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Europe

Grieving father defuses rising racial tensions

Text by Mehdi Chebil

Latest update : 2011-08-14

Tariq Jahan (pictured, centre), whose son was one of the three men who were killed during the recent riots in a Birmingham suburb, allegedly by an Afro-Caribbean, has urged the local Asian community not to seek revenge.

A hush fell upon the gathering of worshippers when Tariq Jahan entered the Dudley Road mosque in the Winson Green suburb of Birmingham for the Friday weekly prayer.

Jahan’s 21-year-old son was one of the three Asian men who were killed earlier in Birmingham while trying to protect their neighbourhood from rioters.
 
Dressed in white pants and a striped polo shirt, the 46-year-old grieving father silently received condolences from hundreds of local community members, including Somalis and Afro-Caribbeans, who gathered at the mosque to pay tributes to the victims.
 
Reluctantly, Jahan, a UK-born son of immigrants from Indian Kashmir and Pakistan,  became the unusual hero of one of the most violent episodes in UK history when he appealed for calm shortly after the death of his 21-year-old son Haroon, urging the local community to refrain from revenge attacks and inter-racial conflict.
 
The worshippers' humbled reaction to the genuine plea of a man, so visibly overwhelmed by pain and grief, would have been enough to quell police fears that the Friday prayer would deteriorate into violence.
 
Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Jahan for his emotive call for calm only hours after frantically trying to resuscitate his son, mown down by a car Tuesday night, along with the brothers Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir.
 
Ultimate loss
 
Even before he could come to terms with his ultimate loss, Jahan was recognised as having played a key role in dissuading Birmingham's hundreds of infuriated Muslim youths from seeking retribution against the local black community, sparing Birmingham a potential second wave of rioting over long-simmering racial issues.
 
Fears of retaliation rose when it emerged that the driver of the vehicle, reportedly an Afro-Caribbean and a suspected looter, had hit the three men on purpose. Racial tensions reached a near-boiling point when it was reported that hundreds of Sikh and Muslim youth were planning revenge attacks against the Black community.
 
Ade Poju, a black man living in Winson Green, said that he was afraid of walking back home late at night due to rumours that hundreds of Pakistani youths were plotting revenge against his community.
 
“I had a text message from one of my friends saying ‘the Asian people they want to retaliate on the Blacks. People are coming down from Manchester'. We just want peace. Because if there is racial fighting that’s going to be very different from what has happened so far.”
 
Race riots
 
Birmingham is no stranger to racial violence. In 2005, the city was rocked by deadly riots over the alleged gang rape of a black teenager by South Asian men – even though no victim was identified.
 
Local authorities took no risk with the latest rumours, and flooded the streets of Winson Green with police.
 
The Winson Green area comprises a large Pakistani community, with many families living here since the 1960s. The suburb is also home to Jamaicans and immigrants from Somalia and Eastern Europe.
 
Local members of the Pakistani community acknowledge simmering race-relation issues, but most of their anger is currently directed at the police, not the black community.
 
Ammar works at a furniture shop within a short distance from the petrol station where the three men were killed. He blames the police for pushing looters from the city centre into Winson Green “just as if it was a rubbish bin that they could clean up later”.
 
“I strongly believe this is the police’s fault. There’s more community anger towards the police because if they had been here doing their jobs, those people would not have lost their lives.”
 
“A few of the people I know were stuck in shops being attacked … The police were called. And you know what they replied? ‘Stop wasting our time, you know that we’re busy’”
 
A spokeswoman for the West Midlands police has denied any discrimination against Winson Green, saying that police were overstretched because of riots erupting spontaneously “all over the place”.
 
Not a community thing
 
Despite widespread resentment of the police, the prevailing mood on Friday was one of mourning and sadness. After the prayer, dozens of worshippers walked up the street to the crash site, now littered with flowers and cards of condolence.
 
The amount of respect Tariq Jahan commands was on display when he arrived to the impromptu memorial near the site of his son's death – all the youths immediately fell silent and joined him in saying prayers in memory of the dead.
 
Jahan’s words against interracial fighting have not fallen on deaf ears. As he left the memorial, 24 year-old Ali said he was confident racial tensions would subside once police caught and convicted the car driver.
 
“At the end of the day, if it was a racial crime, it was only from that one person who was driving the car. It’s not a community thing… The community didn’t tell that person to ‘go and drive that car’.”

 

Date created : 2011-08-13

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