Failures that have led to toxic feuds from faraway lands bring violence to Britain’s streets… The harmony between different communities must be nurtured, or it risks crumbling away, writes Dr RAKIB EHSAN
Dr Rakib Ehsan – Supplied Dr Rakib Ehsan is a researchanalyst specialising in socialcohesion, institutional trust andpublic security
Great Britain has become used to occasional flashes of public disorder and even rioting in recent years.
But seeing a 200-strong mob of masked Muslim men surrounding a Hindu temple in Smethwick, near Birmingham, this week was more than shocking — it was terrifying.
As the group screamed ‘Allahu Akbar!’ outside the sacred site, dozens of police in riot gear struggled to keep order. Bottles and fireworks were thrown and at least one knife-carrying man was arrested.
This was only the most recent clash in the Midlands between hardline Hindus and Muslims.
Leicester, some 50 miles from Smethwick, has witnessed similar violence over the past month or so, with gangs of Muslim men attacking Hindu-owned property; mobs of Hindu men carrying weapons and chanting in the streets; and even unconfirmed reports of a Muslim man burning a Hindu flag.
At least 25 officers and a police dog were injured in violent clashes in Leicester last weekend.
What on earth is going on?
The violence seems to have been sparked following a cricket match in August between India and Pakistan in Dubai, after which India fans gathered in Leicester screaming ‘Pakistan Murdabad!’ (‘Death to Pakistan!’)
The clashes have continued throughout September, and some 47 people have now been arrested in Leicester.
Clash at a Hindu temple in Birmingham is shown. A 200-strong mob of masked Muslim men surrounding a Hindu temple in Smethwick
That city was once held up as a paragon of social cohesion, a model for British multi-culturalism. But cracks are beginning to appear in this cheery narrative.
Indeed, the situation there is now extremely serious, and could prove deadly soon.
I’m of Bangladeshi Muslim origin, so I know very well how deeply migrants and their immediate successors have enriched British life — and how people of all faiths and none can thrive in this country.
Britain remains the world’s most successful example of a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse democracy, and we should all be proud of that. But the harmony between different communities must be nurtured, or it risks crumbling away.
For years — including for my PhD — I have studied the best means of helping people from ethnic minorities integrate into British life.
My current research is even more timely: I am examining the ideologies that threaten cohesion in Britain, including home-grown extremism and foreign-inspired sectarianism.
Both of these, sadly, appear to have been on ugly display in Leicester and Smethwick.
The fact is that ultra-religious identity politics — not to mention political grievances on the other side of the world — have gained a foothold in British cities, with increasingly alarming results. Unless we take drastic action to staunch this poison, it will spread.
In Luton, where I grew up, such tensions are never far from the surface. Back in 2009, I watched as angry scenes flared during a parade for the Royal Anglian Regiment.
These soldiers, who had gallantly served in Iraq, were branded the ‘butchers of Basra’ by an angry crowd of largely Muslim young men.
The far-Right English Defence League (EDL) was formed in the aftermath of these unpleasant scenes: for a time, it seemed as if my beloved Luton might spiral out of control.
Order was eventually restored there, thank goodness. But the question now is: why have political differences that fester thousands of miles away erupted into violence in Britain?
There is no doubt that, as police have warned, fake news on social media is playing a crucial part — with claims of ‘hate incidents’ used to whip people up into a state of fury on both sides.
Hindutva (extremist Hindu) and Islamist activists are believed to have been travelling from across Britain to inflame tensions in Leicester, spurred by lurid claims that they have read online.
Indeed, at Smethwick, one masked Muslim demonstrator said his group was targeting Hindu nationalists that he alleged were travelling across Britain looking for trouble.
‘If you come in, you’re going to get met by us every single time,’ he said. ‘So if you are coming to Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, London, just give us a time and a place and we’re there.’
But the internet is only part of the story. The roots of this problem also lie in a failure of leadership from both national and local politicians.
Councillors should properly focus on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to us all: the cost of living, employment, education and healthcare.
Instead, in some British towns with large immigrant populations, councillors and community leaders increasingly focus on issues far beyond our shores — the longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region, for example, or the overt Hindu nationalism of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
During the last local elections, representatives of the so-called ‘Overseas Friends’ of the BJP, India’s ruling party, visited community groups in Leicester and Slough, among others, and firmly told them how to vote.
They drove voters away from Labour and towards the Conservatives, owing to the latter’s stance on the disputed region of Kashmir.
You and I could spend all day arguing whether India or Pakistan has the better claim to Kashmir. But the fact is that events there are a long way from Britain — where, perhaps, it matters just as much whether or not your bins are being collected on time.
Last night’s protest in Birmingham are pictured. Leicester, some 50 miles from Smethwick, has witnessed similar violence over the past month or so, with gangs of Muslim men attacking Hindu-owned property
The fact is that no one — least of all the representatives of a foreign political party — should be telling communities in Britain how to vote. To do so undermines the integrity of our very democracy.
Worse, some British politicians have been actively partisan, fraternising with divisive organisations and wading into these inflammatory issues in a shameless bid to win votes.
The disgraced ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for example, has previously showered praise on the Islamic Human Rights Commission — a band of Iran-linked rogues — in a bid to garner votes from British Shia Muslims.
Fixing this lamentable state of affairs will require a radical overhaul of our current thinking. It must start with us acknowledging that British multiculturalism has failed on some of its own terms.
Yes, it has brought tremendous benefits to our economy and our civic life, and in exposing Britons to new cultures.
Yet, at times, it has also promoted the ‘rights’ of individual creeds and faiths — emphasising the differences between cultures, that is, instead of urging all migrants to this country to respect hard-won British principles such as the rule of law, equality of opportunity and democracy.
This inclusive civic identity is a joyful thing — one that was poignantly illustrated by the way people of all ages and faiths came together to mourn our late Queen.
It is these values — and not petty cultural or tribal differences — that should be winning votes.
Regional police forces, meanwhile, need to cooperate far better. In Leicester, the local constabulary has been ill-equipped to deal with an apparent influx of out-of-town agitators. The intelligence services also need to play their part.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, post-Brexit Britain needs a more streamlined immigration and asylum system that places social cohesion and public security at its core.
Diversity can be a strength, but only if it goes hand-in-hand with an emphasis on shared values, our common obligations to one another and mutual respect. Without those, even the most apparently peaceable communities can unravel fast, as events in Leicester and Smethwick have shown.
Dr Rakib Ehsan