- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

A string of race riots across England's northern industrial heartland has marred the opening weeks of Prime Minister Tony Blair's second term and produced a round of national soul-searching over the country's increasingly dysfunctional racial debate.
The racial clashes — the most violent in Europe and the worst unrest of its kind in Britain in 20 years — have led to increasingly tough talk by the center-left Labor government but have produced no consensus on how to deal with the root causes of the tensions between white and South Asian youth gangs.
Social and political analysts depict a Britain where the racial debate is driven by far-right and far-left groups, both finding fertile recruiting grounds in economically depressed urban areas where sharp segregation between white and Asian communities is the norm. Mr. Blair's Labor government and the opposition Conservatives, both fighting for the political center, find themselves reacting to the extremes.
"There were a lot of resentments and grievances to exploit before Tony Blair ever came on the scene," said Iain Murray, a social scientist and an analyst of British political trends. "But the debate on race has become so politically correct that there's no way to even express those resentments without being labeled a racist by the government and the media."
Riots over the weekend in the northern city of Bradford resulted in injuries to 164 police officers and 55 arrests, largely of youths from the former textile center's growing Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrant communities. Bradford was the fourth city in the region to experience serious rioting in the past six weeks.
Home Secretary David Blunkett yesterday suggested police will employ water cannons in the future as part of a get-tough strategy to control crowds, while Mr. Blair said in a press statement that the underlying cause for the violence was not racism but "thuggery."
"There may initially have been an element of provocation from the far-right at some point during Saturday," Mr. Blair said, "but first evidence suggests that this is simply thuggery, and local people intent on having a go at the police and in the process of doing that, destroying their own community."
Staffordshire University's Ellis Cashmore, who has extensively studied Britain's racial patterns, said there have been so many confessions of institutional racism by companies and law enforcement agencies in recent years that "the concept of racism has been diluted."
Despite much rhetoric on the subject in recent years, "the impression of progress is misleading," Mr. Cashmore said. The constant pressure to "root out racism" has led to "resentment building up among whites."
Seemingly trivial incidents have touched off the fighting — a clash at a Hindu wedding in Bradford in April; a street-corner fight between a white and an Asian in Oldham in May; a melee following complaints of a noisy party in Burnley last month.
The latest Bradford violence started when the government banned a proposed march by the National Front, a white supremacist group. Although the march was called off, an estimated 1,000 South Asian youths battled with police for more than nine hours, leaving one district of the city badly scarred.
Vicky Kennedy, press officer for Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, said yesterday that the anti-immigration British National Party (BNP) — which condemned the National Front leaders as "morons" — focused on the northern industrial belt during the recent general election.
The BNP scored some of its best results in the region that has seen the rioting, in an election that produced a second landslide win for Labor.
"These are poor areas with high unemployment and disaffected youth," Miss Kennedy said. "The situation is rife for exploitation."
And some commentators charge that the real culprits are far-left parties that are stirring up resentments in Asian communities by overstating the racist threat.
Sion Simon, a Labor member of Parliament from Birmingham, said the role of the far-left Socialist Workers Party in inciting the mobs in Bradford had been largely overlooked.
"The only way the revolutionary Trotskyists can get a response is to go into Asian communities and frighten people with the specter of neo-Nazism," Mr. Simon wrote in yesterday's London Daily Telegraph.
"Yes, the [National Front] 'starts it' by turning up in Asian communities. But the Trotskyists are the catalyst without which these terrible conflagrations would not occur," Mr. Simon said.
John Hulsman, senior European policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Blair's high-flown rhetoric and "Third Way" strategy were at least partly to blame.
"This is a Labor Party stronghold where the riots are occurring," Mr. Hulsman noted. "When you can't match your rhetoric with real changes in the lives of people, pent-up frustrations are inevitable."
Staffordshire University's Mr. Cashmore said the government's "almost draconian measures" to contain the rioting virtually guarantees more such clashes throughout the summer.
Banning demonstrations is "an incitement to racial tension," he predicted. "It plays to [the extremists'] strengths and makes them seem like martyrs."

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