Comment: A desi in a burning London

On the eve of India and Pakistan's independence days, Britons showed that it is possible to be united and co-exist.


Zohaib Rashid August 17, 2011

LONDON: It was just after coming back from taraveeh prayers when I switched on the news to be confronted with images of unruly crowds smashing up and setting vehicles on fire while pelting rocks at the police.

Had trouble flared up somewhere else in the Middle East, I wondered.

Then I read the scrolling ticker underneath and realised this was happening not too far from my own doorstep, in Tottenham, north London.

Just two days earlier, police had shot dead a local, Mark Duggan. It was first believed Duggan had fired back. But it has since been revealed that he didn't.

A crowd of locals, including Duggan’s friends and family had protested to the police, demanding answers. When none were forthcoming, the anger spilled on to the streets.

As the days passed, more parts of the city and eventually the country were subjected to serious disorder, with so-called “hoodies” rampaging through the streets, setting shops and buildings on fire, looting high street chains and local businesses and bringing chaos through the streets. But while the country seemed to be going to pot, it was heartening to hear about the immigrant community, which often gets a rough ride in the mainstream media, standing up for the country which has given it opportunity.

The idea that police could man and protect every street in the capital wasn’t a realistic one. It was up to those who were proud of their areas where they had built not only businesses, but their lives and legacies, to protect their communities.

A close friend of mine who owns businesses in Green Street in east London was amongst a group of 200 or so local men who stood guarding their properties as well as chasing away a group of young, tooled up rioters.

Elsewhere, Muslims observing the month of Ramazan ensured the mosques and  local businesses were not harmed. The Turkish community stood firm in Dalston and the Sikh community showed its strength by manning the Gurdwaras across the country. But what was really heartening for me (from a desi perspective) was to see a great sense of unity amongst the different Asian communities. There were many stories of Sikh men protecting mosques during prayers while their Muslim brothers returned the favour outside Gurdwaras and temples.

Some predicted civil unrest which exists in the Asian community in Britain. But on the eve of India and Pakistan celebrating their respective independence days, the communities in Britain showed that it is possible to be united and co-exist without having the need to compete for superiority.

But the moment that will perhaps be remembered most during this period of unrest was when three British Pakistani men, including two brothers, lost their lives protecting their community.

A car, which apparently contained potential looters, sped onto the pavement where the trio were standing and knocked them down. The father of one of the men gave a poignant speech the following day which was broadcast by the media.

Rather than lament the situation and call for revenge, he paid tribute to his deceased son while also calling for calm.

The dignity of a man who recently suffered a great loss resonated with the nation. People felt the unimaginable pain of losing a loved one. Things seemed to have petered out and now the world watches as those responsible for breaching the peace are hauled in front of the courts, the veil of their hoods removed as they are held accountable for what they have done.

Most of the youth of today lament that they lack perspective on life, that there is no chance of prosperity and this was the only chance for them to do what they wanted to do.

That is something that doesn’t wash with me.

As someone who has been brought up in a working class environment with nothing handed to me on a plate, I had to work hard to make something out of life. Sure, things haven’t been easy and I’ve had more than my fair share of knockbacks and have felt ignored. But it didn’t make me want to go out and smash my city to pieces. Rather, the youth of today have had many amenities such as a free education, free meals at school, free travel on buses and up until recently, were being paid to attend college. Being brought up in a desi environment, you learn the art of budgeting and living within your means. Maybe these people who were intent on wreaking havoc on the streets could learn a thing or two from the Asian community, especially from the desi parents.

After all, a little bit of discipline goes a long way and it didn’t seem to do me any harm! My big hope is that the different sectors which make up the desi community continue to be brothers-in-arms, looking out for one another and supporting each other in good times and bad. After all, if any good can come from this, it will be to put the unity back in community.

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