7/7 and Beyond - a South Asian response to the London Bombings
7/7 AND BEYOND - An Introduction
By Ram Gidoomal
The London bombings have thrown up hard questions for all of us.
As a South Asian, one of my first reactions, after gratitude for the response of the emergency services, was a concern for race and community relations across the UK. Would there be a backlash against the Muslim and indeed Asian communities generally?
My children were born in Britain, yet in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, my daughter was one of many Asians to suffer abuse.
She had gone to the local pub with some of her Asian friends for a drink, but when she entered the bar everyone became silent and looked at them. The bartender then shouted at them, saying that as Muslims they should not be drinking.
The irony is that the friends she had gone with were Hindu Gujaratis and my daughter is a Christian.
My parents fled partition and we grew up in East Africa. Another resurgence of ethnic and economic identity forced us to find a new way of life in Britain, but now I am afraid that many in minority ethnic communities may feel uncertain of their place in this country.
Since 7/7 many have been grappling with how and why British Muslim youth -- usually second or third generation -- have found extremism, and, in rare cases, terrorism, so compelling. The answers are not easy. Socio-economic issues are no doubt part of the problem. The race riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in Northern England were a visible sign that fear and ignorance still permeated these communities. Such environments are ripe for exploitation by extremists, be they right wing white supremacist Nationalist Parties like the British National Party or extremist Islamists.
An investigation after those race riots made troubling reading for policy makers and community leaders. The investigator admitted that he was shocked by the “depth of polarisation” in some of the riot towns. He found communities whose lives “often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote meaningful interchange.” The white and minority ethnic communities were effectively leading “parallel lives”.
In the wake of the terror attacks on London, my fear is that talk of the death of multi-culturalism combined with the Government’s policy on deportation can only serve to polarise communities in the country further.
The idea that everybody must conform to a single identity, in case anybody develops extreme ideas, cannot be healthy.
Iftiqar Ahmed of the London School of Islamics has challenged this view: “Multiculturalism has always been defined and implemented wrongly by the British establishment. Multiculturalism involves a level of complexity which cannot be understood from the perspective of any single discipline. Instead, historical, cultural, linguistic, political, economic, educational, sociological and psychological factors and processes all play a critical role. Multiculturalism is not about integration but about cultural plurality. It is not about separation but about respect and the deepening awareness of unity in diversity.”
In a recent YouGov survey, which investigated how the British define themselves, freedom of speech was seen as one of the most important characteristics. The Government may have tried to reassure a nervous public that it will use its new powers with restraint, but it is still a dangerous move.
Charles Clarke has responded to the UN’s complaint that the new legislation is out of line with European Human Rights laws by saying that terrorists do not have the same claim to human rights. However, free speech is not a privilege to be revoked. It is a pillar of democracy.
Threatening to strip naturalised citizens of their citizenship will create two classes of citizens: the British-born and the rest. It will only undermine the inclusive British identity that the government has worked so hard at trying to achieve, not to mention the incalculable harm to race relations.
So where do we go from here? The Muslim community must move beyond condemnation and fear of victimisation. We have to support their leaders, as they ask the hard questions of themselves and their communities.
Because these questions are actually for all of us in our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society. Whether we like each other or not, whether we agree with each other or not (and clearly we don’t because we are all different and that is the great thing about our society) – can we accept our own identity and the identity of those who are different? Can we give each other freedom within a larger identity? Can we help those who have been so alienated to re-discover a place within our society? Nothing can excuse what a tiny minority have done. They are responsible. Yet we recognise that we have to reach out in some way to those tempted to follow their example.
There are no simple solutions. But a large part of the answer has to be the strength of the various constituents of our society other than the government -- families and communities, business and the media, the arts and leisure activities -- which have key roles in maintaining diversity and preserving identity while at the same time building bridges and strengthening the larger whole. They can engage with each other and ask the questions that we all need to keep on hearing. Of course, this is what civil society is.
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