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The Truth Behind Britain's Riots By: Theodore Dalrymple
Telegraph | Friday, October 28, 2005


The rumour that a 14-year-old black girl had been caught shoplifting by a Pakistani shopkeeper in the Lozells area of Birmingham, and subsequently raped in revenge by a score of his compatriots, is highly reminiscent of the blood libels that used to sweep through Tsarist Russia at the end of the 19th century and led to vicious pogroms.

According to the standard blood libel, Jews would abduct a young Christian and drain him of all his blood for ceremonial or sacrificial purposes. The fact than no one ever witnessed such a ceremony or sacrifice only added a sinister verisimilitude to the rumours: for, of course, all ritual murders were carried out in the strictest privacy, and therefore by their very nature could never be witnessed.

The girl in Lozells has not been found (I should be very surprised if she were), nor has she come forward to tell us of her terrible ordeal, and by now, she is in any case completely irrelevant to the situation. For it is in the nature of such allegations that, even if false, they are true, at least in the minds of those who are determined to believe them.

Lozells is a very run-down district, full of sleazy cafés, inhabited by many people of Jamaican origin and notorious for the drug dealing that goes on there. I do not think that anyone would call it an outpost of sexual or bourgeois propriety, though there is still, particularly among the women, a strong church-going, hat-and-glove-wearing element. It is not a place for a quiet evening stroll. The surgeons of the hospital that serves it have, in late years, become much more experienced at dealing with bullet wounds.

Adjacent is the much more ethnically mixed Handsworth, famous for its riots, especially in good weather, but once a leafy suburb. Here are to be found sari shops, purveyors of Indian sweets, greengrocers selling 10kg sacks of onions for £1.49, and butchers who, by means of prominent signs in their windows, advise their customers to read the Koran.

It is one of the complaints of the people of Lozells that Pakistani shopkeepers have taken over the small businesses of Lozells that sell items of special interest to people of Caribbean origin. These small businesses used to belong to blacks, but do so no longer. This is deemed to be humiliating, and somehow a manifestation of a wider injustice.

Relations between the two "communities" (which themselves are hardly monolithic in their composition, attitudes or conduct) are far from warm. It is the complaint of some blacks that the Pakistanis do not treat them with the respect that it is every man's due, a respect that, in the minds of at least some young men, is indistinguishable from fear. And it is certainly true that people from the Indian subcontinent are hardly free from racial prejudice, and that for many of them a black man is several rungs below the top of the human ladder - at the very bottom, in fact.

On the other hand, you don't have to speak to many shopkeepers in Lozells, or areas like it, to hear of experiences that disincline them to a favourable impression of black youth; and, like most people, they generalise from one or several bad experiences, and make assumptions about everyone who physically and culturally resembles those of whom they have had those bad experiences. The Pakistanis may not believe that the 14- year-old girl was serially raped, but they will have no difficulty at all in believing that she shoplifted.

Such are the joys of multi-culturalism. The situation has, in my view, been inflamed by years of reflex political correctness on the part of the authorities and the authors of official reports that coin phrases such as "institutionalised racism" - a blood libel, in the sense of being impossible to disprove, if ever there was one.

We now live in a political culture in which a sense of grievance stands as its own justification: you are wronged if you think you are. Thus, the definition of bullying employed by many NHS trusts for disciplinary purposes is merely that someone should feel bullied: there is no requirement whatever to establish that it is reasonable that he should feel thus bullied. The reason for this absurdity is not hard to seek: it increases the power and provides the locus standi of bureaucrats to interfere endlessly in the lives of employees, and gives them the extra work by which they prove the indispensable nature of their posts. The more grievances the better, therefore.

The resentment caused by the takeover of businesses in Lozells by Pakistani businessmen is, of course, absurd, though it has been offered as a reason for the frustration of some of the local rioters. Unless the businessmen took over by illicit means - for example, by force and intimidation, which seems to me most unlikely - they must have done so because they were better or more dedicated businessmen than those they replaced, shrewd and prepared to work long hours, as well as to employ members of their family in the running of the businesses. In short, they offered customers better service than their predecessors.

It is characteristic of the grievance culture that it should encourage people to blame others for their discontents, rather than to reflect upon themselves to find possible ways out of the impasses in which they find themselves.

In some circumstances, of course, there really are institutional barriers to self-improvement: under apartheid, for example - though even under that system's grotesquely unjust laws it was possible to do better or worse. Be that as it may, nothing like apartheid exists in Lozells (unless it be self-inflicted) to explain the present discontents.

We have reached the stage when it is difficult even to speak publicly of such matters as the Lozells riots with frankness and without self-censorship, but only the abandonment of politically correct speech and thought will prevent repetition and worse than repetition. It is not so much the truth that will set us free, but the ability and willingness to seek it fearlessly.

Of all the paradoxes of the situation, none is greater than that the Muslim traders of Lozells, among whom an unthinking anti-Semitism is probably widespread, should now find themselves in the position of the petty-trading Jews of Tsarist Russia, Moldavia and Romania.

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Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.


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