Ed Vulliamy wrote an article in the Guardian yesterday about five weeks after they happened. Such a detailed retrospect was bound to turn up, specially since there is still no sign of the 14 year old girl that was allegedly raped.
Though he does an admirable job of putting together a good narrative and bring out the main issues, the article doesn’t cover all the issues properly. Here are some of the bits that stand out.
1. Making a big deal out of it.
“We have never had black-on-Asian violence,” says Martin Blisset, the appalled chairman of the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre. “It is something new and terrible, which shows how our society is changing. We seem to be destroying what is best about this country – that people of different cultures learn to live together.”
Ok, that is just pure exaggeration. What it means is we’ve never had a mass disturbance with Africans and Asians against each other covered in the media extensively. Our society isn’t being destroyed, it’s evolving. Learn from it and get over it.
2. The hair and beauty angle.
Kirk Dawes, a black former drug squad officer who now runs a mediation service that would later be drafted in to assist in the crisis, says: “It was felt by black people to be the unspoken thing for a long time: a feeling that they are selling our products – and hair and beauty was the last straw, the one thing they still had.”
I published an email I got in the first post we did on the riots (picked up by Nick Cohen), basically said the same thing. Essentially, it demonstrates that some frustrations have built up in the area due to economic under-achievement. And for that the Asian community is blamed.
3. Some attention is also paid to the shop-owner Mohammed, who was never found to be guilty. At one point he says:
“about 15 or 20 men came here, calling me a rapist, threatening to burn my shop and shoot me. I called the police three times, and said I hadn’t done anything. They just told me to call again if there was trouble.”
This has come up repeatedly from people in the area – the reluctance of the police to treat this seriously until it all blew up. Then they decided to allocate 600 officers to the area. Why wasn’t some quick action forthcoming when this was about to blow? Hell, I knew there was going to be trouble 4 days before.
4. The most inflammatory quotes as ever provided by Maxi Hayles, a “leading campaigner” previously awarded for apparently “Building a Fair and Just Community”. So does he try and calm things down? Hell no!
“We have a South African situation here,” he claims. “White on top, coloured Asian in the middle and African at the bottom. If you want a taxi – Asian. If you want petrol – Asian. Off-licence – Asian. Access to banks – Asian. Even Afro-Caribbean food – Asian. Our community feels trapped. The truth about integration is that we do not integrate with the Asians; we coexist. I applaud those who work 24/7. But [the Asians] have an unfair advantage: they came from Uganda and Kenya with money. I cannot condone what Idi Amin is supposed to have done – I stress supposed to have done – but the fact is that the Afro-Caribbeans were here first, then the Asians came and built an economy based on the millions they had made in Africa.”
Sorry uncle but you are really out of your depth here. Firstly, most of the Asians who came here from Uganda and Kenya were Sikhs, not Pakistanis (who predominantly live in the Lozells area). Many of the Sikhs also came over with very little money because Idi Amin “supposedly” (he says) chucked them out of the country without much money. Stop making excuses man!
5.Inciting the violence.
Asian recollections of what was said on the radio are distressing. Mohammed Saleem of the Birchfield Traders’ Association remembers the message: “There are not enough of you pussies out there in the street! This is between black and the Muslims!” He also recalls people ringing in to urge: “Kill the Muslims.” “What amazes me,” he says, “is that this Warren G is now a hero in the black community. There is supposed to be law against incitement. If an Asian had said that on radio, he’d be in GuantÃ¡namo Bay by now.”
Hell yeah, and if an Asian said that – I’d be calling for them to be deported to Gitmo. At the same time, I want to see Ofcom carry on their investigation and see who did the inciting. Why should they get away with it?
6. Making it into a race war.
“They came from Birmingham and from all over Britain,” says Dawes. “You’d be amazed what they were saying: I had people who thought that black people couldn’t walk the streets of Birmingham. Then,” he says with a sigh, “the political activists got involved. People in the community who wanted to turn this into a Black-Asian affair. There were people committed to using this as an issue to create disturbance; it turned from being about the so-called rape, into something about the exploitation of the black community. It was seized upon by people who wanted to turn it into a race war.”
Bingo. This is exactly what we had been saying here. With race and religious politics dominated by so called “community leaders” these days, this is bound to happen.
There are two angles I feel the story missed out. Firstly, nothing much is said about the secret underbelly of Asian racism, uncovered by Darcus Howe over a year ago. That racism got Isiah Young-Sam killed and is probably one of the main reasons why resentment has built up. Unless this is also confronted head on, we will carry on pretending that everything is fine.
In fact, not a lot is said of Isiah’s murder. This may be because he does not want to prejudice the trial, of which I have not heard much lately. The three caught were supposed to be sentenced on the 8th.
Secondly, the article does nothing to mention community representatives. It would have been useful also to show that these bunch of self-styled “leaders” were completely useless in controlling the situation, despite their claims all over the press.
That may also make the government realise they aren’t really in touch with today’s youth, and to involve them in a dialogue is only getting half the story.
On a side note, The Voice newspaper is rightly highlighted for foolishly fuelling the tension. I also heard they received a call from Birmingham police criticising them for taking that stance. Good to see they backtracked.
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Filed in: Race politics