the most minute of hairs, and a perfect haircut performed primarily with scissors. During the process there was much laughter, as well as a serious discussion on the atrocities committed by Islamist State in and around the the unofficial state of Kurdistan, Syria, Iraq, etc. “What they believe and do is not taught by Islam,” observed Imad. Sorry, Mr Emerson, you moron, this was as far removed from hostile and a no-go experience as one could imagine — in the heart of Birmingham.

After a little sight-seeing for a couple of hours around some old haunts of mine, it was time for a late lunch so we headed to the largely Asian inner city suburb of Balsall Heath, a part of Birmingham that Emerson may have been referring too, without bothering to realize that white folks, and every other color for that matter, are there in plentiful numbers to enjoy the delicious cuisines and hospitality. It was here that we ate at the Sheereen Kadah, a tandoori and Balti restaurant owned and operated by a Kashmiri Muslim family since the 1960s in Birmingham’s Balti Triangle, an area specifically known for Asian food. After another extremely friendly welcome, we settled down to the house specialty, katlama, a layered dish of puff pastry that sandwiches a spicy minced lamb filling, served with a chili sauce that’s like a sweet and sour sauce, bright red in color with chunks of onion swimming around in it. Along with tandoori fish, a medley of different samosas, and a cup of Kashmiri tea, this made for another delightful experience amongst Muslims that was not in any way threatening.

So, this was how two white guys spent a day in Steve Emerson’s “Muslim Only City.” Obviously, the idiot’s comments were thoroughly ridiculed but, because Fox News had presented him as an “expert” on terrorism, they have provided one more nail in an increasingly closed up coffin of what were once very positive and supportive thoughts amongst the British people towards the US. Many unenlightened Americans may feel they do not need the rest of the world, nor to show much interest in it, but more and more often in recent years I have found that this feeling is increasingly mutual. And that is sad.”

Thank you for your insights, Steve. Onward

Public Service Announcements. Calendars and pens at the ready. #123. The Vets from the Mendocino Animal Hospital are next in town on Thursdays, June 4 and 25. #124. The Mendocino Bookmobile returns to the Valley on Tuesday, June 2. They are here on alternate Tuesdays for 45 minutes at each of these places and times: Navarro Store 9am (for just 30 minutes); the Floodgate 12.30pm; Philo 1.30pm; Boonville (Apple Hall) 2.30pm. Phone 463-4694 for further details. #125. The A.V Museum is open every Saturday and Sunday, from 1pm-4pm. Situated in The Little Red Schoolhouse next to the Elementary School on AV Way, this is a perfect thing to do in the Valley when you have a couple of hours spare on a weekend afternoon. It is not without reason that it is generally regarded as “The Best Little Museum in the West.”

Here is the menu for the Community lunches over the next week at the Senior Center at the Veterans Building in Boonville. The Center asks for a $6 donation from seniors and charges $7 for Non-seniors. Tomorrow, Thursday, May 28, the lunch, served by Marti Titus and her crew at Noon, will be Buttermilk chicken, brown rice, brussel sprouts, barley salad, and strawberry lemon dessert. Then, next Tuesday, June 2, the lunch will feature Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, brussels sprouts, quinoa and avocado salad, with Birthday cupcakes for dessert. All meals include vegetables, salad bar, and fruit, plus milk, coffee, tea, and lemonade. What a deal. it maybe the best $7 you’ll spend all week! Hopefully you will be able to attend, and remember. All ages are welcome! Hope to see you there.

Time to take my leave. So, Keep the Faith; be careful out there; stay out of the ditches; think good thoughts; remember to keep your windows cracked if you have pets in your vehicle; and may your god go with you. A final request, “Let us prey.” Humbly yours, Turkey Vulture. Contact me through the Letters Page or at, PS. Skylark: read any good books lately? Keep on humming, Hummingbird. Everything cool with you, O.J.? Of course it is.

One Comment

  1. Nate Collins May 30, 2015

    Wow! What a great piece. Thanks Steve Sparks and to Turkey Vulture I take back all of my harsh words about your carrying on about food and wine. Onward.

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