Feature: Magid Magid: Taking the EU by storm
Magid Magid, one of Parliament’s newly-elected deputies, is brash, confident, black and proud, particularly of his immigrant background.
Born in Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia, the 30-year-old aquatic zoology graduate entered local politics as a councillor because he was “tired of complaining and had enough of asking the wrong people to do the right thing.”
“I thought, I should get more involved in my community, it wasn’t really about politics.” He had previously worked in digital marketing and then for the British housing charity Shelter. It was European politics and the rise of UKIP during the 2014 elections that pushed him to stand.
“Seeing rhetoric that was pushing fear, hate and division, I remember telling myself that if I can at least make my small part of the world, my community, my Sheffield, that bit better, then I’m making a positive contribution.”
After a couple of years working as a local representative, he successfully stood as Lord Mayor for Sheffield.
He immediately made an impact on social media, dispensing with the traditional ermine, and coming across more like a hip-hop star, wearing his mayor’s gold chain with his trademark reverse baseball cap and green Doc Marten boots.
During his year as a mayor, he gained over 90,000 followers on Twitter, while pushing the contentious agenda of championing the positive contribution to society of immigrants and refugees.
All this in a political landscape where Brexit was underpinned by anti-migration sentiment.Even though the UK is scheduled to leave the EU by 31 October, Magid chose to run in the European elections.
“The reason I stood to be an MEP was, again, I felt compelled to do something. I wanted to put forward some positivity and hope.” He joined the Greens as “they stand for what they believe in, they had a red line against austerity and backed free university education.”
“Not only that, we only have one planet and we need to live within our means. For me, the Green Party aren’t just playing the game, they’re trying to change the game.”
His Muslim background has also shaped his political outlook; when he was young, he was already outspoken in his views. He remembers being told to ‘tone it down’ and not to be ‘overly political’.
“But I haven’t got that privilege of not being too political; I’m a black Muslim refugee living in this anti-immigration climate; it would be a disservice and unjust if I did not use my platform.” He added, “Look at what’s happening in the UK; we’ve got a hostile environment towards immigrants.”
“We have government-sponsored vans with ‘Go Home’ banners and the Windrush scandal. All of this is not just affecting me and my family, it’s affecting people around the country.”
“I’m fortunate enough to have a position of influence and I refuse to simply coast along and have a nice comfortable life. I know full well it’s going to be a challenge, but you need to stick your head above the parapet.”
His outspoken, positive stand on migrants and refugees saw him invited to the hugely popular Glastonbury music festival, addressing thousands of people on political issues. “It was a lot of fun – great music, great people. The reception was amazing, it was very welcoming.”
This was in marked contrast to his experience on his first visit to the Strasbourg plenary, where he believes he was a victim of racism.“After the opening ceremony, I was coming out of the chamber, and some gentleman decided to take it upon himself to ask me if I was lost. I responded, ‘Do I look lost?’
He told me, ‘You need to leave the building.’ I said, ‘Why do I need to leave?’ and I showed him my badge.” “It really pissed me off, as it was an all-too-familiar situation, not something exclusive to the European Parliament. It’s happened to me in lots of different places throughout my life.”
Asked was it just a case of mistaken identity rather than racism, considering he was dressed so informally, and wearing a t-shirt stating, ‘F*** Fascism’, he strongly disagreed.
He pointed out that many MEPs were wearing t-shirts with various political messages that day, including the UK Liberal deputies with ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ t-shirts.
According to Magid, the incident reflects how people of colour are perceived in the institutions. “Fundamentally, the majority of people of colour you see in this place are workers. People have been socially conditioned to think if you are a non-white person, you cannot be an MEP, which is so insular.”
He added, “If this person had made a genuine mistake, he would have said sorry. But what really pissed me off was his sheer arrogance and the way he smirked and walked off, with no apology.”
That made me think “what a prick”. For Magid, the incident was indicative of why people of colour remain under-represented among the 750 deputies. “If you look at MEPs as a whole, they do not reflect the people they’re here to represent, or modern-day Europe.”
He pointed out, however, that it’s not just people of colour who are under-represented; other minority groups such as people with disabilities are also marginalised.
So why are right-wing populist politicians, such as Marine Le Pen, Victor Orbán, Matteo Salvini and Nigel Farage, with their anti-immigration rhetoric, popular with voters?
“The reason is because they play on peoples’ fears. Many people are struggling across Europe and want change, and these politicians are saying the reason you can’t get social housing or see a doctor is all down to immigrants, rather than failed government policy.”
They found a way to divide people and gain power.” He added, “This is destructive and downright deceiving; most people want change because they are unhappy with the status quo, and as a result are flocking to these parties.”
Magid is also not impressed with how the negotiations for the EU’s top jobs were handled. “I’ve never heard the words ‘backroom deal’ so many times in the space of a week. Are there any front-room deals? It genuinely doesn’t fill me with much hope concerning transparency.”
For Magid, the negotiations were ‘business as usual’ and not the transformation the EU voters sought. “I can honestly say I cannot see any sort of change and the EU needs to take this call for reform seriously. It’s basically failing.”
He points out that during the EU election campaign, voters couldn’t even name a single MEP that represented them. “They were so disengaged from the EU. It needs to do a better to job in actually engaging with people.”
Even during a weekend stay in Brussels, when he told people that he was elected to the European Parliament, he was asked ‘what happens there?’ or ‘what is it? If the citizens of Brussels don’t even know what the
EU does, how can you expect someone in Bradford or other provincial cities to know?
Despite his initial negative experience as an MEP, Magid is still highly ambitious. He has a three-point plan.
“One, stop Brexit. Two, dismantle the EU, even if I have to burn down the house to re-build it. That way, every citizen in the EU, from Bradford to Barcelona, will feel like they own the EU and are represented by it.”
“And when we rebuild it, we’ll make sure it’s fit for purpose and ready to tackle the urgent issues and burning injustices of our time, like climate change and rampant inequality.”
“Three, smash the far right so hard that when the likes of Salvini, Le Pen, Farage and Orbán go to sleep in their comfortable beds, the one person who will keep them awake at night is a black Muslim refugee.”
“These extreme nationalists are Europe’s greatest threat – and we’ll beat them, because there’s a stronger, kinder, fairer Europe waiting.” Of course, wanting to “burn down the house” is figurative. But, he warned,
“If things do not change, and we stick to the status quo, the European project is going to fail.”
“We need radical reform, whether it is the way the Parliament is run – by giving more power to MEPs. Alternatively, the way the EU engages with its citizens, so they have a direct say through peoples’ assemblies. It needs radical reform.”
He has been appointed to Parliament’s civil liberties (LIBE) committee, and the culture and education (CULT) committee. As a member of LIBE, he wants to continue campaigning to highlight the plight of refugees and find solutions to the migration crisis.
Within CULT, he wants to promote culture, as a way of helping heal Europe’s divisions. “No matter what your background, or how wealthy you are, art is a really good way to bring people together.”
Yet despite the many challenges facing the new Parliament and the political divisions across the EU, Magid remains optimistic. “I feel 100 percent positive about the future. I feel hopeful because if we haven’t got hope, what have we got?”
He admits, “Yes, Britain is currently facing a massive identity crisis with Brexit at its epicentre. But then I ask myself, who do we want to be the authors of our future? People like Salvini or Farage?
Or should we create a story where every single one of us is a protagonist, where we write our own story of hope, collective responsibility and equality? This is the story I want to tell and that is the story I genuinely believe we are going to get, because hope always wins over hate.”