Sunday, 30 October 2005

Birmingham riots: community, race, hate, fear and ignorance

One person has been stabbed and killed and dozens injured in riots in Birmingham, between groups that have variously been identified as Afro-Caribbean or Black and Asian, Pakistani or Muslim; another person has been shot and killed, but its connection to the riots hasn't been proven.

It's commonly understood that the riots were sparked by unconfirmed rumours of the gang rape of a child in the Lozells district of the city; they are supposed to have remained rumours because the child was an undocumented migrant, who could have faced deportation had she acted.

I did hear somewhere that she could have been an asylum seeker, in which case she wouldn't have faced deportation upon identifying herself, but she would still (as the undocumented migrant would also) have the feelings of embarrassment and shame that many rape victims do (though they shouldn't, because they have done nothing wrong), which could also have stopped her from reporting the crime officially.

There has been the suggestion that this was the product of economic and social tensions between the local communities: the rumours have been attributed to the alleged rapist's business rivals; and the violence has been attributed to angry youths, fighting because there is little cohesion between communities that have been left to languish, unemployed and deprived; however, the violence has also been linked to gangs, which, previously united fighting against White groups, have broken up into ethnic and religious groups fighting against each other for turf and respect.

The comments on this situation have varied greatly; here, I have reviewed a few of them, but only in full recognition of the fact that the commentators are not one-dimensional individuals and the groups that they identify themselves or are categorised as part of (but which they do not represent or speak on behalf of) are not homogeneous communities.

African, Afro-Caribbean or Black comments included those of Ligali. This group has called for a "national boycott of Asian businesses" in response to the "alleged sexual assault" of a child "said to be an unofficial immigrant from Jamaica", which they place in a shop "said to be notorious".

The "African Caribbean Self-Help Organisation" decided "economically" to "close down all Asian owned hair shops in the area"; neither they nore Ligali can justify demanding action against an entire community for a crime committed by a group of individuals.

If the gang rape occurred, it was committed, not by "Asians" or even "Pakistanis", but by rapists. It is inexcusable to stereotype and act against a community - or communities - regardless of whether "the ethnicity of the assailants has been repeatedly described... as 'Asian' and not Chinese" or whether "there is no further breakdown specifying whether this means of Indian or Pakistani descent".

If the gang rape occurred, it was committed, not by "the Asian community", but by the rapists, it is known about, not by "the Asian community", but by the rapists and it is being covered up, not by "the Asian community", but by the rapists. There is not and could not be an "Asian" "wall of silence"; if the crime was committed then the "wall of silence" has been erected by the rapists.

It is ignorant and irresponsible to punish innocent people; it is also inadvisable, as it will only ferment more general tension and worsen the situation for both communities, the majority of whom were involved in neither the alleged gang rape nor the subsequent riots.

Asian comments included those of the Pickled Politics writers. One of their writers, Sunny, said that he "can see they are pissed off at such a heinous crime", but pointed out that "it has not been confirmed she was raped by Asian guys and there is no evidence to back up that the Asian community is 'hiding or protecting'" those he described as "bastards", of whom he said that he'd "be happy to see their balls on a plate".

Sunny, too, believes that "a national boycott is surely taking it too far", that that action leaves "Asians everywhere... blamed for the activity of a gang of criminals" and that "Ligali is generalising in a way it warns others against". I agree with Sunny and with Pickled Politics.

Muslim comments include those of the Flying Imam, who dismissed the "self-congratulating talk [of] the race industry (e.g. the race equality council) and the government". He argued that "tension is created by inequality - housing, job prospects, economic disparity", that "people turn on their neighbours when they feel frustrated" and that with "housing ghettos the problem is made worse".

Cautioning against "linear" thinking - that "whites are racist and blacks are victims" - he said that in Birmingham's Lozells district, "the dividing line is between Blacks and Asians who are both just as capable of being racist as white people are".

The Flying Imam also found "white racism", stating that "the government" and "the elite" didn't want "people of all backgrounds" to "unite against injustice" and that they "would much rather ferment animosity between communities", drawing parallels with "the recent witch hunt against Muslims".

That conspiracy theory, which, if nothing else, ignores the government's need to keep these communities' votes to keep power, was followed by the argument that "heavy-handed policing against law-abiding people drives real criminals further underground", which I am unsure about.

Finally, the Flying Imam states that "armed police result in armed gangsters" and that "the government and the police are foolishly doing is upping the stakes", which, given the movement of the argument, appears to be about the War on Terror and this, in turn, makes the discussion of the riots in Birmingham appear to be a vehicle for discussion of the War on Terror; though they are both important topics, this appears to oversimplify them both and misconstrue some of the important facets of each.

Ignorant comments included those of Holiday Scott, who began by saying that, "yes, it is about race" and went on to say, at the very least unsympathetically, that he was "relieved", because, "every time there's a clash between white people and ethnic minorities, the white population as a whole is expected to carry the guilt", understandably bemoaning that, "despite the fact that [he had] absolutely nothing in common with the white people who riot, [he was] guilty by virtue (or lack of) my colour".

Holiday Scott's reference to the "lack" of "[his] colour", however, seems to assume that White people have no colour or ethnicity, or rather, colours or ethnicities, as "White", like all labels, is heterogenous and may collate many other labels, including "White British", "White Irish" and "White Other", which can subsume "Arab".

He did write, "does racism exist? Yes it does" and "is it appalling that racism exists? Yes it is", but he did go on to make the crass comment that he was "relieved because finally we can use the word 'race riots' and not assume we are referring to white people".

Holiday Scott claims that "racism in the UK is increasingly nothing to do with white oppression of ethnic minorities" and that instead, it is "quickly becoming an issue of religious, cultural, and economic friction between ethnic minorities majorities"; he then states that the existence of ethnic minorities who form local majorities "changes the playing field" and "changes the rules of how talk about racism". This is utterly untrue: racism is racism; the only thing changed by these types of situations is people's perceptions of community relations, hopefully making them realise the need for equality, coexistence and solidarity, but realistically making them more isolated and more exclusive.

Holiday Scott also talked of "the fact that two distinct races basically went to war in the streets for two days", which was arrant nonsense. There was no "war" and the skirmishes that did occur were between tiny minorities of the community - hundreds in a city of one million and in a country of about sixty million. The majority of each community remained peaceful - and they remained positive about the future for their communities and for the Lozells and Birmingham communities.

There are no such things as "races" in the biological sense that he implies and if there were, they would be, not "distinct", but indistinct - interrelated, interdependent, practically and meaningfully indistinguishable. "Races" are social, cultural constructions of communities, which are themselves heterogeneous, externally connected and internally divided associations of individuals, who find what they consider significant points of commonality between themselves and certain others.

After that, Holiday Scott descends into farce, trying to alert "British society" to the "riot between races" and to the notion that "racial violence is now the legacy of liberal values and policy in modern Britain" at the same time as saying that "any two races can and will riot if issues of integration and tolerance are not addressed", when those issues are precisely the ones that "liberal values" seek to address, while "conservative values" seek to ignore, dismiss or even challenge them.

Bigoted comments include those of Optical, who began one of his posts on the "race war" by claiming that "a taxi cab driven by an Asian was surrounded, then set alight with the Black gang cheering as the driver was consumed by the flames". This is utterly untrue; the facts are horrific enough and the situation serious enough, without more of the kinds of rumours that triggered the initial violence.

He continues, "what the established press don't tell its readers is that blacks and Asians in Handsworth hate each other, are always fighting and shooting each other. 2004 saw 230 guns crimes alone in Birmingham and those are just the people who bothered to visit hospital, or died". He's misrepresenting the case by generalising from a minority to a totality; moreover, he's (inexcusably) collapsing "economic" crime - from greed, etc. - and "political" crime - from racism, etc.

Optical ensured that no-one could be in any doubt as to his politics (if his vile link list, which included the British National Party and Stormfront, were not clue enough), when he stated that "immigrants have turned this once desirable area into a violent, gun-toting, drug dealing, ghetto where 12-year-old girls provide oral sex for a crack pipe in shop doorways still dressed in their school uniforms".

Hilariously, he tried to make out that "only the BNP had the foresight to warn about this" and preposterously, he claimed that they "try to tackle it in a democratic and political way". Optical and the BNP - which he indicates that he is not just an admirer but also a member of by referring to them as "we" - opine, utterly falsely, that "Asians in the UK do regularly gang-rape non-Muslims, and otherwise sexually enslave them" and that "Blacks are often susceptible to mass hysteria"; still, Optical and the BNP are at least generous enough to go so far as to caricature themselves so that no-one else has to, by spouting these outlandish theories.

Socialist comments included Charlie's. He said that, "as I keep saying, I am socialist by intellectual and emotional leaning, and liberal in my outlook to the point of 'whatever'" (whatever that means), "but I do understand that youths like a good riot".

Charlie expands upon that rather flippant statement - I presume not underpinned with reference to others' work on the effervescence of collective violence - when he says that it's "nothing to do with dissatisfaction or boredom or victimisation or discrimination (although all or some of those factors might or might not exist - who knows! - just because rioters say these things exist doesn't mean that they do)". Charlie concludes, "youths riot because it's fun and because they like doing it", asking, exasperatedly, "do others not understand this?"

I suspect that those angry youths from both sides, as they, in their eyes, acted to defend themselves and their communities, did not understand that; I suspect that their victims and the peaceful majority of the local communities did not understand that; and I suspect that those, if any, gang members who acted to maintain their reputation, respect (in the way that it is measured by them and the other members of the "gang community") and territory, did not understand that. Specious commentary may not be dangerous, as ignorant and bigoted commentary may be, but it is not informative, constructive or productive, either.

Even if they have several significant - and indeed central - differences, the riots in Birmingham in September 2005 have several similarities to the riots in Mitrovica in March 2004. In Mitrovica, there were confirmed deaths of children who had drowned in a river; it was the rumours about those deaths - that the Albanian children had been chased into the river by Serbs, when, in fact, they had drowned by accident - that triggered the violence. In Birmingham, there had (and has) not yet been a confirmed crime; still, it was rumours about those alleged crimes - the men's rape of a child - that triggered the violence.

In Mitrovica, the police and military called upon to suppress the rioters were confronted with crowds that included young children, so to avoid endangering them, the authorities had to refrain from acting unless it was directly to protect human life, which enabled the crowds to act much more freely. In Britain, the police were confronted with youths, but they were not children, so the authorities had a much freer hand to halt the violence with and the violence was halted relatively quickly.

Britain's "mainstream" media - newspapers, radio and television - have generally tried to avoid stirring trouble, though the Independent and the Telegraph did repeat the Birmingham Sunday Mercury's initial note of further "rumours" (this time they concerned someone being burned alive in their taxi and all of these reports would have been fuel to the fire, particularly for the BNP and their allies); Mitrovica's mainstream media, however, were frequently inflammatory.

The most striking similarity is the blame popularly laid upon the authorities and the media for not stating the facts of the case strongly enough and for not suppressing the spreading violence quickly enough, so that it grew to a size at which it was difficult to control and that, in itself, fed into its further increases in size and ferocity, as those as yet uninvolved became fearful and felt vulnerable away from those they felt they were tied to as fellow victims.

If the authorities are slow, heavy-handed, lenient or unjust in their actions and in their treatment of those various parties involved, this will only contribute to the existing feelings of alienation, disadvantage, discrimination and exclusion that have fueled these riots and that will fuel later ones; if the authorities, the media and the communities do not act appropriately, the situation could deteriorate and could come closer to resembling the Brixton riots.


  1. Oh, that wacky religion of peace! Yeah, they like to gang rape little girls. Just look at the Beslan massacre! They aren't big on the whole concept of "self control". Infact, there are many passages in the "holy" qu'ran where Mohammed (pig piss be upon him as he burns in hell) condones raping infidel women, since it's not really rape. Once a slave girl is captured by a muslim male(ie the school children in Beslan), she becomes his property, and he can do what he wants. Tt in no way conflicts with his marriage vows, since he is simply enjoying the flesh of an infidel. Yep, that's the "religion of peace", led by a murdering, raping, pedophile prophet!

    /interesting blog

  2. I don't want to give that ignorant bigot a persecution complex by deleting their post - and blogger won't let me - but I think it's so rabid as to show it's ignorance and bigotry without my help.

    There's a point in the Bible about not eating pork, but no-one thinks Christians who do are hypocritical.

    There's another point about stoning to death farmers who plant wheat and barley in neighbouring fields, but no-one thinks Christians are barbaric or Christianity uncivilised.

    No true interpretation of the Qur'an could or would seek to uphold the immoral acts that commentator referred to.

    No true interpretation of the Bible would uphold stoning to death farmers who plant wheat and barley in neighbouring fields.

    They are some of the most peculiar points of convergence, when Islamic extremists and Islamophobes agree about the interpretation of the Qur'an and the Hadith.

    People are responsible for their own actions and not for others'; people are certainly not responsible for unrelated others' acts, whether they are associated by some alleged common identity or not.

  3. I find Princess Kimberleys comments vulgar to say the least. May you burn in hell