20 August 2009

UAF back Birmingham United campaign

The Stirrer's Birmingham United campaign to show the city's peaceful support for our cultural and racial diversity has won backing from Unite Against Fascism. Mike Wongsam, Chairperson West Midlands UAF explains why.

Twice in recent months, Birmingham has played host to racist protestors. Now there is a threat they will return again. How should the people of Birmingham respond?

Adrian Goldberg has suggested a "Birmingham United" event to give people of different colours and varying faiths a chance to show to the outside world the true face(s) of this great city. It is a great idea, and one that Unite Against Fascism will strongly support.

We think the best, and most effective, response to those who would spread hatred and division is for Birmingham to come together in a spirit of unity. Birmingham is a multi-cultural city and proud of it. We are one society and many cultures. Our diversity is one of the things that make this city special.

We do not want to see a repeat of the violence that broke out on August 8th. If the Birmingham United idea can be turned into reality it would be the best possible demonstration of our rejection of these hate-mongers, and the best possible assertion of the true face of Birmingham. It should be peaceful and united. It deserves the support of all of us.

The story of August 8th, though, should not be distorted. There is an attempt to paint anti-fascist protestors as "outsiders" and "trouble-makers", no different from the racist thugs who came to cause the trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was obvious to anyone who was there that the anti-fascist protestors were almost exclusively from Birmingham. Large numbers of young people assembled because they feel, rightly, that this is as much their city as anyone else's. And they were not prepared to turn the other cheek when repeatedly provoked by racist gangs hurling abuse.

The days when Black and Asian people felt they had to cross the road rather than risk a confrontation with racists are long gone.

Unite Against Fascism called the protest, responsibly negotiated with the police at all stages, and provided stewards. It is, however, asking a lot for volunteer stewards to achieve what the police were ultimately unable to do in the face of repeated racist provocations.

Those who think this anger can be whipped up by "outsiders" or those with a "political agenda" are deluding themselves. Many people assembled under the banner of UAF, but the truth is that the vast majority were not members of UAF, and most had arrived after hearing from friends that the "BNP" were coming to abuse Muslims in our city centre. In the age of the internet, news travels fast.

Repeated racist demonstrations will inevitably provoke a response. The anger that was felt by these young people cannot be turned on and off by anybody, and certainly not by UAF. But this risks creating a dangerous situation in our city centre. That is a challenge for all of us. And we all have a responsibility to do something positive to respond to it.

In his August 6 column in the Birmingham Mail, Adrian Goldberg said: "In the absence of a ban, it would be nice to see some forthright condemnation of this protest from figureheads in the church and politics, but I guess civic leadership is something we lack in Birmingham right now".

Quite right. It is not enough for us to bury our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away. All of us who oppose racism and fascism have to stand together and speak out against those would divide our city and inflame tensions.

Let us show that Birmingham really is united.

Join the Birmingham United Facebook group here.

The Stirrer

(Stirrer editor and Birmingham Mail columnist Adrian Goldberg also hosts a nightly phone-in show on TalkSport Radio, between 1 and 5 am.)

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