IssueApril 2010
Comment by Maya Evans

I was standing in front of a dishevelled block of flats in Hackney, half the flats were boarded over with orange grills, it seemed more like we were making a documentary about inner city slum living than about the issue of women, Islam and freedom.

The council estate felt like everything I despise but know better than myself, every nook and cranny had a memory. The cold wind cut through me and weakened my already cold-ridden body. I started speaking into the camera: “I’m here in the area I grew up in. I was schooled mainly with Muslims who today are feared and hated in the UK. I want to know why my school friends are now in this position.”

Old neighbours walked past the playground where I and my camerawoman were filming. I felt a bit embarrassed but they seemed not to be bothered. They greeted me as if it was only yesterday they saw me last – it’s been 10 years since I lived on the estate. We walked to the top of the street onto Kingsland Road where the great Sulyami Mosque stands. My old shop- keeper Ali walked past me on his way to Friday prayers. He had always loved me as a child when I would go into the shop to pick up the latest Kerrang magazine. He seemed overjoyed to see me. It felt comforting to know these old fixtures in my life still existed. He invited me for tea but I had to decline as we needed to make our way to the next filming slot.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights organisation Liberty looked intently at me, her eyes narrowed and focused. Beads of sweat started to form on my brow in the sauna-like conditions. We were next door to a curry house in the basement library of the Liberty HQ in central London. The spotlighting made the already airless underground room even more stuffy but created the dusk studio look we were after. Her attention was concentrated on answering the serious questions I had come to ask her about the discrimination against Muslims in the UK.

The camera was rolling. I leaned back in my chair, “So Shami… What’s your favourite pop band?” She nodded and looked poised, she didn’t flinch or blink and then a big grin broke out, “Oh god, don’t ask me that question”. I challenged her about choosing the bland band Coldplay in her top 5 tunes for an Observer Music Magazine interview. She laughed and said her top five changes every week and that choosing music was tricky so as not to appear square.

She threw the question back at me. I suggested Huey Lewis and the News; Hip to be Square. She seemed surprised and humorously asked me if that was the new retro choice of music. I assured her it’s what all the cool kids were listening to and that it should be included in her next Desert Island Discs selection. We both had a look of mischief in our eyes.

She signed the release forms for the footage and asked; “Can you to be careful when editing this very sensitive topic as I wouldn’t want to be misrepresented, especially around the issue of Jack Straw and his tinnitus”. I assured her we would be extremely sensitive during the edit and explained we intended to make a short documentary for use in schools as a basis for discussion with the focus around women, Islam and freedom.

See more of: Maya Evans diary