Community action in Southall, then and now

Yesterday, news agencies all over the world carried stories of Sikhs in Southall standing guard outside of Southall Gurdwaras to protect them from the rioters who had attacked neighboring wealthy Ealing the day before. It was a feel good story with great visual appeal, captured nicely by this picture:


Two things got missed in this simple story, however. First, the story of community self-defense is much larger than just Sikhs or Southall. All residents of Southall worked together, across religious lines, to guard each others’ places of worship (Gurdwaras, Mosques, Mandirs) and businesses. Nor was Southall the only place where this happened. Bangladeshis mobilized in Whitechapel, Brick Lane, and Bethnal Green; three desi men were killed while defending their neighborhood in Birmingham.

There’s another layer here though, which is about a deep mistrust of the police, dating back over 30-40 years. Southall was a place where white supremacists could murder a desi teenager and not get prosecuted, where cops could engage in brutality, and where, in 1979, peaceful protesters fought back after being viciously bludgeoned by mounted police. One protester was killed by police, but nobody was ever held responsible for it. This video clip tells the story well:

So when the police issue warnings against “vigilantism” to discourage community self-defense groups, it’s likely falling on deaf ears. Members of the community will work with the police, but they’re not about to stand down and trust the police to protect them.

8 thoughts on “Community action in Southall, then and now

  1. Good to see some people with guts. I think this type of thing is easier to do in Britain for South Asians, as they tend to be more concentrated and not as spread out as they do here.

  2. None of the guys in the picture looks physically fit. The rioters on the other hand…..

    It was interesting to see that most of the rioters in London were black while almost all the rioters in Birmingham and Liverpool were white.

    I think these riots by non-muslims, white and black, and the massacre of Norwegian teenagers by the native blond right-wing Muslim hater relieves a lot of the pressure Muslim immigrants in western Europe were facing.

  3. Compared to the communal riots in India where 100s are killed, this does not look so bad. So far there have been 5 deaths, 3 desis and 2 blacks.

    I noticed that the white and black British underclass seem to have far more in common with each other than with desis or Muslims. If the right wing anti-immigrant BNP and EDL ever decide to cynically use these nominally Christian hoodlums in a pogrom against non-Christian immigrants it could get very bloody…

  4. The issue I have with the news coverage is that they are linking it to the economic situation or injustices. It started out peacefully with an issue about racism-Mark Duggan being sho-t but was hijacked by thugs who just wanted to take advantage and loot and attack whatever they felt like. This riots seems like it has more to do with the Vancouver riots than the Brixton riots. There’s no issue these looters want to address and bring attention to (why loot small hardworking business owners from their own communities if it was. Why burn down the homes of the poor and disadvanted?) It just seems like a trend with the G8 riots, the riots last year over student tuition, vancouver, etc to just take any excuse to feel entitled to take and destroy what you want. Protests good,riots bad. Protests against injustices are good. but riots that victimize people who are already victimized is pathetic.

    • This riots seems like it has more to do with the Vancouver riots than the Brixton riots.

      Spot on. They’re not protesting anything at all. They’re just bored, have no money, and don’t have much to lose and everything to gain, including notoriety, street-respect, and perhaps a 46″ LED TV.

      This explains why the poor parts of South Asia has a lot of rioters and anarchists there posing as Koranic warriors. They’re just bored people with too little resources and too little hope for the future.

  5. For some reason, I’m positively giddy about these UK riots. That society is too caste-ridden and too classist. There is no upward (or downward) mobility in that nation. I believe that, to some extent, it’s OK to take a 46″ LED TV if the game is rigged against your favor. Hopefully, we’ll have protests against the Tea Party here and how they’ve hijacked the USA.

  6. Been calling up family and watching news/twitter these last few days here in London. I’m appalled at the behaviour of these young people and the lack of a proportional response from the government (as are most British people). This has what has necessitated communities to take protection into their own hands and I for one am glad to see it. I used to think Ali G was hilarious – having run into the real life versions in the town of Staines: moronic, violent and unpredictable, I’m not so sure any more. There is no accountability for such young people here – not within their famillies, schools or, as the whole world has seen now, not even in public. What I can’t believe is how social workers are coming on the news and saying, ‘oh we don’t defend their actions, but we need to listen to our youth because they’re feeling alienated.’

    There is no ethic of hard work among such people – blame the Polish immigrants, blame the government for taking away your benefits, blame everybody but yourselves for not even finising high school! I know kids who moved to East London from Uganda with five pounds in their pockets who are now finishing PhDs – sheer hard work and commitment – and they have no sympathy whatsoever for these miscreants! I agree with one sentiment – the system has indeed failed them; it’s failed to convey the ideals of hard work and good citizenship to these yobs!