Those who attended the LG Professionals Australia National Congress 2016 were lucky enough to see Rabia Siddique present as one of our keynote speakers. Her ability to touch the audience was such that we were compelled to interview her and share her inspiring story with you all. Although you may be asking what a story about a former war crimes and terrorism prosecutor has to do with local government, if you agree that people are local government’s greatest asset, then Rabia has plenty to offer.
Rabia, an Australian, joined the British army as a legal officer, right before 9/11, and was deployed first to Northern Ireland and later Iraq. While stationed at Basra in 2005, two British soldiers were captured and detained, the Iraqi judge in charge refused to negotiate with the British officer sent in, and instead asked for ‘Major Rabia.’
When Rabia arrived at the compound where the hostages were held, she found it surrounded by several hundred angry locals, only just held at bay by 150 British soldiers. After getting inside, Rabia was able to secure the release of the hostages, however, as the terms were about to be signed, the mob outside stormed the compound, and Rabia and the original negotiator were themselves taken hostage.
Eventually, all the hostages were release. The original negotiator was formally debriefed and awarded a Military Cross. Rabia was given a cup of tea and told she could never disclose her role in the siege.
Was this a terrible case of discrimination? ‘Much later, I was able to piece it all together. During the siege Tony Blair and his cabinet took over the decision-making process. And they decided, it would be politically damaging for the media and the public to learn that a foreign, female, dark-skinned Muslim woman without combat training had been sent in to negotiate. And so they erased me from the story.’
‘Yet what if that upper-middle-class group of middle-aged white men had contained one woman, or one non-white person, or someone foreign-born? They might have realized my background and approach could have offered them a public relations coup.’
What happened to me in the months after the siege is the perfect example of why diversity is paramount to innovative thinking and better decision-making, and how important it is that diversity exists from the top of an organisation.
Why diversity important in local government
Any organisation that makes decisions for other people should reflect the community they serve; real understanding leads to the best decisions for the good of the community. The other thing – incredibly pertinent to local government – is that if the people see themselves represented by their council, by professionals they have something in common with, community engagement becomes much easier and draws from a much wider base.’
We'll continue our focus on Rabia's life and views in a new post at the end of June.
Rabia’s autobiography Equal Justice is published by Macmillian. Her website is www.rabiasiddique.com