Leicester – One Week on, What Have We Learnt?

Leicester - One Week on, What Have We Learnt

Before I turn to business as usual, let me wrap up my special reporting on Leicester’s recent turmoil.

The rioting between young Hindu and Muslim men in Leicester nearly a week ago has put strain between two communities which once lived in peace. Leicester has been a peaceful, historic city, where people of different faiths have lived together for decades, but now it has become a Hindu-Muslim battleground.

I have lived in Leicester all my life. It has always been a colourful and multicultural city. You might have trouble only when it comes to football. I grew up with Hindu, Muslim, and Christian friends and colleagues in the city where I lived, studied, and worked.

Over the past decade, Leicester has become a preferred destination for Indians with Portuguese EU passports. They are usually young Asian men who speak little English and are not yet fully integrated into society. Migrants from Daman primarily reside in Leicester’s Belgrave area, seeking career advancement or further opportunities.

The rate of in-work poverty is high, and disaffection and inequality are high, as well as socioeconomic problems. In the Belgrave and Latimer Road areas of the city, a small and marginalised Hindu community lives alongside Muslim residents.

They have been accused of bringing with them far right Indian nationalist political ideologies, including Hindutva – a predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India, BJP, and RSS. Hindutva aims to establish Hindu hegemony in India, while RSS – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – is a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group.

According to Claudia Webbe, independent MP for Leicester East, tensions have been simmering for ‘months’. Prior to the violence last weekend, she sent a letter to Leicestershire Police’s temporary chief constable Rob Nixon on September 1, 2022.

Sunday August 28th on Belgrave Road, Indian cricket fans celebrated their Asia Cup win with anti-Pakistan chants and violence. It appears they chanted “Pakistan Murdabad” or “Down with Pakistan”. A member of the Sikh community was attacked and had to seek refuge in a Muslim takeaway.

It didn’t seem to be about general religion or country bashing, but about sports teams. People’s interpretation of these videos probably led to the escalation.

After the scuffle, the Indians took the Sikh man to a nearby Pizza shop, where he was treated for his injuries. In a restaurant on Belgrave Road, he sat down without his top. For his head wounds, the Muslim people in the shop gave him an icepack and tissues.

As a result of this event, disruptions began to ramp up in the city, and between this date and last weekend there were tit for tat attacks on both sets of communities, some of which have been reported to the police.

During the afternoon of Saturday 17th September, balaclava-clad men marched through Leicester East’s Green Lane Road, a predominantly Muslim and Sikh neighbourhood, chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. It means Glory to Lord Rama or Victory to Lord Rama.

Despite being outnumbered, the police did not disperse them. Instead, they caused havoc and disruption for several hours.

On Green Lane Road, Hindu men swore at women peering out of their windows and doors while a few scuffles took place. Both communities took to the streets to protest, resulting in physical altercations and running battles.

Later video showed a masked man tearing down a Hindu religious flag outside the temple and burning it. The removal of the Saffron Flag from a Hindu temple has been condemned by both Muslims and Hindus.

And then on Sunday September 18th. Several young men wearing hats, balaclavas, and covid masks crossed the Uppingham Road in Leicester with weapons. The men chant “Jai Shri Ram”.

In tense scenes, police sirens and barking police dogs are heard in the background. We are trying to control what is happening, the police say. One Hindu crowd member appeared to be inciting further violence.

Muslim activist Mohammed Hijab told an audience of men: “If they (Hindus) believe in reincarnation, what humiliation for them to be reincarnated into those pathetic, weak, cowardly people.” This language is racist.

After this, masked Muslim demonstrators in Smethwick claimed they were targeting Hindu nationalists who were looking for trouble across Britain.“If you come in, you’re going to get met by us every single time. So, if you are coming to Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, London, just give us a time and a place and we’re there.”

The same thugs who travelled to Leicester on Saturday turned up in Smethwick, West Midlands.

Over the Leicester violence last weekend, one man was sentenced to ten months in prison and 47 others have been arrested. Many have come from outside the County.

Leicester’s troubles have become international in scope. Indian and Pakistani high commissions both issued statements condemning violence against Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively, on Tuesday. While Muslim Council for Britain made a statement on 19th September and it called for action against far-right Hindutva extremism in Leicester.

As a result of chants and attacks on religious symbols from both sides, political rivalry is being transformed into a religious conflict.

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According to Dr Rakib Ehsan, an expert in Social Integration, religious identity politics and foreign-inspired sectarianism have managed to infiltrate British life, where they have no place. I agree.

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And according to Charlotte Littlewood, a former counter extremism coordinator for the UK Government and The Henry Jackson Society who works across borders and party lines to combat extremism, advance democracy, and human rights. She found tensions had been brewing for months in Leicester, but according to her it was more of a territorial dispute rather than political. She stated there is no hard evidence of so called Hindutva nationalism.

The majority of British Hindus and Muslims are peaceful and don’t want trouble. Thugs and gangs are using local issues to gain attention and dominance.

There is a melting pot of distrust, intolerance, and fear of extremist views in Leicester. According to some Muslims, the Jai Shri Ram chants are associated with right-wing Indian ideology. The only way to combat this would be to work together instead of taking to the streets.

A joint statement calling for peace and harmony was issued by the Hindu and Muslim communities in Leicester on Tuesday, following Saturday’s violence. “We are from one family. We settled here in this city together, we fought the racists together, we built it up together. The recent violence is not who we are as a city.”Powerful words.

Leicester should be kept free of extreme ideological and sub-Indian political influences from either group, since they have nothing to do with the city. A couple hundred bad faith actors, both inside and outside Leicester, are using this as leverage to provoke conflict.

Peter Soulsby the Mayor of Leicester said on Tuesday that “Very distorted social stuff had fuelled the trouble, as well as people coming from outside the city.”

Rumours of right-wing extremism caused fear on both sides, resulting in the perfect storm of civil arrest. Disinformation and misinformation on social media have exacerbated tensions in recent weeks and months, while tensions and tit for tat attacks have increased.

Due to cricket matches and controversial speakers, Muslim communities are becoming intolerant and fearful of such right-wing messages and using this as ammunition to stir up unneeded tensions.

Political charities on the left and right are blaming each other. Both sides have presented their own narratives, excluding information from the other. The police and security services have also been unprepared to deal with such disorder, many of these people are traveling across the country stirring up trouble.

As living proof, multiculturalism has not failed, but it does need hard work to continue to build bridges. Divide and hatred can be driven by complacency, ignorance, and even fear. Leicester should not be repeated in any other city of the UK. Now is the time for people of all faiths to unite and help stamp out extreme political ideologies, regardless of where they originate.

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