openDemocracyUK

The scale of racism in Northern Ireland

There are perhaps 5,000 racist crimes in Northern Ireland a year, despite the BME community only including 36,000 people. Something has to change.

Ben Finch
5 June 2014
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The windows of a home of Pakistani immigrants to Belfast were smashed in the early hours of Sunday morning. Hours later, the racists returned and assaulted two of those who live in the house. The Pakistanis in question have now fled.

This happened the day after 4,000 people rallied to condemn first minister Peter Robinson’s statement that he would “have no difficulty in trusting Muslims to go down to the shop for me,” as long as they didn’t follow sharia law, and his support for the preacher who called Islam “satanic”.

Robinson finally stood outside Belfast Islamic Centre and made a public apology yesterday, following calls for him to do so from the Ulster Unionist Party and the equality commissioner. This was a whole week after he uttered the words. Perhaps he now understands that what he says can have such hateful consequences as people being beaten in the street, or politicians feeling that they must leave Northern Ireland for their own safety.

Pastor James McConnell, who made the original remarks, has visited the men who were attacked and told them there was "no justification for such an attack" whatever their religion, and offered to help pay for the damage. He has also still not apologised for his sermon, nor recognised that the words he used could justify such an attack in some people’s minds. The DUP’s Nigel Dodds has also weakly condemned the attack. None of which stopped the men from feeling the need to flee.

One of the men, Muhammad Asif Khattak, was told by his friends that he should leave, and that he should never have come to Northern Ireland. This is the reputation we have outside our borders. And it is a reputation that Robinson has reinforced. Thankfully, Anna Lo, the Alliance MLA, has received such a groundswell of support that she is not going to cut and run, but she will still not stand for re-election.

Launching Operation Reiner, the PSNI’s attempt to quell hate crime, at the start of May, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “We know that racist hate crime is significantly under reported.” If there were 750 racist incidents reported between 2012 and 2013 and 982 last year, then there must be a vast amount the police never hear about (Marie Hendron estimates 80 per cent are never reported, so there are possibly 5,000 racist attacks per year).

When the police only solve one in five racist crimes, leaving 4,800 unsolved, the BME community must feel they have absolutely no recourse through the justice system and must be living their lives in an atmosphere of dread. In a country where only 36,000 people belong to the BME community the scale of this is unimaginable. This is a disgrace; shame on us.

We know who are committing the attacks as well. The PSNI say it is the UVF who are orchestrating the violence and Gerard Stewart says: “There is a high correlation between racist attacks and areas which are staunchly Loyalist and a traditional heartland for affiliation to prominent Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).” These are the very people who listen to McConnell and Robinson’s words, and who feel they can act with impunity in cleansing their areas of minorities.

This Saturday the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International and the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities are holding a Unite Against Racism March and Love Music Hate Racism are throwing a party.  Robinson has been challenged to attend, let’s see if he will.

All the 4,000 people who attended the Rally Against Racism, all the people who offered their support but were unable to get there, and all the people who thought about it but couldn’t really be arsed, all need to march on City Hall.

We need to make sure this snowballs. We need to make sure racism has no place in the Northern Ireland we are trying to build. We need to tell the police that they must work harder to end this scourge. We need to tell our leaders that we will not let them condone racism. We need to show those living in fear that they have our support.

 

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