Delhi violence

This essay, on last week’s violence in Delhi, was my Observer column this week. (The column included also a short piece onaudiobooks) It was published on 1 March 2020, under the headline ‘The violence in Delhi is not a ‘riot’. It is targeted anti-Muslim brutality’.

In August 1958, gangs of white youths began systematically attacking West Indians in London’s Notting Hill, assaulting them with iron bars and meat cleavers and milk bottles. One policeman reported a 300-strong mob shouting: ‘We will kill all black bastards. Why don’t you send them home?’ The attacks continued for a week before order was restored.

The incident is still referred to as the ‘Notting Hill riots‘. It was nothing of the sort. It was a vicious week-long racist attack. Mr Justice Salmon, sentencing nine white youths at the Old Bailey, called it ‘nigger hunting’. There is, though, a long history of describing racist violence as a ‘riot’, to portray it as a general violent mayhem rather than as targeted attacks.

And so it is with the violence that over the past week has engulfed parts of the Indian capital, Delhi. Journalists and politicians have talked of ‘rioting’ and ‘communal violence’. That’s no more accurate than describing the attack on Notting Hill’s black residents as a ‘riot’. What Delhi witnessed over the past week is the Indian equivalent of ‘nigger hunting’, targeted violence against Muslims, led by mobs of Hindu nationalists, mainly supporters of the BJP, India’s governing party, many chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (‘glory to Lord Rama’) and ‘Hinduon ka Hindustan’ (India for Hindus).

The violence began after a local BJP politician, Kapil Mishra, told a rally last Sunday that unless police cleared the streets of protesters against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), he and his supporters would do it themselves.

The CAA is a new law that allows undocumented migrants from neighbouring countries to seek citizenship in India – except if they are Muslim. It’s the first law since India gained independence that explicitly excludes Muslims, and has generated widespread protests.

Within hours of Mishra’s ultimatum, BJP gangs started attacking anti-CAA protesters. Within days, they were burning down Muslim houses, shops and mosques. And Muslims themselves. At least 39 people have been killed, including a policeman.

Hindus, too, have been attacked and their houses burnt. This has led some to portray the events in Delhi as general lawlessness, even primarily as Muslim violence. In 1958, many West Indians armed themselves with bricks and bats, some ganged up looking for whites to attack. That did not detract from it being a racist assault on local blacks. Nor does the fact that Muslims in Delhi have also responded with violence diminish the Hindu chauvinism and anti-Muslim hostility that lies at the heart of the ‘riots’.

The BJP is driven by the ideology of ‘Hindutva’, or ‘Hinduness’, seeing the Hindu way of life as the only authentic model for India. All of India’s Muslims should have been packed off to Pakistan at partition, a government minister, Giriraj Singh, said last month.

Like many European reactionary groups, the BJP has won popular support largely because of disaffection with the failure and corruption of mainstream parties, especially Congress, which has governed India for most of its post-independence history. When the BJP came to power in 2014, its Hindu chauvinism was kept on a short leash. A resounding second victory in elections last year has, however, given the prime minister, Narendra Modi, licence to pursue exclusionary policies without restraint.

In August 2019, the government stripped Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomous status – a demand of Hindu nationalists since the 1950s – and dealt brutally with local protests. Then came the CAA, part of a two-pronged attack on Muslim citizenship. The second prong is the creation of a national register of citizens, compelling all Indians to provide documentation of their citizenship. Millions of poorer Indians have no such paperwork. For non-Muslims, this is unlikely to be too great a burden – the amended citizenship law provides a path to citizenship. Muslims, however, excluded by the CAA, fear that they will be deemed ‘foreigners’ even if they have lived in India for generations; that they may end up as India’s Rohingya.

While the attempt to exclude Muslims reveals the chauvinist ideology of the BJP, mass opposition to the CAA, from Hindus and Muslims alike, shows the depth of hostility to bigotry. In Delhi, too, amid the violence there have been many stories of Hindus protecting Muslim neighbours, and of Muslims aiding Hindus.

What is playing out in India is not a simple religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims but a political struggle between two visions of India: between those who see it as an open, secular nation and those who wish to create a chauvinist Hindu state. Who prevails in this struggle matters not just to Muslims, or to Indians, but to all of us.



Photo of the violence in Delhi by PTI


  1. Vivienne

    This is right, as far as it goes. But the wider context is that places with a Muslim-minority population are looking at how well minorities fare in Muslim-majority countries, and extrapolating.

    They note that Jews have been murdered, expelled or were encouraged to flee from all the Arab and Islamic countries where they once flourished. The Yezidi are almost universally regarded as heretics. Christians are virtually extinct in the Middle East now – there are embattled Copts in Egypt and a few Assyrian or Greek Christians remaining in Iraq/Syria/ Palestine, but they are old, and will not be replaced. Zoroastrians were long-established in Iran, but their numbers have also fallen drastically since the Arab conquest & Islamisation of Persia, and the recent reanimation of that early jihadist ideology.

    It is the fact that India and Israel did not expel their Muslim populations at the times of partition which prolongs conflict in Kashmir and Judaea. Pakistan doesn’t suffer from Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus: on the contrary, it treats the few remaining exemplars shockingly, and has ruthlessly reduced their numbers. This doesn’t justify Modi’s desire for an ethnically-pure state, but it goes some way towards explaining it. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the world where the Umma is not fighting with somebody, and when concessions are made, out of liberality, they’re perceived as weakness. The Middle East has grown frighteningly monochrome in my lifetime.
    No wonder if India now desires the same.

    • This doesn’t justify Modi’s desire for an ethnically-pure state

      No, you’re justifying something far worse. You’re calling for the complete expulsion of Muslims from non-Muslim countries in which they live. You are demanding total ethnic cleansing, and worse. You’re justifying a Rohingya-type solution, and worse. What has happened – and is still happening – to Christians and Jews and atheists and the ‘wrong’ kind of Muslims in many Muslim-majority countries is unconscionable. But I can’t see any difference between your worldview and those of the Islamists and jihadists, of the mass killer and the mass-ethnic cleansers.

      • A side issue; Israel’s security problem is not with the Muslims within, say, the pre-1967 borders. Vivienne’s diagnosis of Israel’s problems, and use of the term “Judaea”, suggests that she regards all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan as part of Israel, and is advocating its ethnic cleansing.

        To return to your own article, it seems as if one effect of the BJP’s current policy will be to disenfranchise poorer Muslims. Could this be part of the motivation?

      • I contest those assertions. I explicitly said that I was not justifying Modi’s politics, nor do I advocate ethnic cleansing anywhere. I have no problem identifying the plight of the Rohingyas as a result of intolerant ethnic nationalism.

        This knee-jerk response precisely exemplifies the problem I’m pointing to.

        What I said, and repeat in different language, since apparently it was not clear the first time, is that attacking policies without making any attempt to understand their aetiology is unintelligent, and unproductive.

        For example, one significant reason that the Palestine/Israel problem has proved so intractable is that everyone lines up on one side or the other. Pro-Palestinians wax indignant about the exodus of Arabs in 1948, but are conspicuously silent about the equal number of Jews whose property and right to stay was removed by Arab countries. (In fact, when the first Palestinians crossed the border to Jordan, where they were offered full citizenship, they were housed in the newly empty Jewish quarter of Amman.)

        People demand restitution and right of return – or compensation in lieu – for Arabs, but who demands the same for the descendants of the Jews forced to flee with nothing? The Israeli uprooting of olive trees, and the continued process of settlement on what could be a future Palestinian state, is rightly denounced. But those able to see these iniquities are apparently blind to the continuously-expressed Arab intention to eliminate the Jewish state. If that is ignored, why should the Israelis listen to us?

        No one is screaming for the elimination of the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” – founded in the same year and by the same colonial power as Israel – despite the apocalyptic horrors of its establishment, and its continuing illiberality. Pakistan, like many other Arab and Muslim countries, privileges one religion. Yet Israel is commonly branded as racist for being explicitly Jewish. Why the difference?

        Despite the personal insults directed at me, no one has attempted to refute what I said about the repressive lack of diversity which has been forced onto the formerly rich and complex societies of the Middle East. Anyone can see for themselves what has happened to smaller cultural groups with ancient roots, and that includes the Christians, at one time the majority population. They are virtually extinct. Why is it wicked or irrational to suppose that consideration of this may be in part what drives “right-wing” political views, in order to pre-empt the same fate?

        As long as only one side in a dispute is recognised, and historical context ignored, a sense of injustice will persist. We need solutions which are acceptable to everyone, if they are to be sustainable by any means other than force. That simply to say this results in torrents of insults shows the extent of the problem. I had expected better of the thoughtful people who come to this site. Or run it.

        • My apologies if I’ve misunderstood you. But I don’t think I have. You want to have it both ways. You bemoan the ‘repressive lack of diversity which has been forced onto the formerly rich and complex societies of the Middle East’. But you claimed in your first comment that ‘It is the fact that India and Israel did not expel their Muslim populations at the times of partition which prolongs conflict in Kashmir and Judaea’ – hardly the argument for ‘diversity’. You say that ‘As long as only one side in a dispute is recognised, and historical context ignored, a sense of injustice will persist’ but in your first comment you posed the problem as entirely that of Muslims. You are (rightly) condemnatory of the way that many Muslim-majority countries treat minorities but are far more understanding of Modi’s policies. You say that Pakistan’s treatment of minorities ‘goes someway to explaining’ Modi’s desire for Hindu nationalist state. It does nothing of the sort (any more that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians ‘explains’ Islamists’ treatment of Jews). Pakistan’s treatment of minorities is an excuse to justify the repression of Indian citizens who happen to be Muslim, and you’re playing into that. You’re right that those who criticise Israel but not other ethnonational states are showing double standards, a point I’ve made many times. Indeed I’ve observed that ‘To oppose Zionism but not other forms of ethnic nationalism would be anti-Semitic’. But you seem to condemn Muslim ethnonational states, but defend Israel as ‘explicitly Jewish’ – your own reverse version of the double standard. Certainly, this second comment is more nuanced and reasonable than your original one. So, perhaps you should look to your ‘knee-jerk response’ too.

        • Thank you for the more moderate response. But again, you interpret factual observations as statements of justification.

          Germany, Poland and Russia effected draconian population exchanges after WW1. Turkey and Greece did the same. The Armenians were removed from Turkey by being massacred.

          I am not commending these actions. I’m saying that because – obviously, to the great detriment of the people involved – they were in fact carried out, a degree of internal security was created, in the longer term, in countries which regarded ethnic homogeneity as a good thing. Turkey, for instance, now only has to destroy the Kurds and its 100-year-long “Turkification” project will be complete.

          In contrast, that Hindu-majority India retained a significant proportion of Muslims, and Israel retained a minority of Arabs, has meant in both cases that there was an aggrieved rump of dissenting citizens as soon as the new state was established. Pakistan too had small minorities, but it has destroyed or so severely repressed them that they don’t cause any difficulty. Countries such as Israel and India, which were formed as democracies, are more inhibited in that respect.

          The Palestinian population has increased 8-fold since it began to be oppressed by Israel. That makes accusations of Israeli genocide somewhat contra-factual. Similarly, the Muslim population of India has increased at a higher rate than that of the Hindu population. Both Jews and Hindus have a history of Islamic invasion and subjugation which is part of a contemporary cultural narrative. Swiftly-rising population increases amongst Muslims are therefore regarded as dangerous.

          If that is not taken into account by well-intentioned persons who support the internationalist solidarity we ( and I include myself here ) agree would be desirable, both India and Israel will continue their move to the Right.

          And yes, I did focus on Islamic populations a) because they are involved in both countries’ rival nationalist histories and b) it is currently from among those populations that the jihadists arise, to the delight of Netanyahu and Modi, who can then claim to be protectors of their people.

          The West cannot keep attempting to impose its postmodern diversity concerns on countries which are at a different stage of development, have different cultural trajectories, and prefer other, more traditional modes of government. It is a genuine moral problem as to whether it is colonialist and naive to argue for conformity to universal Western liberties, or unjust not to try. What I am certain of is that ignoring the context in which rulers like Modi and Netanyahu become popular isn’t going to fix anything, and calling them fascists makes less than no difference at all. Conflict resolution happens when all parties’ concerns are addressed, and everyone gets a solution they can live with.

        • But again, you interpret factual observations as statements of justification.

          You claimed in your first comment that ‘It is the fact that India and Israel did not expel their Muslim populations at the times of partition which prolongs conflict in Kashmir and Judaea’. That’s not a fact, that’s your claim, and one with which I disagree for historical, political and moral reasons.

          As for ‘justification’, your argument seems to be ‘I’m not justifying ethnic cleansing, but the facts show that you need ethnic cleansing for peace and security.’ That’s a case of justification while attempting to absolve yourself from having to take responsibility for such justification.

          In contrast, that Hindu-majority India retained a significant proportion of Muslims, and Israel retained a minority of Arabs, has meant in both cases that there was an aggrieved rump of dissenting citizens as soon as the new state was established

          Muslims who lived in India at the time of Partition (most of whom had been there for centuries) were, and are, Indians, as much as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Jews, etc. They were, and are, not ‘an aggrieved rump of dissenting citizens’. It’s true that in Jammu and Kashmir, the partition of the Kashmir region, the various conflicts between India, Pakistan and China, and the policies of both India and Pakistan have stoked ethnic tensions. But most Indian Muslims have never seen themselves as anything but Indian citizens.

          It is Hindu nationalists who, to promote their own bigoted view of India, portray Muslims as ‘an aggrieved rump of dissenting citizens’, and as not really Indian. You seem happy to indulge them in their bigotry. The conflict in India is not between Hindus and Muslims but between Hindu chauvinists and those who wish to retain India as a secular, plural state. The latter are not simply Muslims but include vast numbers of Hindus, Christian, Sikhs, Jews, etc. The anti-CAA protests show the degree to which Hindus and other non-Muslims are willing to stand up against anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry.

          The last pogrom in Delhi, incidentally, was in 1984, and much more violent than the recent incidents. Between 2000 and 8000 people were killed. It was an organized pogrom by Hindu chauvinists, not against Muslims, but against Sikhs. Perhaps it would have been better if Sikhs had also been expelled from India at Partition, to reduce such conflict?

          As for Israel, it did not ‘retain a minority of Arabs’, it was built on land on which Palestinians already lived, and from which thousands were driven out. The conflict arises primarily from that. (And which is why the analogy between Israel and India does not hold.) It’s worth adding that the Palestinian struggle was primarily secular for decades. Israel spent considerable effort in creating Islamic movements among Palestinians to weaken the secular PLO. It succeeded in wakening the PLO, but at a terrible cost, both to Palestinians and to Israelis.

          And yes, I did focus on Islamic populations, because…

          My point was that if you are going accuse others of recognizing ‘only one side in a dispute’, it helps not to do so yourself, especially when much of it amounts to victim-blaming.

          The West cannot keep attempting to impose its postmodern diversity concerns on countries which are at a different stage of development

          In your previous comment, in contradiction to this, you bemoaned ‘the repressive lack of diversity which has been forced onto the formerly rich and complex societies of the Middle East’. So which is it? Diversity as the historic condition of societies which ethnonationalists and religious fundamentalists are trying to expunge? Or diversity is a ‘Western’ ‘postmodern’ imposition? I take the former view. You seem to want to believe in both.

        • Vivienne

          You accuse me of holding two different attitudes to diversity. That’s not an altogether invalid point.

          Diversity in the Middle East looked different to me, as a Westerner, than it did to the people living in both the minority and majority populations there. I enjoyed being able to sit quietly in a mosque with the sound of the Ney, or visit a shrine full of wild colours. I was entranced by Syrian aesthetic sophistication, moved by what people said about their Aramaic language, and grateful to the courteous Iraqi Kurds who invited me into their homes. The impression I came away with was of a region richly endowed with multiple layers of historical habitation, movement and settlement, creating an attractive whole.

          For people living there, though, the story was of Islamic rules imposed on often scapegoated minorities, the Shah’s secret police, Saddam’s Tikriti favourites and the subjugation of the Shias, the Lebanese civil war, & the Palestinian struggle’s turning from its original pan-Arabism – in the first half of 20th century, the Arabs of what became Israel wanted to be part of a restored Greater Syria, not a separate country – then a narrower nationalism in the 1960s as Arafat, according to Zuheir Mohsen of the PLO, invented “the Palestinian people” as a political ploy; & finally becoming the current Islamist movement.

          And in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman and Yemen, almost everyone I met had a strong tribal or religious affiliation and regarded members of other groups as troublesome and inferior. There was also a great deference to authority, and in collective cultures which set everyone to spy on their neighbour, individual intellectual exploration was, and is, a risky venture ( and one not assisted by westerners who seem to feel that only the most patriarchal and ostentatiously pious, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, are “authentic” – others are denounced as subaltern Uncle Toms).

          So while I myself find difference interesting, within a framework of universal human rights which for me is a matrix of morality overriding group-specific cultural preferences, I’m well aware that in other countries that point of view is seen as Western, and irrelevant to their circumstances and histories.

          The issue is not whether I find ethnic cleansing and ruthless population exchanges admirable
          (and, incidentally, despite your slur, if I did I would openly say so, because I am not in the least ashamed of anything I think, which although subject to change over time if someone gives me new information, orma different perspective, is always based on the best available evidence I’ve been able to find).

          The issue is whether the populations of the countries concerned think so. In places where there is a Muslim minority, that population tends to be oppressed with varying degrees of severity. In places where it’s a majority, minorities don’t flourish. Those two phenomena are not unconnected.

          Islamism has not only appropriated the entire Islamic narrative, it’s made it difficult for more liberal Muslims to argue. That al-Azhar scholars refused to denounce Da’esh as un-Islamic tells us something – they criticised Da’esh for declaring an unauthorised caliphate, but agreed that, as Da’esh itself itemised in great detail in their magazine Dabiq, none of their behaviour was without precedent in the life of Mohammed, or disallowed by the Qur’an. What non-Muslim, anywhere, would want to be subjected to that? It’s not that Islam is evil, but that it values order, conformity and group-think to an extent I’d find intolerable, and it’s particularly oppressive to me as a woman enjoying hard-won Western freedoms.

          I see those demonstrations by Muslims, Hindus & others against Modi, or the inclusive gender-equal Rojava cantons, as exemplifying our only hope for sharing the planet in peace and justice. But they are not as powerful as the opposition, who have to be reasoned with: understanding their concerns is the first step, and one of those concerns is what happens when organised political Islam has a substantial say in government. To oppose that is not, as you know perfectly well, the same thing as recommending that Muslim people be attacked.

        • You change your argument so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up. In this post you write:

          In places where there is a Muslim minority, that population tends to be oppressed with varying degrees of severity. In places where it’s a majority, minorities don’t flourish. Those two phenomena are not unconnected.

          The implication is that the repressive character of Islamic rule in many Muslim-majority countries makes the majority populations in countries like India more hostile to Muslim minorities in those countries. It’s a false and dangerous argument, and I’ll come back to it. But it wasn’t your argument in your previous post. There you argued that Muslims in India, not having all been expelled at Partition, constituted ‘an aggrieved rump of dissenting citizens’. I pointed why that was an absurd claim, and you’ve dropped that and moved to a new one. The problem, apparently, lies not with Muslims in India but with the actions of Muslim leaders elsewhere. And this apparently makes the anti-Muslim programme of Hindu chauvinists ‘understandable’. But if someone were to say that attacks on Jews in Britain or France or America were ‘understandable’ because of the actions of the state of Israel, you’d be outraged, and righty so. Yet, that same argument, when applied to Muslims, you find ‘understandable’.

          It’s not Hindus as a group that are hostile to Muslims in India. It is Hindu chauvinists, those who follow the ideology of Hinduvta, who support the BJP and the RSS. And they are not driven by concerns for minorities in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran; they are driven by a bigoted view of the Indian nation, a bigotry that mirrors that of Islamists or of the reactionary right in Europe. Your attempt to paint this as a general struggle between Hindus and Muslims, and of Muslims as the root of the problem, is both false and helpful only to the bigots.

          It’s good that now you ‘see those demonstrations by Muslims, Hindus & others against Modi, or the inclusive gender-equal Rojava cantons, as exemplifying our only hope for sharing the planet in peace and justice’. You have, however, travelled a long way from your original claim that Muslims in India constitute ‘an aggrieved rump of dissenting citizens’ and not having expelled them at Partition has ‘prolonged conflict’, and your giving credence to fears about ‘swiftly-rising population increases amongst Muslims’. It is against such claims – which lie at the heart of BJP propaganda – that Muslims, Hindus and others are protesting in protesting against the CAA. If you really do see the anti-CAA and anti-Modi protests as ‘hope’, then I’d be wary of regurgitating the arguments of Hindu reactionaries. These are not ‘slurs’ on my part as you keep insisting. They are your own words.

  2. damon

    I would agree with the main points of this piece. They were more than riots.
    The two events differ greatly also and don’t really have that much in common with each other.
    Both because of time and place. But still, downplaying then as riots doesn’t describe accurately what they were and are.

    I’ve been reading about the events in Notting Hill and while I’d agree that the first article linked to (by Alan Travis) gives a pretty good description of what happened – for a better understanding – and particularly because of how we view things by our modern norms and standards – I would recommend looking into what Notting Hill/Notting Dale was actually like then back in 1958.

    I found this book by one of the top policemen in the area – called “Policing Notting Hill – Fifty years of turbulence”. He describes the area that had become home to this new generation of West Indian immigrants. It was a poor working class slum by the sound of it. With a solidly working class culture that was inward looking and tended not to trust the police, as there was a fair amount of criminal activity that went on amongst the general population. Because it was a poor area with lots of rooms to rent, it soon became an area for the new immigrants to look for housing.

    If one really wants to appreciate the climate of the time in the newly evolving Notting Hill (I think) you really need to read some narratives like that. And then you can compare that view, to the more widely known stories which are often the most “left wing” and radical views of those now historic events.
    It’s like the radical left – both the mainstream left organisations and the black activists, have written the history that we all follow today and take as completely objective.

    I’ve read the three chapters of that book which deal with the Notting Hill events of 1958.
    From page 21, through to page 77. It’s essential reading in my opinion.
    Because while of course they were horrible and hateful attacks by white racists on innocent black people, you also need to be aware of what kind of society it was back then.
    Judging things by today’s world doesn’t really paint a true picture.

    For example, in England more generally, what was this working class Teddy Boy culture all about?
    It showed itself to be racist in Notting Hill, but there were Teddy Boys all across the country where race wasn’t even an issue. So what was the culture? It wasn’t one that was very open and broadminded.
    These young people had all been children during the war, and Britain was a pretty deprived place still.
    Many working class neighbourhoods would be very tight and insular places with very strong senses of community.
    And any stranger turning up in some of the rougher parts might have good reason to be a bit wary.
    Some pubs particularly could be the hangouts for the criminal underclass. And they weren’t always very hospitable to strangers.

    Right from the first page of the chapter titled “In the beginning” he describes what kind of a place Notting Dale was. He says it was “an area of dilapidated houses and one of four areas of London which were most notorious for crime, violence and prostitution”.
    So that’s off to a bad start already. He outlines how some of these problems arose. Firstly with the slum housing conditions and the difficulty the newcomers often had in finding places to stay because of racism.
    The same with employment. While most got jobs, some failed and became what he calls “misfits”.
    He highlights the case of Michael X (born Michael de Freitas in Trinidad) who when he found he was being discriminated against while trying to get work as a painter and decorator, soon drifted into working as an enforcer for the worst slum landlord in the area – the notorious Peter Rachman.
    Because of the poor housing, with people living in subdivided houses, there were often disputes between neighbours and landlords to which the police were called. He says one source of early tension with the police was not understanding that the police couldn’t adjudicate right there on the spot and resolve conflicts like they often did in the West Indies.
    When the English police just told the new people that if they had a dispute with their landlord they had to go and see some other body to get it sorted, it became an issue of frustration for them.
    And they thought that the police were just always siding with the white landlords.

    Anyway, he then goes on to describe how people from the West Indian community also became landlords, or more likely, worked as agents for the landlords, and the situations between the races could quickly be reversed.
    It could have been black landlords or agents harassing white tenants.
    All this was bound to happen in a slum housing area.

    Ditto the disputes that arouse because of cultural difference and how because of racism from whites, black people wanted to open their own places of entertainment. Which given our very particular and strict licensing laws, straight away brought some of the Caribbean community into conflict the the police and their neighbours.
    Illegal drinking “shebeens” and loud music from sound systems seem to have been complaints from around this time. And of course the issue of all those single black men wanting female company.
    He says that at least 25 black Caribbean men at around this time were convicted of “living off immoral earnings”.
    Off prostitution. He said the number not arrested and convicted was probably four times higher.
    So there’s some things that are going to lead to sectarian/racist tensions and resentments straight away.
    Particularly when you remember the times, the living conditions and the local culture.

    The attacks by white mobs were disgraceful of course, but to not have seen something like it as highly likely to have happened would be quite shortsighted I think.

  3. damon

    According to a statistic on page 25 of that book – by 1958 there were estimated to be 7,000 black people living in the North Kensington area. That’s pretty huge really, considering what kind of community it had been.
    It was already dealing with poverty and overcrowded living conditions …. and even unemployment.
    It seems like a very odd policy to be bringing in large numbers of people from the Caribbean, and not just workers but families too, with children who were going straight into school, and at the same time “we” were assisting what was in the end about a million Brits to emigrate to Australia.

    On that page in the book it also talks of much overcrowding and more people living in flats and rooms than the landlord had agreed to. This is completely normal and to be expected when poor people migrate to new countries. Some people claim to have turned up in England with just five pounds and a suit.

    Trevor Phillips is quoted in his book “Windrush” talking about some of the issues that caused tension between the different people. And this bit is quite significant. But maybe not to people on the left and to middle class liberals – it says: “A source of annoyance to the police, was when the black “ponces” started buying expensive cars, driving the girls to and from the places they solicited and buying and wearing expensive clothes”. (Page 28).

    It is actually an important detail, as it’s a signifier of things going a bit wrong. 7,000 people in a small formally white working class neighbourhood – with a minority of the new people vying for control and status at the expense of the previous “top dogs”. It’s exactly the kind of thing that can cause violence.

    If there really were several dozen of these fancy car, sharply dressed pimps constantly driving around in that part of West London, it’s almost a recipe for trouble of various sorts. Both with the civilian population and the police.
    The same things happen today right under our noses, but we don’t follow them very closely as they don’t have as much political and emotional pull as these historical events had.
    For example the way new drugs gangs from the Balkans have taken over areas of drugs distribution in the U.K.
    It has caused violence but only gets a write up in the Daily Mail now and again.
    People on the left aren’t paying attention because it’s less political.

  4. Vivienne

    Apparently surprisingly, I’m able to see more than one aspect to a political situation. That doesn’t mean I support them all equally. And I make a clear distinction between my absolute support for the protection and equality of Muslim persons, and my equally absolute resistance to replacing secular democracy with Islamic ideology.

    How can you possibly deny that if the Muslims in India, at the time Pakistan was created, had been expelled with the same ruthless absolutism the Turks and Greeks used when expelling one another, there wouldn’t now be a disaffected minority? That’s simply a fact. To observe that if there is no X, X can’t be there to cause a problem, is a matter of logic, not of morality or politics.

    I didn’t say that the Muslims in India at the time of Partition were anything but Indian: indeed, they were people who had chosen not to move to the new Islamic Republic but to remain in their home state. However, given the prevailing currents in contemporary Islam, the descendants of that population are increasingly viewed with suspicion. The ongoing strife in Kashmir, reinvigorated by demographic shift in favour of Muslims, the reduction and oppression of the remaining scant minorities in Pakistan, and events such as the Mumbai murders carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, certainly contribute to a sense of anxiety amongst Hindus which Modi is able to use as fuel for ethno-nationalism. Pakistan, by anybody’s reckoning, is a haven for a variety of terrorist groups and fanatics. Politicians who tried to turn the tide, such as Salman Teyseer, were simply eliminated, because too many people in power were benefiting from the influx of Wahhabi petrodollars, given for the purpose of fomenting chaos in countries the Pakistanis didn’t much like anyway. They didn’t want reform of any kind.

    As well as the immediate issues with Pakistan, Muslims used to be the imperialist conquerors of India. Do you think that doesn’t still resonate? As in the struggles between Muslims and Christians, e.g. in Spain, where churches became mosques and then churches again, in India mosques were built on temple sites. They are not neutral places, or simply open places of worship. Erdogan is talking about changing Haghia Sophia back to a mosque because he is conscious it was formerly the great cathedral of Byzantium, then a mosque, then a museum. To reclaim it as an exclusively Muslim religious site is an emblematic gesture.

    So too the destruction of the Babri Masjid “was not a riot” in the simple sense. It was symbolic. To recognise that is not to approve of it, nor to urge repetitions of it. You don’t de-fang an emotionally potent argument by simply asserting it’s invalid, or by insulting its proponents ( and people who recognise its potency) but by showing there’s a more constructive way for people to achieve our shared purpose of living in security, and what feels like a just state.

    Much of what you say I don’t disagree with: if I was presenting only one side of an argument it’s because that side was the missing piece. I read a lot about the motivation of suicide bombers not because blowing people up is my political statement of choice, but to try to grasp in a more particular way how legitimate individual grievances can be swept into a politically-motivated strategy that isn’t based on anybody’s sorrow, rage or pain, but has a longterm purpose. Political Islam, like global corporate capitalism, has an agenda, and longterm plans. Some Muslims and leftists in the West and elsewhere do make precisely that connection you deplore between Israeli actions and European Jews. Who would ever have thought we’d hear “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yehudi” or “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!” on the streets of Europe? If that ambition isn’t recognised and addressed, we get Modi and Netanyahu presenting themselves, unchallenged, as the saviours of their people. Or, in Europe, Orban, who has used fear of immigration, linked to the experience of Ottoman rule, to repeal unrelated liberal laws and practices pertaining to the judiciary, the press, etc.

    Political Islam is not the only grand narrative contesting for power, but it is the one the West seems unwilling to identify as a wellorganised, internationalist, political movement. We seem to feel that if only we prevent physical attacks, there’s no problem. So denounce Modi, by all means, but please recognise that he is part of a dynamic.

    Thank you for the conversation. and as it’s your site, I’ll let you have the last word.
    Be well.

    • How can you possibly deny that if the Muslims in India, at the time Pakistan was created, had been expelled with the same ruthless absolutism the Turks and Greeks used when expelling one another, there wouldn’t now be a disaffected minority? That’s simply a fact. To observe that if there is no X, X can’t be there to cause a problem, is a matter of logic, not of morality or politics.

      It’s ‘simply a fact’ in the same sense as the proposition ‘Had Hitler succeeded in exterminating all Jews, there would be no anti-Semitism today’ expresses a fact. Yes, that’s true in the abstract. But, in the real world, only the hardest anti-Semite would see that as any kind of meaningful comment on anti-Semitism today, still less a comment on the causes of anti-Semitism today. To say that if there were no Jews there would be no anti-Semitism is not a useful way of thinking about the roots of contemporary ant-Semitism or of how to challenge it.

      Similarly with anti-Muslim bigotry in India. In fact, in many ways, your argument is worse, because you insist on labelling Indian Muslims ‘a disaffected minority’, as if they are the problem. They are not. They are a minority group whose rights are being attacked by Hindu chauvinists. The conflict in India is not caused by Muslims being a ‘disaffected minority’ (any more than anti-Semitism in Europe is caused by Jews being a ‘disaffected minority’), nor by the fact that all Muslims were not expelled at Partition (any more than anti-Semitism in Europe is the result of Hitler not succeeding with the Final Solution). It is caused by bigots attacking Muslim rights (and Muslims themselves). Your attempt to portray bigoted hostility to Indian Muslims as the ‘understandable’ (if not justifiable) product of the actions of Islamic leaders in Pakistan is no more valid than the argument that anti-Semitism in Europe is the understandable (if not justifiable) product of the actions of the state of Israel. That you seem unable to see this, I find quite shocking.

      As well as the immediate issues with Pakistan, Muslims used to be the imperialist conquerors of India. Do you think that doesn’t still resonate?

      Actually for most Indians it doesn’t resonate. It has been turned into a political issue by Hindu chauvinists, just as anti-Semites try to make political capital out of the claim that Jews control finance and the media. Would you say of such anti-Semitic arguments that the presence of Jews in the banking industry or in the media ‘contributes to a sense of anxiety amongst Gentiles which anti-Semites are able to use as fuel’? That it explains why Jews are ‘regarded with suspicion’? To argue like this would be to help facilitate anti-Semitism. Your arguments about Muslims are no different. And what I find most shocking is that you still don’t recognize that to be so.

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