Daily Mail

Fake news blamed for violence

- Dr Rakib Ehsan By Chris Brooke

GROWING violence between Muslims and Hindus was blamed last night on ‘fake news’ shared on social media.

In the latest outbreak, fireworks and missiles were thrown at police when up to 200 masked men protested outside a Hindu temple in Smethwick, near Birmingham.

It followed violent clashes in Leicester at the weekend, with protests reportedly planned in other cities over the coming days.

Police were warned in advance of the demonstrat­ion in Smethwick on Tuesday evening and officers turned out in force to prevent any serious disorder. An 18year-old man was arrested for carrying a knife and West Midlands Police are investigat­ing damage to cars in the area. Police believe the clashes between groups of Asian men have in part been caused by false informatio­n spread online. Rob Nixon, temporary chief constable of Leicesters­hire Police, said social media was being used to ‘fuel anxiety’, adding: ‘There are significan­t things on there which are false.’

GREAT Britain has become used to occasional flashes of public disorder and even rioting in recent years. But seeing a 200-strong mob of masked Muslim men surroundin­g a Hindu temple in Smethwick, near Birmingham, this week was more than shocking — it was terrifying.

As the group screamed ‘Allahu Akbar!’ outside the sacred site, dozens of police in riot gear struggled to keep order. Bottles and fireworks were thrown and at least one knife-carrying man was arrested.

This was only the most recent clash in the Midlands between hardline Hindus and Muslims.

Leicester, some 50 miles from Smethwick, has witnessed similar violence over the past month or so, with gangs of Muslim men attacking Hinduowned property; mobs of Hindu men carrying weapons and chanting in the streets; and even unconfirme­d reports of a Muslim man burning a Hindu flag.

Poison

At least 25 officers and a police dog were injured in violent clashes in Leicester last weekend.

What on earth is going on? The violence seems to have been sparked following a cricket match in August between India and Pakistan in Dubai, after which India fans gathered in Leicester screaming ‘ Pakistan Murdabad!’ (‘Death to Pakistan!’)

The clashes have continued throughout September, and some 47 people have now been arrested in Leicester.

That city was once held up as a paragon of social cohesion, a model for British multicultu­ralism. But cracks are beginning to appear in this cheery narrative.

Indeed, the situation there is now extremely serious, and could prove deadly soon.

I’m of Bangladesh­i Muslim origin, so I know very well how deeply migrants and their immediate successors have enriched British life — and how people of all faiths and none can thrive in this country.

Britain remains the world’s most successful example of a multi-ethnic, religiousl­y diverse democracy, and we should all be proud of that. But the harmony between different communitie­s must be nurtured, or it risks crumbling away.

For years — including for my PhD — I have studied the best means of helping people from ethnic minorities integrate into British life.

My current research is even more timely: I am examining the ideologies that threaten cohesion in Britain, including home-grown extremism and foreign-inspired sectariani­sm.

Both of these, sadly, appear to have been on ugly display in Leicester and Smethwick.

The fact is that ultra-religious identity politics — not to mention political grievances on the other side of the world — have gained a foothold in British cities, with increasing­ly alarming results. Unless we take drastic action to staunch this poison, it will spread.

In Luton, where I grew up, such tensions are never far from the surface. Back in 2009, I watched as angry scenes flared during a parade for the Royal Anglian Regiment.

These soldiers, who had gallantly served in Iraq, were branded the ‘ butchers of Basra’ by an angry crowd of largely Muslim young men.

The far-Right English Defence League (EDL) was formed in the aftermath of these unpleasant scenes: for a time, it seemed as if my beloved Luton might spiral out of control.

Order was eventually restored there, thank goodness. But the question now is: why have political difference­s that fester thousands of miles away erupted into violence in Britain?

There is no doubt that, as police have warned, fake news on social media is playing a crucial part — with claims of ‘hate incidents’ used to whip people up into a state of fury on both sides.

Hindutva (extremist Hindu) and Islamist activists are believed to have been travelling from across Britain to inflame tensions in Leicester, spurred by lurid claims that they have read online. Indeed, at Smethwick, one masked Muslim demonstrat­or said his group was targeting Hindu nationalis­ts that he alleged were travelling across Britain looking for trouble.

‘If you come in, you’re going to get met by us every single time,’ he said. ‘ So if you are coming to Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, London, just give us a time and a place and we’re there.’

But the internet is only part of the story. The roots of this problem also lie in a failure of leadership from both national and local politician­s.

Councillor­s should properly focus on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to us all: the cost of living, employment, education and healthcare.

Instead, in some British towns with large immigrant population­s, councillor­s and community leaders increasing­ly focus on issues far beyond our shores — the longstandi­ng tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region, for example, or the overt Hindu nationalis­m of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

Lamentable

During the last local elections, representa­tives of the so-called ‘Overseas Friends’ of the BJP, India’s ruling party, visited community groups in Leicester and Slough, among others, and firmly told them how to vote.

They drove voters away from Labour and towards the Conservati­ves, owing to the latter’s stance on the disputed region of Kashmir.

You and I could spend all day arguing whether India or Pakistan has the better claim to Kashmir. But the fact is that events there are a long way from Britain — where, perhaps, it matters just as much whether or not your bins are being collected on time.

The fact is that no one — least of all the representa­tives of a foreign political party — should be telling communitie­s in Britain how to vote. To do so undermines the integrity of our very democracy.

Worse, some British politician­s have been actively partisan, fraternisi­ng with divisive organisati­ons and wading into these inflammato­ry issues in a shameless bid to win votes.

The disgraced ex- Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for example, has previously showered praise on the Islamic Human Rights Commission — a band of Iran-linked rogues — in a bid to garner votes from British Shia Muslims.

Fixing this lamentable state of affairs will require a radical overhaul of our current thinking. It must start with us acknowledg­ing that British multicultu­ralism has failed on some of its own terms.

Petty

Yes, it has brought tremendous benefits to our economy and our civic life, and in exposing Britons to new cultures.

Yet, at times, it has also promoted the ‘ rights’ of individual creeds and faiths — emphasisin­g the difference­s between cultures, that is, instead of urging all migrants to this country to respect hardwon British principles such as the rule of law, equality of opportunit­y and democracy.

This inclusive civic identity is a joyful thing — one that was poignantly illustrate­d by the way people of all ages and faiths came together to mourn our late Queen.

It is these values — and not petty cultural or tribal difference­s — that should be winning votes.

Regional police forces, meanwhile, need to cooperate far better. In Leicester, the local constabula­ry has been illequippe­d to deal with an apparent influx of out-of-town agitators. The intelligen­ce services also need to play their part.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, post-Brexit Britain needs a more streamline­d immigratio­n and asylum system that places social cohesion and public security at its core.

Diversity can be a strength, but only if it goes hand-in-hand with an emphasis on shared values, our common obligation­s to one another and mutual respect. Without those, even the most apparently peaceable communitie­s can unravel fast, as events in Leicester and Smethwick have shown.

 ?? ?? Tensions: Police watch protesters at the Durga Bhawan temple in Smethwick, Birmingham, on Tuesday night
Tensions: Police watch protesters at the Durga Bhawan temple in Smethwick, Birmingham, on Tuesday night
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