Prejudice, the Far Right and Community Tensions in a Multicultural City

 

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Jon Garland, University of Surrey

On 3 November 2014 Channel 4 broadcast ‘Make Leicester British’, a programme that, in the channel’s own words, brought together ‘four British citizens and four recent migrants in Leicester to explore the topics of immigration, integration, community and British identity’. The multicultural city of Leicester, with its status as a plural city (where no one ethnic group makes up a majority of the population) was an ideal site for such a documentary. However, at the beginning of the programme the city was portrayed as being somewhat divided, and the complexities of inter-ethnic relations in a multicultural city were, for some, lost within the show’s rather simplistic ‘Big Brother’-style format (Fagan, 2014).

The issues of integration, hostility and prejudice explored in the programme were especially fascinating for me as I’ve been involved in a large-scale hate crime victimisation project that was also based in Leicester and also touched upon many similar issues. This research, ESRC-funded Leicester Hate Crime Project, explored victims’ experiences of hate crime and expectations of agency responses over a two-year period from 2012-2014. The project looked at all forms of targeted victimisation (not just those that are officially recognised as hate crimes) and employed a mixed-methods approach, including undertaking a survey of victims of hate crime and conducting of over 300 interviews with victims too. The sample of victims accessed by the research team (1,421) was among the very largest to have ever taken part in a single study of hate crime.

The study revealed a surprising and worrying lack of recognition amongst victims of the term ‘hate crime’ and of ways of reporting victimisation; a tendency to normalise victimisation as just being a ‘routine’ part of their everyday lives, and a reluctance to report experiences of being targeted to the police or other criminal justice or third sector agencies organisations. The findings from the research can be found at the project website at http://tinyurl.com/mseo6o4and in two previous INHS blogs written by my fellow researchers on the project, Neil Chakraborti and Stevie-Jade Hardy, at https://internationalhatestudies.com/blog/

Interestingly, at the time that the project’s fieldwork was being undertaken in Leicester and ‘Make Leicester British’ was being made by Channel 4, a significant, and troubling, inter-ethnic issue was brewing in the city. During 2012, a seemingly innocuous decision taken by the local authority regarding the future use of one of its scout huts inadvertently sparked a rise in community tensions, triggered the involvement of far-right activists and culminated in a religiously-aggravated hate crime. Leicester City Council’s initial decision to allow the As-Salaam Trust (a Muslim community group) the sole use of the disused hut in the mainly white area of Thurnby Lodge sparked protests by local residents who felt that all communities should be able to use the facility. Some of these residents formed the Committee for the Forgotten Estates of Thurnby Lodge and Netherall, which organised a series of demonstrations against the decision outside Thurnby Lodge Community Centre.

However, it soon became apparent that far-right groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party were infiltrating these protests in an attempt to ‘cash in’ on the discontent of local white residents. On Christmas Eve 2012 these rising tensions resulted in a local man leaving a pig’s head outside the Community Centre in an apparent attempt to insult and intimidate the next users of the Centre, a Muslim group, as the pig is an unclean animal for those of Islamic faith. Subsequently a local resident was successfully prosecuted and given a suspended prison sentence at Leicester Magistrates’ Court after admitting to a religiously-aggravated public order offence. Although the Council eventually reached a compromise solution which satisfied both ‘sides’, by allowing the Forgotten Estates Committee to lease the scout hut while providing an alternative facility for As-Salaam, the case exposed, in a more troubling way than Channel Four’s ‘Make Leicester British’, just how fragile relations can be between different ethnic and religious communities, even in plural cities where multiculturalism has been embedded for decades.

 

References

Channel Four (2014) Make Leicester British at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/make-leicester-british, accessed 17.11.14.

Fagan, C. (2014) Reactions to Channel 4’s ‘Make Leicester British’ at http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/reactions-Channel-4-s-Make-Leicester-British/story-24113047-detail/story.html, accessed 17.11.14

[1]  This blog is, in part, a summary of a case study undertaken for the forthcoming second edition of Hate Crime: Impact, Causes and Responses, by Neil Chakraborti and Jon Garland, to be published by Sage in the spring of 2015.

 

 

 

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