Zahid Hussain is a writer and social entrepreneur. He is a regional poetry performance champion and has regularly featured on BBC Radio. In 2009, he launched the Manchester Muslim Writers in response to the lack of support for Muslim writers despite the need for the authentic voice of British Muslims to be heard.
Zahid Hussain teaches creative writing to children and adults and mentors a number of new – and published – writers. He is a member of NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) and the SOA (Society of Authors). He is also a trustee of BTEG (Black Training & Enterprise Group) and Ecomosque (Salford).
You can follow Zahid on Twitter @zahidsays
wedged into the bloat of Mankind, it lurks
coiled in the caverns of our insides
and it snares without hooks or nets or clamps
until all of our blood is occupied
and bellowing out, breaths become a blink
ground down by the weight of a dying heart’s pulse
and snaked into the body’s tributaries
the dried blood-tide ropes its territory
its naming has never contained it
no sound has delayed it, and yet we deny it
judging its victims, sinner, demon, beast
until it snatches one of us; too late we know
it has the seared conscience of a desert rock
and born deaf and dumb and bound to nothing
it forever strafes its code in spaces
whose first and final tourist is silence
and despite all the lines of ink we scribe,
it imprints itself and imprints itself and imprints itself
on every nation’s flag; yet it begs no translation,
because death has swallowed all our tongues.
Born in 1959, Cameron obtained an M.A. in the politics of countries that don’t exist anymore. In his desire to change the world he was a local councillor for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham from 1986-2006, being Deputy Leader between 1998-2005 and after four years in the real world was persuaded to stand again for election, which he did successfully in 2010. He is currently the local Cabinet Member for Regeneration. His hobbies include gerbil training, Barking Football Club and being amazed by the world in which he’s privileged to live.
Of course I knew HIV was still a problem, both in this country and abroad, especially in Africa. Every now and then a passing remark would be made in the mainstream media when discussing a particular country’s national hardships about their HIV infection rate. I would inwardly gasp, but then almost immediately just assume that they must ‘get by’ somehow and continue with the main thrust of the report.
With the advances in medical treatment for HIV, life expectancy for many people who are diagnosed early on in their illness may not be that much lower than average life expectancy in an area. However not everyone is diagnosed early enough in their treatment for good medical care to be effective and that is a particular problem in our part of east London.
Nevertheless, HIV awareness campaigns are so very 1980’s and surely went out of fashion along with the ‘Frankie Says…’ tee-shirts, mullet hairstyles and Liverpool being football league champions.
When I mentioned to friends I’d been asked to write something about HIV there was universal surprise with the general attitude being, “It’s not such a problem these days, is it?” My response to that was to be honest and admit I didn’t really know…
I had only just been elected onto my local council when the ’AIDS Epidemic!’ headlines were screaming out their warnings in newspapers, magazines, on the television and radio and via a fairly terrifying, if possibly belated, set of public information advertisements eventually produced by a Government that had originally been less worried by what was also initially dubbed a ‘gay plague’.
Every week I would glance at the job vacancies in ‘The Guardian’ and see that their ‘public appointments’ columns were dominated by ‘HIV/AIDS Advisors’. Every local council seemed to be attempting to appoint more AIDS counsellors than their neighbours.
Locally I could quote the infection rates from memory. Then as the years went by…I couldn’t.
And there’s one of the problems with politics and politicians, says I, who remain fascinated by the subject and determined still to defend those who dabble in it. Political power depends on winning elections. The latter is usually determined, as the Bill Clinton campaign team infamously concluded, by ’the economy, stupid!’
Before my political orientation became settled as a teenager I revelled in comparing the different parties’ political manifestoes – I had the Welsh Nationalists’ edition at one election, which was probably unique for a teenager in East London. I secured the National Front’s on another occasion, which was followed by a visit by a local representative, which spooked me thoroughly! Since then, however, I have encountered only one actual voter, a local vicar, who explained that, for each election, he scrupulously gathers a fair assessment of each parties’ policies before deciding where to put his personal cross of responsibility. Usually…’it’s the economy, stupid!’
So HIV had its day in the sun, just as dangerous dogs, homelessness, looked after children and leylandi hedges did. Then the politicians move on and so does the politics.
The reason why I am so grateful to have been prompted into thinking about HIV, especially locally, for the first time in far too long after being asked to submit this article, came with the briefing I promptly received by my local council’s advisors. They still have the statistics at their fingertips. And they are still grim after all these years.
About half of the people living with HIV in England do so in London. Locally one in every two hundred people I see on my way to the town hall or civic centre is HIV positive, with many having been diagnosed later than is ideal.
The number of people living with HIV in my small part of London grew by 76% between 2004 and 2009. We have 15 children under the age of 15 affected. For those who casually dismissed the illness as ‘a gay plague’ all those years ago, it’s worth noting that the majority of the 480 people became infected after sex between a male and a female.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to remind politicians that their jobs aren’t just about winning elections and the economy. One of my colleagues once denounced our monitoring of looked after children’s dental appointments by explaining that, “No-one on the doorstep has ever asked me how good the council was at giving dental treatment to our kinds in care!” No-one’s ever asked me about how good the council or local health authority is at gathering HIV statistics either.
Perhaps you should?
Does your local MP or councillor know the number of people in their patch who have HIV? Can they name one policy that is being used locally to reduce infection? Do they know of any targets or even whether or not local infection rates are rising of falling? When was the subject last discussed in the local council chamber?
Just asking certain questions can sometimes lead to action. And action is clearly still needed.
***The following post was was originially posted on The President’s Pages hosted by The Humanitarian Forum***
Every day, new questions arise for us to answer – us, our politicians, communities, and leaders. But the unanswered questions people have been raising for the last century remain. I’m wondering who will have the courage to put the answers on the table of humanity.
What is fuelling the flames of the world’s conflicts? Is it war lords and arms manufacturers? Or is it the international community? Who’s paying for the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Is it the Afghani and Iraqi people? The neighbouring countries and the region? Or is it the countries in the west – the taxpayers who are funding the defence budgets?
Is the solution to ideological, theological and cultural problems military action or security measures? What solution can we find on our humanitarian menu?
Many humanitarians adopt a ‘do no harm’ policy – but this can often mean inaction in the face of crisis. Does a ‘do no harm’ policy actually cause harm? Does it mean we fail to stop agressors and wrongdoers through not interfering? Indeed, should a ‘do no harm’ policy call our humanitarian neutrality and impartiality into question?
Who is responsible for the world now? Who is governing the world? And are the policies and actions of global government bodies upholding the rights of humanity and humanitarian principles or degrading them? Are our governments driven by the economy or by the needs of their people? We talk about respect, equality and fairness, but we need to believe in them, even if it means a material loss to ourselves.
Why is there so much conflict between different faiths and belief systems? Aren’t we ultimately all striving for the same goals? Can’t we make space for each others’ faith and beliefs? Are we trying to create a new global system to replace the existing one, or are we interested only in our own desires? The most precious being is the human being who is losing his or her life – millions every day. Who amongst us is responsible for the daily loss of innocent life?
HIV/AIDS has become not just a medical problem, but a social issue too. Is our policy just to live with it? Or to eradicate it, and how can we protect our children from contracting it?
What are the real causes of climate change? Is it our ignorance or our partners who share the planet – birds, animals, trees etc? Or is it the industrial drive which only serves its own interests?
Nobody knows how many billions or trillions of dollars are spent on curbing the newly created monster that is terrorism, but what is becoming all too clear is that we cannot meet the millennium development goals because we haven’t enough resources. But who’s deciding where resources are spent?
Are we fuelling conflict or are we diminishing its fire? What is our role as individuals leading governments and global institutions, when the plethora of conflicts is on the rise by the second? Can we really call natural disasters by that name, or are they at least to some degree man made? When it rains, are we a part of the flood, the tsunami, the hurricane? We need to redefine what we mean by natural disaster, by climate change, by global warming, and pollution. What are the root causes and where will it take us?
I don’t believe God makes people suffer. I believe that we need to take responsibility for our actions and inaction, and for the consequences: for conflict, for illness and hunger, for violence against women and abused and abandoned children. At the very beginning of the new millennium, we should have the courage to find real answers to these questions instead of fighting the fires that we ourselves have lit.
There are too many ‘why’s, ‘how’s ‘who’s. But while we’re looking at all these questions, we don’t pinpoint the real solutions– we need a champion who will say ‘I will’ or ‘we will’.
Are our Millenium Development Goals complete, fulfilling the needs, or do they need to be revised? Or is it our other goals which need revision: those more self-interested goals which do not look out into the world, but can’t see past our own advancement?
My last question is one that keeps many of us awake at night. What is the value of our life if we fail to value the lives of others? Valuing human life cannot be a passive activity. I wish one day that our subconscious will be more aware that ‘do no harm’ can be very harmful. ‘Do nothing’ does not reflect neutrality, but rather indifference to suffering and putting our interests in the security of the few before the survival of many. Humanity does not need a new religion or a new messiah, but it does need new believers in humanity. Let us all believe together in shared common humanitarian values that can save all of us before it’s too late for us and our children.