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Racist attacks increase in the North
13th July 2003
Over the past couple of years there has been a dramatic rise in the number of racist attacks in the North. The latest of these, and probably the most violent, happened on the 5th of July when the home of a Muslim family in the Enniskeen area of Craigavon came under attack from a ten strong gang of armed men in the early hours of the morning. Making to attempt to conceal their identities, the gang members used iron bars and baseball bats to smash windows and doors. As they set about the destruction they screamed - "Donít say you were not warned, we told you to get out." Six children were in the house during the attacks, including a severely disabled boy. After this terrifying assault the family fled to Manchester vowing never to return.
Like most racist violence this was not an isolated event but the culmination of a long running campaign of abuse. According to the father this was the fifth time the family had been targeted. Over a two year period their home had been stoned four times, a shotgun had been fired into the house, and the mother had been shot at by a man using an air rifle. The children had received so much abuse on the way to and from school that they had to be educated at home. It had reached a stage at which the family were virtually prisoners in their own home.
Racist sentiment has also been stoked up recently with the controversy over the proposed construction of a Mosque in the area. A racist leaflet was distributed by a group styling itself the "White Nationalist Party" denouncing the plans. It read: "We are proud of our British culture . . . we do not need mosques, temples or Islamic terrorism here in Ulster." The hypocrisy of this statement is not lost on mother of the Muslim family that was subsequently attacked: "Well if they donít want terrorists what are they doing about people going around with guns shooting into peopleís houses. If thatís not terrorism, what is?" It is important to note that the initial opposition to the Mosque was raised by local unionist councillors. Although their opposition was more subtle, supposedly they had concerns over "planning issues", it did open the door to overt racism.
Racist attacks have also taken place in other areas. The homes of Filipino nurses were attacked in Ballymena. In south Belfast, African families have been forced to flee their homes after attacks. During the last week of June there were two separate pipe bomb attacks on Africans living on the same road, Donegall Avenue. Both the attacks in Ballymena and south Belfast followed racist leafleting campaigns. In Belfast the leaflets came from a group styling itself the "British Nazi Party".
The dramatic rise in the number of "racial incidents" in the north over recent years is illustrated clearly by statistics. Between 1996 and 1999, more than 350 racial incidents were reported to the police, a 400% increase on the previous period. The number of racist attacks on children also doubled - rising from 8.5% of total attacks in 1996 to more than 16% in 1999. The annual total increased from 186 to 269 incidents between 1999 and 2000 - a rise of 45%. Over the last two years these high levels of attack have continued. According to police, 226 racial incidents were reported between April 2002 and April 2003, with 185 such attacks in the previous year. Also, due to victimsí fears over coming forward and their lack of confidence in the police tackling racist violence, the official statistics are likely to significantly understate the extent of the problem.
Role of Loylism
What many of the violent racist attacks have in common is that they have taken place in areas where loyalist paramilitaries are active. However, unionist politicians have denied that there is a link between loyalists and racist attacks. South Belfast DUP spokesperson Mark Robinson claimed that it was merely a co-incidence that racist attacks were taking place in loyalist areas. Even after the attack on the home of the Muslim family, and death threats against Muslim leaders, some local councillors were still denying that there was any racism in Craigavon. Former Unionist Party Mayor Fred Crowe said - "I do not accept that there is racism in Craigavon. It would be better if the police did their job in the area and concentrated on paramilitaries and drug dealers."
Of course it is almost certain that the people who are paramilitaries and drug dealers are also those who carry out racist attacks. Loyalists are involved in all these activities. By denying that racist attacks are not linked to loyalist groups unionist politicians are providing a political cover for these activities. To admit that there was a link would be to concede that there is something inherently reactionary about loyalism, and by extension, their own political views.
In reality these attacks could only have been carried out by loyalists. No one else in these areas would have the capacity to carry out such attacks, particularly those that involved arms and explosives. Any other group carrying out attacks would be viewed as a challenger to the power of the local loyalists. In these areas the "right" to force people from their homes is one they would reserve for themselves. Also the long-standing links between loyalists and far-right groups in Britain are well documented. Their political viewpoints, including on race, would be very similar. The idea that racist politics are imported to the North from elsewhere is nonsense. It is doubtful that the groups styling themselves the "White Nationalist Party" or "British Nazi Party" actually exist. They are more likely to be cover names for loyalists to carry out racist attacks, in the same way they use the name "Red Hand Defenders" to carry out sectarian attacks.
While violent attacks have been confined to loyalist areas, racial prejudice is widespread throughout the North. In 2000, a comprehensive study into racial prejudice found that racism was twice as common as sectarianism. More than 1,250 people were interviewed by the University of Ulster for the survey. The results were alarming:
1 Twice as many of the people questioned said they would be unwilling to accept or mix with members of ethnic minorities as they would with members of the other main religious tradition to their own
2 Two-thirds of those questioned said they would not work with travellers.
3 More than half would not accept travellers as neighbours.
4 More than a third of those polled said they would not like to work with Asian, Afro-Caribbean or Chinese people.
5 A quarter said they could not accept members of these ethnic groups as neighbours.
6 Over half the people questioned said they would not welcome a Chinese person into their family.
The report authors also found that attitudes appeared to have hardened over time.
Although shocking, this level of prejudice should really come as no surprise. Sectarianism and racism go hand in hand, and if people have backward ideas in one area they are likely to have backward ideas in others. The peace process has increased sectarianism and alongside that there has been an increase in racism. Far from having a liberalising affect the peace process has elevated reactionary politics to a new level.