- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

LONDON Britain's white and ethnic minority communities are living "parallel lives" divided by mutual mistrust, which is inflaming racial tensions, according to reports yesterday about a wave of race riots.

An official Home Office report about the riots, which swept northern England earlier this year, recommended immigrants swear an oath of allegiance to prove "clear primary loyalty" to Britain.

Although not the only suggestion in the report, it is likely to be the most controversial, going beyond Home Secretary David Blunkett's recent call for immigrants to accept the "norms" of British life.

Based on a version used in Canada, the oath would include the promise that "use of the English language will become more rigorously pursued."

Segregated, suspicious and fearful, blacks and whites in many inner cities are living in virtual ghettos, yet community leaders dare do little more than "tiptoe" around the issue of race, the Home Office report concluded.

It created a climate in which neither side really understood the other and which extremists could easily exploit.

Two other reports being published simultaneously dealt in more detail with the immediate causes of the unrest this year in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, all towns with large Asian communities and high unemployment.

But it is the conclusions of the Home Office experts that paint an overall picture of the state of inner-city race relations.

"Many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives," its authors wrote.

"These lives often do not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchanges."

The riots, which began in Oldham in June and quickly spread, were the worst in Britain since the 1980s.

Hundreds of people, many of them police officers, were injured, and damage was estimated in the millions.

They provoked a furious debate into why four decades of government attempts to integrate ethnic communities into the British way of life appeared to have failed.

According to the Home Office team, blame is widespread and includes police and local authorities.

More controversially, the report said the development of "faith schools" set up with a Muslim or Christian ethos were leading to segregation.

Ethnic communities are also at fault for often shutting themselves off, according to the report.

The Home Office report makes 67 recommendations in all.

As well as the oath of allegiance, they focus on changes in politics, employment, schools, housing and policing.

One Pakistani man told the inquiry: "When I leave this meeting with you, I will go home and not see another white face until I come back here next week," the report noted.

Habib Rahman, head of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said an oath would be "divisive" and go against the idea of a multicultural society.

"This debate will give credence to the racists and all the racial prejudice in this country," he said.

Gurbux Singh, who heads the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was now time to debate the problems of divided people and fragmented communities.

"This should not revolve around Britishness or a single national identity, rather it should focus on the principles and values of citizenship in Britain today."

Mr. Blunkett sparked controversy last weekend by urging ethnic minorities to learn to speak English and adopt the "norms" of British life.

He insisted he was right to do so. "If I can't say these things and have an open debate, then democracy is dead," he told BBC radio.

Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), said he would be using Mr. Blunkett's words to say, "Well, we've been right all along."

It was the BNP's activities in Bradford that provided the immediate spark to the riots in Oldham and Bradford.

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