British Muslims show their anger at discrimination and dispossession

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Rabi' al-Awwal 24, 1422 2001-06-16


by Crescent International (World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1422)

Among the few notable results in Britain’s general election on June 8 was the strong showing of the British National Party (BNP) in the constituencies of Oldham East and Oldham West in Lancashire. While the Labour Party was being returned to power by a second consecutive landslide, white Britons in Oldham were expressing unprecedented support for the fascist BNP, in a demonstration of the sort of attitudes that has prompted the Muslim population of the area — mostly descendants of immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan — to take to the streets to express their anger in the days before the election.

Hundreds of young Muslims in Oldham clashed with police in running battles from nightfall until the early hours of the morning for two nights running. The clashes were prompted by an attack by white supremacist gangs on the houses of Muslim families in the predominantly Kashmiri and Bangladeshi area of Glodwick, and the Muslims’ feeling that the police — who have recently been described as “institutionally racist” in an official report into the investigation of the racist murder of a black youth in London — were failing to protect the Muslims from increasing far-right violence.

The clashes in Oldham were followed by similar clashes in the Harehills area of Leeds a few days later, prompted by the violent arrest of a Pakistani man by police two days earlier. Police attributed these clashes to criminal elements rather than community unrest, but while there are some criminal problems among the Asian youth — a response to the dispossession they feel in British society — the clashes undoubtedly reflected deeper social problems.

The clashes in Oldham reflect growing resentment and tension in the area as a result of years of racism and discrimination. In 1990, the council buried a council-housing report that revealed that the housing department was deliberately offering Asians lower quality housing and segregating them in specific estates around the town centre. At the same time, it was revealed that at least two travel agents in the town were ‘redlining’ – confining different racial groups to ‘their own’ areas.

Local Muslims also suspect that similar discrimination has been shown in the allocation of the hundreds of millions of pounds in regeneration and redevelopment grants that Oldham has received in recent years. In the last twenty years, Oldham has received £400 million in such funds, and another £120 million is imminent. However, the effects of this funding have been uneven: unemployment among white people in the town now stands at just four percent; among Pakistanis it is 16 percent and among Bangladeshis it is 25 percent.

The local and national media also stand accused of bias in their coverage of events. Local Muslims are angry that there is not one single Asian — let alone Muslim — among the 39 editorial staff of the local paper, the Evening Chronicle. According to Mike Luft, of the anti-fascist organization Searchlight, the Chronicle is regarded as a “great paper” by the BNP, who say that it will print anything they send them. The national media are also not above blame; much of the recent trouble has been blamed on reports carried by BBC radio that certain areas of Oldham were allegedly no-go areas for whites, without any balancing reporting of the conditions of Asians, such as the fact that areas of the town have long been out of bounds for non-whites.

The troubles in Oldham were not permitted to disrupt the general elections, and the successful creation of the illusion of a country at ease with itself. What the elections did show, however, was the difficulty Muslims have in making an impact in the mainstream political system. In several areas, Muslims were either putting forward their own candidates, for example in the Sparkbrook constituency in Birmingham, or running information campaigns designed to highlight the pro-zionist or pro-Indian stances of some British MPs representing Muslim-populated areas. None of these campaigns were successful in displacing a single mainstream candidate, although some did undoubtedly raise political awareness among Muslims. The only Muslim candidates elected to Parliament were members of the mainstream political parties, whose freedom of speech and action is severely restricted.

The events in Oldham and the failure of British Muslims to make any significant impact at the polls are indicative once again of the problems Muslims face in the UK, as well as the continuing absence of effective community leadership able to address these problems. The increasing support for the BNP, and the refusal of the police and other authorities to take Muslim concerns seriously, bode ill for British Muslims in the future.

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