Thursday, November 03, 2005

Better not follow the continental model of integration

Paris suburbs have seen a week of rioting sparked by the death of two Arab teenagers allegedly chased by police. Seeing the lives of two young people so tragically wasted was the straw the broke the camels back for France’s immigrant communities. Of course, right wing politicians lament that immigration should never have been allowed to the current level where one out of 10 inhabitants of France is of immigrant belonging. But the ageing societies of the West need cheap labour and realists know that there is not much of an alternative. In France as here in the UK, the very governments who talk tough on immigration are busy facilitating the flow of people into the country.

The difference in France is that immigrants were never allowed to integrate or share the aspirations of their native compatriots. French immigrants – and the same goes for Germany – were denied citizenship and the right to vote. In addition they were subjected to severe cultural discrimination as most clearly expressed in the headscarf ban so stupendously pursued both in France and in Germany. In those riots they finally made their presence known. No matter who they are, communities will not go forever without a voice.

There are lessons to be learned for us here in Britain. Here, too, immigrant communities – even down to the third or fourth generation – are being disenfranchised and increasingly stigmatised. With the excuse of the war on terror police unfairly target Asian youngsters through their stop and search procedure. Such tactics breed resentment until the cup overflows.

Politicians, unashamedly sleezy and cynical, use those communities as a scapegoat for things gone wrong and wield the fear of the next terror attack to cower their disillusioned constituents into compliance. The police force is given a looser rein which it is likely to abuse, seeing a recent report found that it suffers from a lack of leadership as well as incompetence in the lower ranks due to inadequate entry level requirements.

Every Muslim in Britain has a story to tell in this respect or at least knows of somebody who does. How likely is the taxi driver who is rounded up by armed police whilst waiting to pick up a customer from Heathrow airport going to believe that the officers are there to protect him when the only justification they can give him for their suspicion is that he was sitting on his own and looked Middle-Eastern? He may be relieved that he was not shot on the spot like poor Brazilian Charles de Menezes, but his confidence in the professionalism of the police will seriously dented when they resort to such tactics. In spite of all the available technology from CCTV to immediate access to databases for car number plates etc., stop and search actions are not based on intelligence but on racial profiling.

The police will complain that they are overstretched and under-resourced and that they have to cope with a very real threat from international terrorism. They want the power of internment back that resulted in so many miscarriages of justice during the Irish troubles. They will be even more overstretched if they loose all the cooperation from hitherto law-abiding minorities and force their youngsters underground.

The police force in my own region, Thames Valley Police, came at the bottom of the list rating the quality of policing in the UK. They scored particularly poor in the areas of community relations and stop and search. I am not surprised. My own son, a law student, found himself battered by police when questioning whether their behaviour was racially motivated. They had stopped his car and harassed him by trying to find faults although his car and all his papers were in order, and when he alleged racism they slammed his face onto the bonnet, hand-cuffed him and kept him in custody over night. They then planted false charges of possession of a dangerous weapon on him which turned out to be a perfectly legal ornamental pen-knife, but nonetheless went to court accusing him of a public order offence.

In spite of video evidence available from his brother’s mobile phone camera, District Judge Williams took the liberty of arriving at her findings of fact in Milton Keynes Magistrate’s Court and found him guilty of calling an officer racist (although in the recording, clearly audible, he made a completely different remark from the one alleged), the very act of which she described as offensive and racist in itself. So if you feel you are being subjected to racist treatment by an officer of the police, don’t say so, as you might be committing a crime.

The spineless government-sponsored council of Racial Equality refused to take up the issue although it reversed everything the Steven Lawrence enquiry had achieved with regard to the procedures for dealing with claims of racism. Locally they tried to dissuade the young victim of police abuse to desist from appealing. The, again government-sponsored, “Independent” Police Complaints Commission, who were very eager to proceed and obtain all the defence evidence in order to be able to share it with the prosecution, started back-peddling after an appeal was launched so as to not “prejudice” its outcome. The appeal was allocated to Aylesbury Crown Court, one of the more racist benches where a bail application by a black or Asian defendant hardly ever gets granted who, however, stated that they did not have the capacity for such a complex trial and there might well have to be a wait of up to two years. A request by the appellant to move the case to Luton Crown Court, which has a much larger capacity, has still not been replied to, maybe because there is too strong an ethnic minority presence in Luton. The wheels of justice grind indeed slowly when it suits them.

When justice is neither done nor seen to be done, resentment builds up. Most youngsters do not conduct themselves as measured in the face of open aggression by law enforcement as the young law student in question. Recent violence in Birmingham reminded us that not all is well in England’s multicultural society. If you store up tension you risk an explosion once the fuse is lit. The French pushed a fragile coexistence over the edge. We take most of our laws from Europe now, but let’s hope that as a nation we retain some of our common sense. Following the French example would not serve us well.

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