Islamic Human Rights Commission
30th May 2001
Oldham Riots Symptomatic of Islamophobia
ANTI-MUSLIM HOSTILITY AT ROOT OF ETHNIC DISCONTENT
Britain’s worst riots for years, which occurred in the northern town of Oldham over the weekend, have revealed the extent of discontent among ethnic minorities in the region. The riots occurred as the culmination of 5 weeks of racial abuse orchestrated by right-wing white extremists against the town’s ethnic minority community. Verbal as well as physical abuse, including vandalism, by white youth reached levels of virtual impunity as the local British National Party (BNP) mounted its election campaign. Large groups of up to 40 white youth racially abused members of the predominantly Muslim community and threw bricks through windows during the period.
Community leaders relayed their concerns at the actions to Chief Superintendent Eric Hewitt, who heads the Oldham division of Greater Manchester Police. An observer at the meeting reported that Mr Hewitt’s response to the community’s concerns were decidedly dismissive, indicating that he was unwilling to admit that police policy had been inadequate, and unprepared to take further action. Police indifference to racist provocations and attacks by local white supremacists was exemplified when the BNP requested permission to hold a march in the town for its election campaign. The request was officially denied by the police, leading BNP supporters to stage a large unsanctioned demonstration. Despite the lack of official sanctioning, rather than dispersing them, police offered the rightwing demonstrators protection.
Requests from the community for similar police protection against tangible acts of racist violence and vandalism by white youth has been ignored. One road in particular was being targeted by right-wing groups, yet community pleas to the police to provide protection were ignored on the pretext of distributing officers equally throughout the town.
Statements by right-wing groups reveal that their efforts were primarily directed against Oldham’s Muslim community. An article on the race riots on the BNP’s website was titled: ‘The Situation in Oldham: Ethnic Cleansing Muslim Style’. Regarding the riots, the article commented that “this is how extremists within the Muslim community in Oldham are repaying the hospitality of the people who built the town and allowed them to settle there by the tens of thousands.” Another BNP article remarked on how the Party has been able to use the riots to further exacerbate racist and Islamophobic sentiment to thereby recruit members: “Media coverage and the personal experience of scores of thousands of white people every year are combining to make gangs of Muslim thugs the best recruiting sergeant the British National Party has ever had.”
Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), said:
“The Oldham riots were therefore rooted not merely in racism, but more particularly in anti-Muslim hostility. Groups such as Combat 18, the National Front and the BNP have clarified their hostile stance toward the Muslim community in Britain through numerous vehemently Islamophobic statements and activities. The Oldham riots illustrate the dismal failure of the Race Relations Act to protect the Muslim community in Britain from hostile provocation.”
Although Prime Minister Tony Blair argued that the state of race relations in Oldham did not reflect Britain as a whole, unless the government takes significant action to ensure the equal protection of the Muslim community, the situation will continue to deteriorate throughout the United Kingdom.
Massoud Shadajareh commented:
“Existing ‘race relations’ law is discriminatory towards Muslims. Although it is illegal to discriminate against members of the Jewish and Sikh communities, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against Muslims. Incitement by rightwing groups against the Muslim community in Britain is entirely legitimate under current law. Due to the government’s failure to provide the British Muslim community the same protection as other faith communities, the rightwing anti-Muslim provocations made by groups such as the BNP will continue to opportunistically aggravate communal tensions along religious and ethnic lines, leading to catastrophes such as that of Oldham.”
For more information on the above, please contact the IHRC Press Office on (+44) 20 8902 0888, (+44) 958 522 196, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org