But is this Croydon? Reflections on the attack on asylum seeker Reker Ahmed

By - Tuesday 18th April, 2017

Let’s put aside platitudes about Croydon being a harmonious multicultural area

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

This isn’t Croydon! has been a widespread response to the recent horrific attack on young asylum seeker Reker Ahmed, set upon at a bus stop on Shrublands estate on Friday 31st March. It was repeated on Tuesday 11th April, at the Council organised meeting held at Croydon Voluntary Action, at which the borough’s leading politicians reiterated that the attack did not represent what Croydon is.

I believe that those who say this are both right and wrong. This attack does not fit their conception of what Croydon should be. But it happened in Croydon, and was carried out by people from Croydon.

Despite the desire to condemn, when faced with such behaviour we have to ask critically: how could this occur? How could people end up like this? How can we make changes to our society such that in the long term this behaviour does not happen?

These are the words of local activist and educator Charlotte Davies in the Croydon Citizenas she reflected on how those who perpetrated the vicious attack could behave in such a way. In a lengthy debate in response to her article, Charlotte went on to make the point that “humans are tribal, they have a very strong preference to be part of a group and are frightened of being outside the group”. If we use this observation as a starting point, then we need to put aside the platitudes about Croydon being a successfully diverse and multicultural area.

There is deep-seated hostility towards refugees, immigrants and east European workers

In reality, Croydon is an area in which a myriad of different groups operate with little real engagement with each other. The attack on Reker Ahmed does not represent the Croydon of the community, faith and political activists who try to work to encourage interaction between these groups. However, their work is undermined by the growth in faith schools separating children and young people from each other and reinforcing their sense of belonging to what I would describe as ‘silos’ according to their traditions. Faith activists who want to strengthen and increase faith schools need to consider what the implications of this are.

Different Christian sects are divided over sexuality and women; different Muslim sects have a history of intolerance towards each other. There is deep-seated hostility among many white British, and worryingly also among former immigrants and their descendants, towards newer groups of refugees, immigrants and east European workers. This is expressed in all sorts of ways, such as objections to the type of shops in district centres and to street drinking.

Croydon contains an underbelly of organised racism

We have differences and hostilities between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, and between those who took different sides in political turmoils, war zones and civil wars. Into this potentially toxic mix, the main political parties and the media have thrown attack after attack on refugees and immigrants. Hate crime has been on the increase in Britain in the lead up to and since the Brexit referendum result. The metropolitan police reports a sharp increase in gun and knife crime, suggesting a readier resort to violence. We have an underbelly of organised racism as reflected in the votes for the BNP candidates in the 2014 local council elections.

The attack on Reker Ahmed illustrates the existence of another Croydon; one of fear, hostility, increasing stress of everyday life, alcohol-fuelled rage, stretched incomes, increasing homelessness, the exploitation of workers over pay and conditions, illegal workers, and an increase in violence between young people resulting in a series of recent stabbings. While it may not seem to be connected, the continued littering and fly-tipping by people working and living in the borough also displays an attitude of ‘could not care less’ about fellow Croydonians.

Incomers to Britain have been met with discrimination and racism in the past

The meeting at CVA on Tuesday 11th April heard yet again the myth of Britain’s proud record on refugees and immigrants. But Britain expelled Jewish people in medieval times; towards the end of her reign Queen Elizabeth I wanted all Africans expelled; there were objections to Dutch and Huguenots in the 17th century; there were race riots against black, Asian and Arab seamen and residents in port cities in 1919, the government made it difficult for Jewish refugees from Nazi controlled areas of Europe to come here. It took individuals and campaign support groups to ensure that groups like the Kindertransport children (like Lord Alf Dubs) could come here. The government interned many of the adult refugees.

When people came from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent after the Second World War to help re-build Britain, they were met with discrimination and racism by some sections of the community. The Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry confirmed the existence of institutional racism in the police and this has also existed in many other organisations. And so the list goes on.

It has been Britain’s anti-racist campaigners and believers in international solidarity who have provided the welcome and support to refugees and migrants, from the anti-slavery campaigners welcoming fugitive slaves from the United States in the 19th century, to the Basque children from the Spanish Civil War, to the Chileans after the military coup. The hundreds who took part in a march through Croydon town centre on Saturday 8th April, organised by Stand Up Against Racism, are continuing that tradition.

If we want to turn the tide to really create a caring, supportive Croydon, we have to strengthen and build community and anti-racist organisation further, find more ways for different groups to positively interact with each other to interlink the ‘silos’, and create a climate of opinion where ‘could not care less’ attitudes are not acceptable.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Ian Marvin

    I’m probably a little more optimistic in nature than Sean, however I am wholeheartedly in favour of integrated education.