The Leicester riots show us how useless the BAME label now is

The Leicester riots show us how useless the BAME label now is

    (Tomiwa Owolade)

(Tomiwa Owolade)

Successful multicultural societies are difficult to achieve. When people from different environments have mixed together, they have often fought over religious or ethnic differences. Tribal loyalty usually trumps any attachment to a universal humanity. Modern Britain is far from perfect, but it is one of the most successful liberal and democratic multicultural nation-states in history.

One of the reasons Britain has succeeded in this is that it has encouraged people to be both proud of their culture and of a greater British identity. The risk with this type of multiculturalism is when communities are proud of their culture and nothing else. This has exploded into reality in Leicester.

It started with a cricket match. The Asia Cup match between India and Pakistan on August 28 in the United Arab Emirates has led to riots and vandalism in Leicester between male members of the city’s Hindu and Muslim communities.

Masked men have marched through Muslim areas chanting Jai Shri Ram, a religious song now often used by Hindu nationalist groups in India. A Hindu temple in the West Midlands was targeted in a violent protest in which missiles and fireworks were reportedly thrown at police. So far, 47 people have been arrested.

Some have blamed the conflict on social media. Leicestershire Police Chief Constable Rob Nixon has said that “there are significant things there that are false”. Both sides have used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to stir up complaints.

Others have also mentioned international forces. The conflict has been a boon for the Hindu nationalist media in India. They can use it to support their world view of Hindus being besieged by Muslim extremists. As the commentator Sunny Hundal has written, India’s ruling political party, the BJP, is trying to export its ideology to Britain.

It is thus a combination of disinformation in social media and sectarian politics in South Asia imported to the UK. But the conflict ultimately makes nonsense of terms such as BAME (black and minority ethnic), which homogenise ethnic minority people. As this case shows, they are not all the same. Distinctions matter. We should not assume that the shared experience of not being white should override cultural differences.

If we start by acknowledging the differences between different communities, rather than brushing them aside, we can build from that to a wider British identity that includes people of different faiths and backgrounds.

Pradyumna Pradip Gajjar, a Hindu religious leader from Leicester, has said this about the conflict: “The two faiths … arrived in this city together, we faced the same challenges together and made this city a beacon of diversity and community cohesion.”

The two faiths are different, but they can (and must) live together. Otherwise, the multicultural British dream is seriously threatened.

In other news…

When I was 15 I was playing video games, studying for my GCSEs and trying (and failing) to talk to girls. Ethan Nwaneri may be going through some of this right now, but he is different in one way: he has played in the Premier League.

The midfielder from Enfield made his debut as a sub for Arsenal last Sunday in their 3-0 win at Brentford. He became the youngest player in the history of English top-flight football, aged 15 years and 181 days.

As an Arsenal fan, I’m happy for Ethan, but I’m also a bit nervous. Making your Premier League debut at a young age doesn’t guarantee anything. Of the 10 youngest players to play in the Premier League, even die-hard fans struggle to remember names such as Matthew Briggs, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Gary McSheffrey and Jack Robinson. Early talent is amazing, but we should be careful: it is only the start of Nwaneri’s career in a tough profession.

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