OLDHAM, England — The shattered windows of the Live and Let Live pub have been boarded up. The burned-out automobile carcasses and police barricades have been removed since Britain's worst race riots in decades broke out last weekend.
But the rage that fueled two nights of pitched street battles between police officers and Pakistani and Bangladeshi youths is still simmering. The wounds inflicted on all sectors of this deeply segregated town on the outskirts of Manchester are open.
"We are a part of this country. I have four children born here," said Abu Khalid, 34, a teacher at the Nusrat-ul-Islam mosque. "We have to respect the laws and people of this country. But at the same time, we have to defend our dignity, our culture and our community."
Police and community workers want to make it through the coming weekend before they will declare the rioting over. Officials are concerned that right-wing extremists will try to provoke racial violence at an England-Pakistan cricket test match today in Manchester, about 10 miles away. The Pakistani team will be given police protection to and from the stadium.
In the meantime, Oldham residents and officials are trading blame for the riots that broke out Saturday night in which angry youths fought police with bricks and firebombs. Fifteen officers and 10 civilians were injured during clashes that were reminiscent of London's Brixton riots in the 1980s.
Police and politicians say right-wing extremists have exploited racial tensions between whites and Asian residents of the former textile mill town that is beset by high unemployment, poverty and accompanying social problems. Asian and white residents blame police, politicians, the media and each other for stirring up trouble.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, campaigning for a second term in the June 7 general election, said the Oldham riots do not reflect the nation's race relations. He voiced his support for the police, who he said were subjected to an "unacceptable" attack.
"This is obviously a problem that has got to be worked through by community leaders on the ground in Oldham," he said. "But I do not think it is typical of the state of race relations in Britain today, where I think the vast majority of people want to live together in peace and harmony with one another."
Northern Towns Struggle Economically
London is an integrated and racially tolerant city. But political columnist Gary Younge, who writes frequently on race relations for the Guardian newspaper, said the Oldham clashes are symptomatic of a broader problem of northern England's forgotten towns--relics of an industrial past, where segregated and alienated residents are suffering from the effects of underinvestment.
He noted that white and Asian youths clashed in the northern England town of Bradford in April, and the Oldham riot was followed by street fights between Asians and skinheads in Aylesbury, on the outskirts of London.
"Minorities and white people all have very little in these towns--and they are fighting because they don't have any jobs or access," Younge said. "The amazing thing is that after two days of riots in the middle of an election campaign, the politicians carry on talking about Britain and the euro. Nobody wants to talk about it."
In fact, race was an issue at the outset of the campaign, when Conservative Party leader William Hague warned that Britain was becoming "a foreign land" under Labor's pro-Europe policies and that the country was a soft touch for "bogus asylum-seekers." He was accused of appealing to xenophobic and racist instincts, and then had to rein in a Tory member of Parliament, John Townend, who went a step further to accuse immigrants of undermining Britain's "homogenous Anglo-Saxon society."
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook responded by dismissing the idea of a British race as fantasy and describing immigration as necessary and desirable for the economy. The proof that Britain had become multicultural, he said, was that the Indian dish chicken tikka masala had become a "true national dish."
The leaders of all three major parties then signed a pledge not to exploit racial issues for electoral gain. But as the white leaders denounced racism, political commentators such as Younge, who is black, pointed out that no one was discussing race with minorities, who represent about 5% of the population.
It was a point made by youths in Oldham again this week.
"You have to live in this community to understand what it's like," said Raz Ali, a 23-year-old resident of Oldham's Glodwick neighborhood, where the riots broke out. "Blair just asked the police, but he didn't ask any of us."