Beyond the EU referendum: organise and fight back against racism!

By Tariq Mehmood

We must not be divided by anti-Islamic or xenophobic campaigns – unless we unite, the night of the long knives awaits us all.

30 years ago, 13 year-old Ahmed Iqbal Ullah was murdered in school, in Burnage, Manchester by a racist youth. Ahmed died defending others from a racist attack. The killer boasted of having ‘killed a Paki.’ There was then a wave of violent street racism. 30 years later, 81 year-old Mushin Ahmed is murdered in Rotherham, by two racists. Mushin was going to the mosque. There is now, fueled by the EU referendum, a rising wave of racist violence and xenophobia, surging on a raging tide of Islamophobia.


Cover of Paikaar magazine, 1986/7. In the photo in the bottom left hand corner, the sister of the murdered schoolchild Ahmed Iqbal Ullah is speaking.

Some of the friends who organised against racism and racist attacks 30 years back have taken different sides in the referendum, and at times have acrimoniously fallen apart. The current tidal wave is not created by us, but by the ruling classes. We need unity. Our differences are not that great as most of us believe: the EU is an imperialist band and Britain is a racist state. Resistance is our only option.

I mention Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, not because there were no racist murders before: there were. It is because I lived close to the school where Ahmed was murdered. The local authorities and ‘community leaders’ called for ‘calm’: ‘let us hand handle it’ – as they did each time this sort of thing happened.

We formed a committee and called for resistance. We called a demonstration and called for all those who opposed racism, including school kids, to unite and protest, during school time. Angry school kids in their hundreds came out.

During my time at school, in Tong Comprehensive in Bradford, over two decades before Ahmed’s murder, I along with my friends was attacked by racists, at school, on the way there, on the way back – and painfully learnt that this could not be fought by me. At my school all Asian kids united, and made our stand. We were heavily outnumbered by the whites – there some white kids who wanted to support us, but were terrified of their peers. Notwithstanding the odds against us, we stood in the playground, some of us armed, and fought back the best we could. The elementary organisation that we developed in school, gave us the chance to go to other schools and stand with other kids, who like us were facing similar issues.

What racism did for us was to make us search for answers: Why had we come here? Why were we being attacked? What is wrong with white people? Who do we turn to? What do we do? We may not have then had the ability to understand many things, but one thing we did know, there was no choice but to fight back. We felt weak and vulnerable only because we were disunited and on our own.

We formed our own defensive organisations, and fought back. In fighting back against street racism, we quickly learnt, that we were at the same time having to fight state racism, and that one fed the other.

How we organized then and what we can do now

During the 1970s and 1980s, there was organised street violence, from gangs of ‘Paki bashers’ to fascist mobs; there were mass murders such as in New Cross; there were anti-immigration campaigns led by organisations such as the National Front. These campaigns were directly fed and fed into by the state, through its racist immigration laws – which were resisted; there were state harassment campaigns such as ‘SUS’, primarily directed at African youth.

The racist street violence of the 70s and 80s was primarily vented on men (although women were attacked in other ways). Unlike the earlier waves, today, much of the street racism is leveled against women, particularly Muslim women, this like its antecedents is fed into by the state machinery, which now has gone into over-drive through its Islamophobic Prevent campaign.

During the ’70s and ’80s many of us decided that we could not sit around and fume about what was happening, but had to do something. That something was the building of organisations that were not only rooted in our communities, but also our own histories. In the eyes of our attackers, we were ‘pakis, wogs and niggers’. It didn’t matter whether we came from Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Bangladesh – we were ‘Pakis’ and our African friends were similarly treated – it didn’t matter if they came from Nigeria or the Caribbean – they were all ‘niggers’. We searched for a common framework for unity. White racists taught us we had come into a white world and often told us we were black and we found strength in blackness. We saw no contradiction in being Asian and black, for we realised that whilst our problems may appear to be due to our skin colour, they were not skin deep. Similarly, the current wave of racism led by Islamophobia, is primarily directed at Muslims, but it is not a theological battle, but a political one and needs a political response?

During the 1970s and 1980s, we organised Asian Youth Movements as our primary fighting bodies: whilst organising under the title of Asian, we saw ourselves as black and organised under the slogan: Black People Have A Right – Here To Stay, Here to Fight. The politics of the Asian Youth Movements reflected a belief that we were connected to the struggles of the previous generation and that racism was inseparable from imperialism. We need new organisations today that reflect the reality of today situation. Here are some reflections on how we organised:

Unite Across Religions: There were phases of attacks in which mosques and temples were targeted. When our places of worship were attacked, irrespective of whose, we all went to defend them. Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christian – we all defended eachother’s places.

Given that we organised as Asians, because we were being targeted for being so, does it mean that Muslims should organise as Muslims?

No one has a right to tell anyone under attack why not to organise. Yes, Muslims should and must organise. Mosques will need defence committees, as will all other places of black people’s workshop – it is only a matter of time. However, this battle cannot be won hidden behind any theological wall.

Self-Defence Is No Offence

It is not possible to have individual defence against organised attacks. These can come in the form of mass picketing/intimidation as is being done today by organisations such as Britain First. The far right is openly organising and arming itself. In 1981, in the case of the Bradford 12, we established the right to have organised and if necessary armed self-defence. We believed that the nature of defence depends on the perceived nature of the attack.

In our organisational structures and through our practice we called for the broadest possible anti-racist alliances. This is the order of the day more than ever.

Tariq Mehmood is an author and long-time anti-racist activist and organizer.


Letter to PM Narendra Modi: Stop Racist Attacks on Africans in India!




To sign this letter please visit the petition page here.

Dear Prime Minister Modi

We the undersigned strongly condemn the horrific killing of Masonda Kitanda Oliver and the spate of violent attacks on African nationals living in India. Our deepest sympathies and solidarity are with the families of the victims. In the last two years, there has been an enormous rise in racist violence against Africans in India. Racial prejudice against Africans has, of course, been endemic in Indian society for many years – linked to historically embedded supremacist ideologies of both caste and colonialism. However, with the rise of your party to power and the total impunity given by the BJP government to Hindu supremacist gangs to harass, abuse and kill Muslims, Christians and Dalits, as well as those who racially attack people from the North-East of India, racism against Africans has also escalated.

Africans face a constant barrage of racism. Everyday experiences include being taunted on the street with overt racist slurs, denied accommodation by landlords and being stereotyped as drug-dealers, if they are men and sex-workers if they are women. In addition, there have been brutal attacks and murders and sexual violence. In February this year in a vicious attack in Bangalore, a mob assaulted a Tanzanian student, partially stripped her, and set her car on fire.

We would like particularly to highlight the events of the last month in Delhi. On May 20, 24 year-old Congolese teacher Masunda Kitanda Oliver, was bludgeoned to death. This was followed within days by a brutal attack on Nigerian priest Kenneth Igbinosa as he returned home with his wife and four-month-old son, and attacks on four separate groups of Africans also in the capital.

Far from condemning these attacks and murders, members of your government and party have trivialised them, denied or deflected their racist nature, or even implicitly justified them. For example V.K. Singh, Minister for External Affairs in your government, claimed that the press were “blowing up [a] minor scuffle as [an] attack”, your foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, declared that the attacks were “criminal acts”, but were “not racial” and tourism and culture minister Mahesh Sharma commented that ‘Africa is unsafe too’, The attempt of the government to reframe these attacks as criminal acts rather than racially motivated hate crimes allows the Indian Government to try to safeguard its economic interests in Africa whilst denying the racist ideology deeply embedded in your own party and administration, clearly demonstrated when the Tourism minister in Goa (a state ruled by your party), Dilip Parulekar, commented with overt racism that Nigerians make trouble in India and ought to be deported.

We support the decision of the African diplomatic community to boycott the Africa Day celebrations over the killings and Eritrean ambassador Alem Tsehage Woldemarian’s demand that the ‘problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India’ be addressed by the Indian Government. We in Britain are horrified and dismayed at these recent developments. Not only do Indians and other South Asians living in Britain face racism and racist violence, but there is a long history of people of African and South Asian origin working together in solidarity to confront and challenge British racism. We demand (1) that you ensure that immediate action is taken to bring those responsible for the recent racist attacks – including those politicians indulging in racist hate-speech like Dilip Parulekar – to justice, (2) that the survivors and the families of the victims are provided with all possible support and assistance by your government and (3) that the government of India takes immediate steps for the development and systematic implementation of policies which aim to confront and eradicate racism in India at all levels as a matter of the utmost urgency.

Hana Sandhu, South Asia Solidarity Group

Explo Nani-Kofi, Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination, Ghana and London

Asad Rehman, Newham Monitoring Project

Esther Stanford-Xosei,  Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe

Naeem Malik, South Asian Alliance

Jendayi Serwah, Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAPP).

Nirmala Rajasingam, Freedom Without Fear Platform

Sara Calloway, Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike


zac goldsmith leaflet


As a desperate Zac Goldsmith accuses Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan of giving ‘cover to extremists’ the racism and Islamophobia of the Conservative Mayoral campaign could not be more blatant. One element of this has been the barrage of recent propaganda material  targeted at Indian and Sri Lankan voters which is not only deeply racist and a despicable attempt at colonial-style divide and rule, but also completely misrepresents the views of South Asian people in London about Indian PM Narendra Modi.

We condemn the campaign by Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron which:

  • Dredged up once again tired racist stereotypes of Asians as all owners of ‘corner shops’ and other small businesses for whom ‘protecting property’ was the only concern (never mind the Tory policies which have forced small owners out of business in favour of its corporate retail giant friends and funders), whilst simultaneously using these stereotypes to promote the usual dog-whistle scapegoating of the people the Tories would like us to believe commit robberies (surprise, not the Camerons and the others named in the #PanamaPapers).
  • In an almost pathetically transparent and inept piece of scaremongering, simply invented a devilish Labour ‘jewellery tax’ because, apparently, everyone knows that all Indians and Sri Lankans have piles of gold jewellery stashed away which they are much more worried about than jobs, housing, transport or any of the issues which other Londoners are voting on in these elections.

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Ambedkar statue LSE

What took place at the LSE Students Union India Forum

Saunvedan Aparanti

When I saw the following details for the LSE debate on Facebook, I knew I had to be part of it as the Kanhaiya Kumar JNU phenomenon has awoken the revolutionary in me and I believe we are witnessing something in India that hasn’t been seen since the Indian independence movement.

‘The events at Jawaharlal Nehru University that led to the arrest of Mr. Kanhaiya Kumar have become the source of the latest political controversy in India. But who’s right and who’s wrong? Is this a simple question of nationalism vs. free speech? Or is there more? What of the role of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (right-wing all India student organisation)? And is there still a place for sedition laws in contemporary India?
Come find out about this and pose your questions to our panelists, who will shed light on both sides of the debate.
Moderator: Mr. Suhel Seth
Speakers: Dr. Sambit Patra (National Spokesperson, BJP); Mr. Sachin Pilot (Member of Indian National Congress); Mr. Manish Sisodia (Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Aam Aadmi Party)’

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Fighting Caste Discrimination and the Hindu Right in India and Britain-Panel Discussion


In India the suicide of Dalit research scholar and activist Rohith Vemula has led to a massive movement against caste discrimination and violence, highlighting both the continuing institutionalized violence of caste at all levels of Indian society as well as the particular determination of the current Modi government and its associated stormtroopers of the Hindu Right like the RSS and the ABVP to crush Dalit political assertion and demands for basic rights.

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