`If Anyone Comes Looking for Trouble We'll Not Call Police, We'll Mash Them Ourselves' ; Race: Young, Alienated Asian Youths in `Segregated' Northern Towns Are Ready to Follow the Example of Oldham

By Whitaker, Raymond | The Independent (London, England), June 17, 2001 | Go to article overview
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`If Anyone Comes Looking for Trouble We'll Not Call Police, We'll Mash Them Ourselves' ; Race: Young, Alienated Asian Youths in `Segregated' Northern Towns Are Ready to Follow the Example of Oldham


Whitaker, Raymond, The Independent (London, England)


"Some of the older boys are forming a mujaheddin group," said 16- year-old Ansar. "They're our role models, the Afghans." Another Asian teenager claims Osama bin Laden, the alleged terrorist mastermind, is his hero, but Amjad Zaman told both of them, in a Yorkshire accent as strong as theirs: "Stop talking such nonsense. You're just making it up."

We are in West Yorkshire - Devonshire Park in Keighley, to be precise - not central Asia, and it is easy to understand Mr Zaman's impatience with the posturing of youths who would get the shock of their lives if they ever met their supposed Taliban mentors. The Islamic zealots who run Afghanistan might want to know, for example, how these unemployed young men came by their designer sportswear, let alone the car radio being passed around.

But Mr Zaman nodded in agreement when the talk turns to the recent violence in Oldham, and 21-year-old Shihab said: "We are going to stand our ground. If anyone comes to this park looking for trouble, we're not going to phone the police, we're going to mash them ourselves. They think that because they did it to our parents, they can do it to us, but that's where they're wrong."

Devonshire Park looks well maintained, but immediately outside there are drifts of shattered car glass and discarded syringes. Ansar and his friends, second- and third-generation Anglo- Pakistanis aged from 15 to 23, spend their afternoons here, playing cricket or football.

Nearly all are past or current pupils of Greenhead secondary school, where Mr Zaman helps pupils with learning difficulties, but for some, attendance is mainly theoretical. One youth claims racism keeps him away, but again he gets short shrift from the older man. "If you turn up at 11am and get excluded, that's your own fault," he said. "That's not racism." Not that Mr Zaman is much older than the lads: he is 27. The gulf in attitudes, though, is deep and wide.

Last week Oldham's MPs and civic leaders came to London to meet the new Home Secretary, David Blunkett. Plans are being drawn up to tackle the causes of the violence late last month, when hundreds of Asian youths clashed with the police, and action is being promised within four months. It is already clear, however, that the rioting, and the jump in election support for the far-right British National Party, resulted from long- simmering problems.

The rest of the country learned for the first time of the creeping residential segregation in Oldham which has led to hardening attitudes on both sides. It also heard a new voice: that of disaffected, unemployed Muslim youths of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. They spoke of "defending" their communities against white racists, but appeared to have ingrained anti- white - or anti-Western - and anti-police attitudes themselves.

It is clear that Oldham is not an isolated case. All along the M62 there are depressed towns where white and Asian communities are retreating into a form of apartheid. Daily friction is reduced by greater separation, but flare-ups, when they come, are bigger. "For me," said Shihab, "contact with whites means only one thing: trouble."

Older Asians are disturbed. "Some of these people want to create a little Pakistan or Bangladesh," said Mohammed Sharif, a 41-year- old NHS worker in Keighley. "They don't want to mix with whites, because they see them as a bad, un-Islamic influence, but they say they wouldn't want to live in Pakistan either. My generation felt a bit the same way, but we still respected our elders. We have no control over these young people."

Dr Colin Webster, a criminologist who made a five-year study of racial violence in Keighley, openly predicts that there will be more unrest this summer. "Most small towns in the north have the potential to go the same way as Oldham, such as Keighley, Rochdale, Halifax - up to places the size of Bradford," he said.

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