Masarykova univerzita Filozofická fakulta Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky Magisterská diplomová práce

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III. 4. Causes of the riots

The conclusion arising from the Ritchie Report is that the main reason for the segregation is that the communities tend “to live with their own kind” (Ritchie 9). Nevertheless, it is important to discuss all other important factors and social problems leading to the uprising in Oldham in May 2001.

There are views which blame mainly Asian youths for the disturbances. In his essay Arun Kundnani describes the emergence of a new generation of Asian youths by the 1990s. This is the generation of young Asian people who were born and raised in Britain. They are “unwilling to accept the second-class status foisted on their elders” (Kundnani 4). Different confrontations very often ended with violence. Cindi John reports for the BBC that there is a phenomenon called “yob culture” which is the reason for disturbances rather than racist attitudes. Manzoor Moghal, the Chairman of the Federation of Muslim Organisations at that time, explained that the British Asians gradually assimilate with the British culture, which is later the source of tension, “They have the yobbish culture, they are defiant, not so obedient to their parents any longer, they don’t comply with the peace and quiet the family want, the way their parents lived here and they are rebellious […] They are following the norms of the youth culture of this country. Then because they come from a different racial group things do tend to acquire a racial complexion” (“Yob culture blamed for riots”). However, according to a sociologist Dr Virinder Kalra of Manchester University, these problems do not only concern the second generation youths, because the society had to deal with similar resistance twenty years ago e.g. in London, only with the difference that the former riots concerned more the Afro-Caribbean community. The leader of the Muslim Parliament organisation, Dr Ghayasauddin Siddiqui, supports Mr Kalra’s view that the disturbances are not predominantly caused by the Asian youths. In Mr Moghal’s opinion, the roots of the unrest are high unemployment and poor housing, which need to be dealt with (“Yob culture blamed for riots”). The essay “Oldham riots” analyses the findings of the Oldham Borough Council. According to it, the unemployment in Oldham is higher than national average, the Muslim ethnic community is suffering the most: “at 38 per cent the unemployment rate for people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic origin is nearly five times that of white people” (Ahmed 3).

Because the immigrant youths very often have to confront discrimination, the essay recommends that the concerns and voices of the minority youths should be listened to and recognized.

III. 5. Course of the riots

During 2001 there were many race related crimes reported to the police. Some incidents happened in the week from 21st to 25th May at Breeze Hill School, where almost three-quarters of students were Asians. A group of white ex-pupils threw stones in the school, they abused and attacked some Asian pupils. Police were prepared to intervene but no one was arrested on 21st May. Minor incidents occurred the next day and there were no clashes reported on 23rd May. The following day, after a series of incidents, four Asian students and one white student were arrested and three more the following week (Ritchie 70).

The most serious day of the Oldham riots was Saturday, 26th May. During the day, a group of football fans were seen in the pubs. In the evening there were some arguments in the street ending up with fighting. More friends and football supporters joined in throwing bricks in the windows of Asian houses, kicking their doors and damaging cars. Some white men were arrested. Riots at that time were serious, more Asians and whites were gathering in Glodwick in Waterloo Street, marching towards the centre. Serious attacks which caused substantial damage continued for several hours and were directed against public houses and the police. “Many residents, customers, publicans and their families escaped only with difficulty and damage was very expensive. Cars were overturned and destroyed and damage caused to CCTV cameras and other property as barricades were erected and dismantled. Ninety police officers experienced injury” (Ritchie 71). The BBC reported that police and inhabitants were shocked by the violence between the police and Asians on that night. Paul Barrow, landlord of the Live and Let Live pub in Glodwick, which was visited by both Asians and whites, reported to the BBC, “They all charged in, kicking us, punching us and then proceeded to attack all my customers with whatever they had in their hand – stools, bottles, glasses” (“Oldham shocked by violence”). A local resident, Margaret Morrison, 73, gives her testimony, “It was just terrible, it was shocking. I was born in Cross Street up the road, I was 73 in February and I never thought I would see anything like this […] You could see them throwing petrol bombs and I had just moved from my seat when a brick came through the window”(“Oldham shocked by violence”).

On Sunday, attacks continued in different parts of Oldham, yet to a smaller extent than previous night. Petrol bombs were thrown in Westwood and the offices of Oldham Evening Chronicle were bombed. The BBC comments on firebombing of Oldham newspaper, “The attack followed earlier accusations that the paper did not give fair coverage to Asian victims of racial abuse”(“Oldham hit by fresh violence”). Although, the newspaper’s managing director, Philip Hirst, denied any biased practises. He answered for The Independent, “The Chronicle simply reports everything that goes on in Oldham. It sounds like a straightforward mission, but it’s a prickly one in a town like Oldham” (“Don’t call us a racist paper”). Hirst further gives the example of crime reporting:

The paper records virtually all incidents reported to Greater Manchester Police, and is thereby bound by the Asian community’s notorious reluctance to approach the force. It is also statistically bound to provide more evidence of Asian crime than white, since white victims have been outnumbering blacks and Asians here for eight years now: 71 per cent of violent racial attack victims were white in 1993, 72 per cent in 1997, 69 per cent in 1998 (“Don’t call us a racist paper”).

During the next two days incidents continued on a smaller scale. On Monday the BBC reported that 500 youths took part in the battles on Saturday, they were making groups of around 200 people. On Sunday only seven whites and five Asians were arrested. Extra police officers from Greater Manchester area were on standby.

The Chief Superintendent Eric Hewitt reported to the BBC, “Tensions have been rising in this borough for some months and extra police have been on patrol but no one could have predicted the ferocity and violence that took place […] It shocked not only the police but it shocked the whole community” (“Rioting youths fight police”). He also did not agree with the accusations that the police had used wrong tactics to deal with the riots.

One of the causes that might trigger the riots was the fact that the police was blamed by Asians that they neglected the racist behaviour from the side of whites during the last months. A local resident, Daoob Akram told BBC News on Sunday, “Young people who rioted yesterday believe that they weren’t being protected by police and this is why they came out and did what they did […] What they did was disgraceful and it shouldn’t have happened – but the police and the local authorities need to make sure they protect the Asian community” (“Appeals for calm after Oldham riots”). The riots were directed against the police, one group of police was in danger when there was a car driving towards them at a great speed. The police was also criticised that there were too many policemen present during the riots which might have provoked even more violence. But Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Alan Bridge opposed to this claiming that there was a necessary number of policemen to deal with the disturbances. Great Manchester Police called the riots “sheer carnage” (“Sporadic violence in Oldham”).

During the week just minor incidents occurred. But after it seemed that the situation calmed down, the house of the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Riaz Ahmad was bombed on 1st June at 4 am. The attack was racially motivated. After the riots, Mr Ahmad wanted to achieve better integration of white and Asian communities, as he reported for The Independent, “This has got to stop. The majority of people in Oldham are law-abiding. The community does not deserve this […] I have been active all my life in condemning violence, whether it be from Asians against whites or vice versa” (Rickman). The Councillor, his wife and their four children managed to escape without any injury, but their house was damaged.

One of the reactions after the weekend of riots was a row between political parties when the Liberal Democrats suggested that the Tories were responsible for racial tensions because of “adopting a hardline stance on asylum-seekers” (“Bitter race row after Oldham riot”). The Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy accused the conservative party of using an inappropriate language in the questions of asylum and race. The Independent cites the accusation of Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, “If politicians talk up things that encourage the view of racial difference then there is an indirect likelihood that will resonate with people, particularly with young people, and increase prejudice” (“Bitter race row after Oldham riot”). However, the Conservative leader William Hague refused the accusation, explaining that the Liberal Democrats are trying to get advantage over this situation. Both the BBC and The Independent quoted the standpoint of the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who said for the BBC News, “I’ve always objected to this kind of moral relativism which seeks to shift the blame for criminal activity, from those actually causing it, to others” (“Hague calls for race apology”). Mr Straw recommended the parties to be careful about using the language concerning the issues on immigration, but did not blame the Tories for the riots and asked the Liberal Democrats to apologize for their accusations. Mr Kennedy refused to do so and insisted on their views (“Hague calls for race apology”).

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