How the race relations industry helped Bin Laden

All is not well in our northern towns. We are told that there is a rush among Muslims to disrobe of their traditional garb. More than 300 racial attacks have been recorded in the past week.

That is only half the story. In Blackburn, Jack Straw's constituency, young Asians called a public demonstration in solidarity with the Taliban and Bin Laden. These are their brothers (not sisters). The protesters made it clear that they were not anti-war but pro-Taliban.

There were street scuffles elsewhere: whites in cars were stopped and made to shout enthusiastically the name "Bin Laden". If they failed to obey, their cars were stoned.

Inter-faith relations have become the prime test of human relations in parts of this country. Yet this is perhaps the most irreligious nation in Europe. I arrived here some 40 years ago, into a cultural landscape of atheism and agnosticism. In contrast to the Caribbean, the churches were falling into disrepair.

Many Asians arrived in the late 1960s. In the Midlands, they occupied those small engineering factories which fed the car industry. They were paid less than whites who did the same jobs. But the main inspiration in their fight for equality was not Islam; nor was the mosque the centre of struggle. Asians wanted to be mobilised into the unions. They had to fight the Transport and General Workers Union hierarchy to be recognised. They did it nobly and they did it well. There existed that huge phalanx of social consciousness, the working class, and they aspired to be part of it. From the engineering plants of Birmingham to the textile factories of the north, the Asian workers flocked to the unions and the Labour Party. If any ideology led or sustained them it was Marxism, along with doses of black nationalism. Muslims visited their mosques and Hindus the mandir, but neither religion was fundamental.

We had a working class then; we had a Labour Party; we were against the Vietnam war and we were fiercely anti-racist. All of that disappeared under the whip of Thatcher and the race relations industry. The latter taught and financed the youth to look inward, and thus gave virtue to feudal ideas. In that cauldron, a section of the Asian Muslim community matured. They educated themselves, they acquired wives from abroad, they brought religion to the centre of their social life, and they were financed hugely by the race relations industry, with its doctrines of multiculturalism.

Support for the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden comes easily to them. They are not in the majority among the Asian population of this country, but they are vociferous and active enough to drive a wedge along racial lines between people in the northern towns. And against them, they will find an equally active section of the white community, which has been fighting blacks and Asians since the Second World War.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, And now the trouble really begins