These Are Real Race Riots, the First since the 1950s

Article excerpt

As-salaam aleikum, readers. This Muslim greeting should make it clear that we are returning to Oldham and the issues at large there.

Let me describe the town in its basic outline. The population is divided broadly between generations of white Oldham, the third generation of Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis, and a community of West Indians that could fit easily into a teacup. The three groups used to be disciplined, unified and organised within the textile mills that thrived in days of yore.

All that is at an end. The nimble fingers of the Far East, to say nothing of cheap labour, have attracted production away from places such as Oldham.

Now that the basis of the society has fallen apart, the population is thrown into indiscipline, disorganisation and disunity. The mills have disappeared, but there is nothing to replace them. Local leaders have spoken about regeneration funds. But only a political nut would suggest that a few pieces of silver can replace a mighty industry. This is the situation in several northern towns, where thousands of workers have been displaced into the dark hole of poverty.

Two years ago, I visited Oldham and broke the story of potential racial conflict there. The civic leaders abused me in their reply to the New Statesman.

You see, I had interviewed only white workers. For the first time in this country, I had seen people who fitted the American description "white trash". Their homes had a stench of decay: of damp, sweat and stale food cooked days before. The little picket fences were collapsing. The roofs were leaking, and pallid faces staring. I interviewed a young man, tall and emaciated, and he described the constant fear of physical harassment by Asians. His sister was a heroin addict, a prostitute with a Pakistani pimp.

His elder brother, he said, remembers a time when most whites engaged in Pakibashing; they were hostile to their "funny religion", which, to whites, was a lot of mumbo-jumbo. …