Black Youth, terrorism and the moral blindness
Black Youth, terrorism and the moral blindness.
The brutal killing of the young British solider Lee Rigby on a British High Street in Woolwich South London by religious fanatics was deeply shocking. The fact that such a savage and grisly attack can take place on a busy British street in broad daylight has left the nation numb with shock and bewilderment.
This was a 21st century murder, broadcast almost live in real time and instantly transmitted across the world. The images we’ve seen on the front page of our newspapers, and on our television screens were horrific and bloody.
The question haunting everyone now is how can seemingly ordinary couple of black British guys from South East London end up committing such an act?
The personal tragedy for the murdered young man and his family seems almost to have been overshadowed by the complete dominance in the print media of the murderers whose pictures were plastered on every front page. I refuse to name them here in a small act of personal solidarity with the family.
One can only imagine the pain and grief his immediately family must be going through. They are now condemned to be forever reminded of the graphic nature of his death suffering a living hell with a memory that will be forever etched into their minds.
Watching the news over the last couple of days, I was struck by a number of issues that I think are important. The overwhelming majority of the news has focused on analysing the story from the perspective of terrorism and utilising the usual array of largely white and Asian Muslim experts and representatives.
Given the men themselves are black and of Nigerian origin this struck me as slightly odd. The dominant news narrative seems to almost wish they had been Asian and in that desire has simply labeled them ‘Muslim’ fitting them in to a convenient and stereotypical category that reflects and allows for simplistic and naive commentary.
Of course what is missing from the debate and in some sense, is the huge elephant in the room, is the fact that these young men are African, they are black British men and largely unknown to many they are part of the largest single ethnic minority group in London according to the 2011 census. That is an important aspect of this story, and I will tell why I think so.
The fact is that the real lived experience of British black communities suffering the damaging effects of societal racism is a narrative that is largely missing from the mainstream British news agenda and completely absent from the Government’s agenda. I am not for one moment seeking to suggest, in any way, shape or form, that these grotesque murderous act are justified. I am, however, suggesting that a minority of young black British people, be they of African or Caribbean descent, many of whom suffer deep economic exclusion, deep political marginalisation and acute social demonisation from wider society, can be particularly susceptible to both violent criminality and sometimes, radical conversion by religious fanatics.
Take a step back and think about it, why would British born black men brought up in a Christian family here in England be seduced into such fanatical extremism? The conversion rate of young people of African and Caribbean descendent to Islam has been spectacular over the last 10 years.
In 2004, I was interviewed by the London Evening Standard on this issue, I highlighted the fact that religious fanatics, claiming to be Muslims were targeting disaffected black youth in Lambeth to their cause. Their experience of racism and injustice perceived by black boys, their sense of powerlessness makes some of them, particularly vulnerable to such perversion.
But here it’s important to note, and I will return to this point later, that a minority of British black boys are first seduced into the violently criminality of gangs as a consequence of family dysfunctionally, made acute by profound economic exclusion and their constant criminalisation as a result of a resurgent institutional racism, infecting the operational focus day to day policing as a result of the continued existence of a culture of racial profiling.
The local gang in Lambeth were engaged in robbing local drug dealers in the name of Allah, and giving the proceeds to Mosques and their mentors. They would force local drug dealers to convert to Islam and renounce Christianity or face a merciless beating or death. Their modus operandi was total and extreme violence and that culminated with the murder of Adrian Marriot in 2004 who was shot five times in the head for failing to convert and he was but one example.
This gang was terrifying and brutal and the fear that they spread In Brixton was palpable. Streets would empty of young people at the merest suggestion that the gang were in the neighbourhood. These guys were frugal and Spartan, there was no ostentatious ‘ghetto bling’ lifestyle. They were disciplined, they slept on a single mattress, in empty unfurnished rooms with high calibre weapons and a Koran. They were forensically aware and under arrest, they never gave any information.
I had, at the time raised my concerns with local MPs but as usual when confronted with something that is outside their understanding, they chose to ignore me. It’s a condition many black people face is raising issue of concern only to be ignored and proved right later on In Britain, all black claims of racism, much like essential truth’s all start their lives as blasphemies. I was aware that young black boys in Lambeth were being taught a perverted version of Islam that claimed that any crime against a non-Muslim was permissible, and that they should engage in a war against criminal drug dealers using the profits to support the struggles against British and American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was dismissed as a fantasist, but I knew these young men were being trained by someone who had much more knowledge than the average teenage wannabe gangster. Far too late the Police woke up to the reality of this insidious threat and arrest were made and the gang eventually was broke up and jailed.
However, the problem of radical conversion did not disappear. The general rate of conversion of black young people in jail continues to be a cause for concern.
There is nothing to fear from genuine Muslim converts who are outstanding in the extent to which they serve as role models for others. However, there are others who are sometimes come from dysfunctional families, who suffer deep alienation and psychological issues that are susceptible and vulnerable to seduction of extremism.
We are all now sadly aware, of the so called ‘Shoe Bomber’ Richard Reid, the involvement of Germaine Lyndsey in the terrible atrocities of London’s 7/7 bombing of London and the composition of the 21/7 failed bomb attacks again including black African youth.
Young black men excluded by racism within education and from the labour market, unable to get jobs, who can’t afford to go to college or university, are harassed by the police force that brutalises and criminalises black men, and who face the grave injustice of a criminal-justice system that dishes out disproportionately heavy sentences to black men.
All this creates a pool of angry young men that religious extremists are able easily target. The injustices they face are explained and made rationale through the lens of religious bigotry.
Disaffected, alienated, unemployed, rejected and demonised by society results in some of our black boys, who are particularly vulnerable being seduced into the cause of extremism. Well documented acts of atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq at the hands of the Americans and British only add to their feeling of injustice.
And even closer to home the reality8 of 56% black youth unemployment rate as of January 2010, (comparable with youth unemployment in Greece, I dread to think what the figure is today), deep racism in the recruitment practices of the private sector, the profound institutional racism of the criminal-justice system, all provide the perfect petri dish for the fermentation of rage and anger.
The Reach independent report to Government on raising the aspirations and attainment of Black boys and young Black men and published in 2007 estimated that tackling under-achievement among black boys and young men could benefit the economy by £24 billion over the next 50 years. The report accepted that the cost to the country of continuing to allow black boy remain effectively marginalised on the fringes of society would be enormous. Since that report was published that alienation has increased whilst the important recommendations have been left to wither on the vine.
Racism and the race of these two young black men, who committed this terrible murder in Woolwich, is the elephant in the room that most people don’t want to talk about because it fails to fit the convenient well-worn anti-Muslim, terrorist narrative. It’s right we talk about the preachers of hate, but we rarely discuss in any meaningful way the socio-economic and race inequality environment in which these preachers find fertile ground.
When you leave people to rot on the margins of society, they become easy prey for those seeking to exploit their anger and vulnerability by terrorists or criminals. I have in the past, been unfortunate in correctly predicting the August riots of 2011 on the back of increasing numbers of Black male deaths in police custody.
I could sense the tension in my community, but my concerns were dismissed and largely ignored. Well here is a big red flag warning, unless we begin to tackle the alienation that many black youth face we could more conversions to extremism, and sadly with similar outcomes to what occurred in Woolwich.
Alienation and racism are big enough problems in themselves but overlay this with the double standards of section of the British press and politicians that largely ignore the on-going scandal of black youth violence and murder.
Our communities endure a youth murder rate that is unacceptable. Intuitively, instinctively British black communities know and understand that if the victims of killings were white middle class youth, there would be a national outcry.
Society remains largely silent in the face of such carnage but erupts in outrage when a white solider gets killed. Horrific, and symbolic as the killing of this young soldier was, there were similarities in its barbarity of the recent murder of Daniel Graham, who was chased by a gang and stabbed multiple times on a London bus or that of Andrew Jaipual of Islington stabbed between 20-40 times? Both in broad daylight.
The reality is that the number of black young people in the UK who have been brutally murdered over the period of the last 13 years exceeds the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period. What many in Black communities feel is that we are often facing an internal war generated by long term poverty, alienation and unemployment.
As the nation begins to reflect on the causes of the terrible events this week, the racism and rabid Islamaphobia of the English Defence League will feature large. And whilst the EDL and the BNP openly espouse their bigoted views without true leadership from mainstream political parties and beyond, many Britons will be silently sign up to at least a watered-down version. Such effects could take us back to the 1970s.
If as a society we are to tackle some of the root causes of violent extremism, and criminality, we will need to tackle both our moral duplicity home and abroad, but also begin offer real opportunity and hope to many more of our young men and women, Black and white.