The Reker Ahmed attack was about mob violence

By - Wednesday 19th April, 2017

It’s not about Croydon, it’s not about Brexit – it’s about thuggery

As a Kurdish teenager recovers in hospital from a sickening attack that left him fighting for his life, the citizens of Croydon are trying to come to terms with what happened on Friday 31st March on the Shrublands estate. How could such a savage beating take place on our doorstep? Why Croydon? Why England? Why now?

Judging by vitriol spouted in much of the national press and on social media, this was bound to happen. What did we expect, living in such a violent, racist borough that shines like a beacon of Brexit-induced hate? If the attack itself wasn’t disturbing enough, it’s been followed by an extraordinary outpouring of tasteless, unfounded comments, Croydon-bashing and political point-scoring that only served to highlight prejudices.

No sooner had police announced that this was being treated as a ‘Croydon hate crime’, then the likes of MP Diane Abbot were claiming that it was an inevitable result of Brexit. The insinuation was that this was an attack by Croydon’s racist thugs who want immigrants shipped out of the UK. As the fallout increased in the press, a quick search for #Croydon on Twitter – that wonderful debating forum that much of the media now reprints as ‘news’ – revealed racism is well and truly alive in the UK, at least online.

The coverage implied the attack was the result of Croydon’s black gang culture

First, there were people screaming that Croydon is a hotbed of Brexit-voting yobs. They didn’t mention colour, but the inference was there. Then, when the police published images of some of the suspects, the Brexiteers and Croydon haters were gleefully bleating that the attack was a symptom of Croydon’s violent black gang culture.

This horrible episode turned into an almighty attack on Croydon and its people, and a slanging match between the far right and the far left. And all this while, the young man at the centre of it all was lying in intensive care. Fortunately, as I write this, he is on his way to recovery.

What makes this appalling crime and the vitriol which followed so hard to understand is it doesn’t fit the Croydon I know. This is a town and borough with an extremely diverse and growing population and a strong spirit, where people are generally warm, down to earth and accepting of one another. Croydon is not exactly the new utopia, but it is consistently and unfairly derided for problems shared by many urban areas across the UK.

The Financial Times says that this is the sort of place where this was bound to happen

The fact that this particular crime took place in Shrublands, a relatively green estate next to Addington golf course and bordered by suburban West Wickham and Shirley was all but lost in the ranting that followed the attack. It doesn’t fit the narrative. Neither does the fact that absolutely nobody except those involved knows exactly what happened. The police investigation has barely begun.

A few weeks on, and the national media is beginning to cover the story in a bit more depth, in the way they do when they come to a place for five minutes and make disparaging remarks. The Financial Times this week even went to Shrublands, which it described as ‘ragged’. Commenting on a moment of silence held for the Kurdish refugee, the FT went on to say: ‘Shrublands residents – many wearing tracksuits, some drinking – glared at the outsiders but kept their distance.’ The FT article, like many, basically says that this is the sort of place where this sort of thing was going to happen due to rising tensions between locals and ‘outsiders’. There may well be tensions in Shrublands, as there are in many areas of London and the UK, but this alone does not justify a brutal attack.

Like the FT, I have no idea what really happened that fateful evening or why, but I do know that this was an orgy of violence by what appears to have been a very angry mob. Could this have happened outside Croydon? Of course it could. Would it have prompted the same types of headlines and comments if it had happened in Clapham or anywhere else in south London? Do Croydon citizens really think it was a direct result of a referendum on leaving the EU?

‘Scum’ is the only thing we can say with certainty

The angry mob and a ‘them and us’ mentality has always existed in this world and probably always will. Thankfully, it only occasionally rears its ugly head when people of similar violent persuasion come together at the same point in time and something triggers vile mob behaviour. Croydon MP Gavin Barwell described the culprits as ‘scum’. And he’s right. It really is the only thing that we can say with certainty.

So let’s try to put an end to the incessant Croydon bashing and political point scoring for a moment and wait for the police investigation to unfold. Hopefully, this will get to the bottom of what sparked such a disgusting attack. Then we can look at how we as a community, and as a country, can try to reduce the chances of this kind of attack happening again. Hopefully, the culprits will be given the sentence they deserve for the sake of the poor refugee who got caught up in an extreme example of mob behaviour in that most innocuous of circumstances: waiting for a London bus.

Ian Lavis

Ian Lavis

I'm not even a proper Croydoner. I moved here 16 years ago. Then I abandoned it for Marseille but something drew me back here last year. Maybe it was the banter. I write and edit online and print communications, I teach English to non-native speakers, and I drink lots of tea. I have a thing for Croydon, Marseille, Arsenal, architecture and bears.

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  • NeilB

    Excellent article.

    • Ian at English Cup of Tea

      Thanks Neil!