‘Britain must have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission’

An Open letter to David Cameron – the Prime Minister of England

British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and Nick Raynsford, Member of Parliament for Greenwich and Woolwich, arrive to speak to members of the local community, Thursday, May 23, 2013. (AP)

The recent wanton killing of an English soldier has brought to the surface the ugly racism prevalent in English society for the last 75 years since the empire ceased to exist. The people from earlier colonies arrived in England, some seeking greener pastures, some like the Indians and Pakistanis were forced to leave African countries. Ever since the waves of migrants chose to live in the UK and engage in menial vocations, the overt and covert racism in England was an ugly force operating in the background.

Racism was manifest in open discrimination in the job market as well as residences where the vast majority of the migrants were forced to lead a hand- to- mouth existence, huddled in ghettoes, while working as cleaners, waiters, drivers etc.

Discrimination practised by the English and the suffering experienced by the migrants on many occasions led to open riots. The first race riots took place in Aug 1958 when a private dispute between a Jamaican and a sex worker flared into a full scale riot led by 300-400 white people. The riots caused tension between the Metropolitan Police and the British African community which claimed that the Police had not taken reports of racial attacks seriously. Since then race riots emerged regularly; in 1958 Nottingham Hill, 1980 St Paul’s, 1981 Chapel town, Moss Side, Toxeth, and Brixton, 1985 Handsworth, 1989 Dewsbury, 2001 Bradford and Oldham, 2005 Birmingham, 2011 all over London.

According to the BBC "the racial tensions were also to blame for transferring Brixton in South London into something resembling a battlefield" in 1981. In the investigation that followed the Brixton riots Lord Scarman said that "RACIAL DISDAVANTAGE IS A FACT OF CURRENT BRITISH LIFE. It was, I am equally sure, a significant factor in the causation of the Brixton disorder".

The extreme right wing neo- Nazi organizations active for last 100 years in England too have directly contributed towards racial hatred in England specially, through preaching white racial superiority, hate speech and hate-mongering movements. White Nationalist Party, England First Party, Nationalist Alliance, New Nationalist Party and the English Defence League are right wing racist organizations which are ever-ready to indulge in race based agitations. In the book ‘Voting to Violence", Nick Lowles outlines trends in racial politics: "One of the most worrying aspect of research is the attitude of the BNP and the English Defence League sympathizers to violence. There is a widespread belief that the conflict between ethnic, racist, religious communities is inevitable and frighteningly large and willing to engage in violence to protect the group from threats. Half of the BNP supporters said that preparing for conflict was always or sometimes justifiable and 21% saying that it was always preferable." The British Parliamentary Select Committee reported that it was graphically highlighted that the central dominance of immigration and fear of Islam sustained the BNP and the UK Independent Party.

After the recent killing of an English soldier the frenzied activities of the extreme right wing organizations have seen an expected growth. There were public demonstrations with visible racist placards, slogans and flags. Within a week the Muslim community was subjected to nearly 400 incidents of racial hatred, such as, abuse, vilification, hate speech.

At the same time the militant Muslims are talking of Sharia Law and introduction of Islamic religious practices among the English Islamic community which provides fodder to the English right wing organizations, such as EDL. The divide between the Muslims and the English middle class is growing with an increased number of professionals joining the EDL. The race riots which brought death and destruction to the people of England continue to trigger racial tensions, forcing the issue onto the political agenda.

England should take urgent steps to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to explore ways to douse and eliminate racial hatred and hate speech so that the ordinary civilians can live in peace and harmony. While the English politicians prefer to profess reconciliation and conflict resolution to other countries in Asia and Africa, the acute situation prevailing in England needs to be cured and attended to.

The Commonwealth and other international organisations should take immediate action to ensure England addresses the concerns and aspirations of all of its citizens. If progress is not made, member countries should consider excluding England from future CHOGM summits.

Ranjith Soysa

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