Darcus Howe finds an intifada up north

What we are seeing, among young Asians in the northern towns, is an intifada

I returned to Oldham recently, a year after the race riots between working-class whites and working-class Pakistani youths. Long before the riots, I wrote here of the awful conditions in which whites lived on the council estate at Fitton Hill - and of how they blamed the Asians. It has been said that the Pakistanis got the central government regeneration funds for Oldham, and that whites got little or nothing. Not true in every detail, but a powerful perception exists.

Several Oldham bigwigs wrote to the NS, ridiculing my warning that violence was inevitable. They were wrong and I was right. Now Fitton Hill has degenerated further. It emits a stench of decay. Picket fences, slightly broken on my first visit, have rotted away. The leaks have multiplied a thousandfold.

A local councillor, Riaz Ahmad, now mayor, whose home was firebombed by white racists during the riots, was asked on Radio 4 why nothing had been done to improve the estate. He said the council has £42m to spend on it over the next 20 years.

Well, the lumbering bureaucracy of Oldham council will need all of 20 years - perhaps 30 - to put this slum right. A fair proportion of the estate's population will be dead by then, while those now in childhood will have contracted all manner of ailments, but mainly asthma.

The racial war will continue. Whites and Asians will live in distinct and separate areas. The Pakistanis are isolated from anything that goes on in the rest of the UK. They are linked to each other in those northern towns that previously housed the textile industry. They are also closely linked to small villages in Pakistan. They go in large numbers on visits home. In the days prior to the travellers' departure, a constant stream of people goes to their homes, carrying letters and parcels that they want delivered to villages that have no post offices or electricity.

So whatever burns in the minds of youths in Pakistan is transmitted to the north. This accounts for the presence of Britons among those held in Guantanamo Bay. In the same way, the big-city riots of the early 1980s were influenced by the black power movement in the US and the Caribbean.

What is taking place in the northern towns is an intifada. More young men will return from visits to Afghanistan or the border villages of Pakistan this summer. Listen to the messages from Blunkett, Hain and Blair, and you may well fear the mass repatriation by the RAF of Pakistanis "who will not integrate".

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