Racist war of the Irish gangs
Not far from the red, white and blue paving stones, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) graffiti and the “Chinks out” notices scratched outside Chinese takeaway restaurants in south Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, Hua Long Lin was at home watching TV when a man burst in and smashed a brick into his face. His wife, also in the room, was eight months pregnant. The couple had moved into the terrace two weeks before.
Neighbours expressed regret, but one white family told a community worker they couldn’t offer a Chinese family friendship in public or they would be “bricked’’ too. “It’s like Nazi Germany,’’ they explained.
Northern Ireland, which is 99% white, is fast becoming the race-hate capital of Europe. It holds the United Kingdom’s record for the highest rate of racist attacks: spitting and stoning in the street, human excrement on doorsteps, swastikas on walls, pipe bombs, arson, the ransacking of houses with baseball bats and crow bars, and white supremacist leaflets nailed to front doors.
More than 200 incidents were reported to police in the past nine months, although many victims don’t bother complaining any more.
But in the past weeks fear has deepened. Protestant working-class neighbourhoods are showing a pattern of orchestrated house attacks aimed at “ethnically cleansing” minority groups.
It is happening in streets run by loyalist paramilitaries, where every Chinese takeaway restaurant owner already pays protection money and racists have plentiful access to guns. The spectre of Catholics being systematically burnt out of similar areas during “the Troubles” (in the late 1960s) hangs in the air.
So-called peace walls between Protestant and Catholic communities are graffitied with swastikas and signs that read “keep the streets white’‘.
Both local unionists and the nationalist Sinn Fein have warned this month that someone is likely to be killed or burned alive in their home if the campaign does not stop. But there are no signs of it abating.
The Village in south Belfast is a run-down network of loyalist terraces where unemployment is high, union flags sag from lamp posts and almost every family has a link to loyalist paramilitaries.
In post-peace process Northern Ireland, communities like this are more segregated than ever — through choice. Last year five student houses, home to mixed Protestants and Catholics, were attacked until they were vacated. The siege mentality against “outsiders’’ is rife.
In the past eight weeks pregnant Chinese women and new mothers have been forced out of terraces and more than a dozen Chinese people have been attacked.
The Chinese community, the largest ethnic minority in Northern Ireland, has been in Belfast since the 1960s, but there are rumours that a “quota’’ on new arrivals is being enforced. Last month Ugandan and Romanian families were burned out.
Many elderly Chinese people do not now leave their homes after 3pm. The best they can hope for is an egg or ice-cream cone thrown in their face or their shopping bags stolen.
The Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association have denied paramilitary involvement but some suggest it could be “rogue elements” within their ranks with far-right sympathies. One local newspaper has suggested the attacks began after a Chinese restaurant owner refused to pay protection money.
There has always been a cross-over of far-right groups with loyalist paramilitarism, while small racist groups are said to respect the loyalists and style themselves as “paramilitary groupies”. “Combat 18” is written in marker pen near Chinese takeaways in The Village and groups such as the White Nationalist Party have penetrated elsewhere, threatening one anti-racist activist.
The far-right British National Party recently announced it is to field candidates in Belfast’s next council elections to capitalise on feeling against the tiny number of asylum seekers arriving.
Desmond Birnie, a local Ulster Unionist Assembly member, said: “The pattern of these attacks suggests that we are seeing a rerun, albeit on a smaller scale, of the tactics used by the Nazis in the 1930s.’‘
Across Belfast, Sara* sat behind closed curtains in her terraced house. Her front window is regularly painted with “KKK”, “black people out” and “I hate niggers” slogans.
A Zimbabwean businesswoman in her 30s, she never opens her curtains to let natural light into the house, as the sight of her in the living room is a provocation to local teenagers. The shouting through her letterbox becomes unbearable.
“Sometimes when I’m in the bedroom, I see an egg hit the window and slide down. The writing on the window is replaced whenever we clean it off. Often I just leave it there. It has happened continually for seven months.”
There are 4 000 to 5 000 Muslims in Northern Ireland, most born locally, but there is no purpose-built mosque for fear of attacks. The community worships in converted houses it can barely squeeze into.
Last year planning permission was denied in the Protestant-dominated area surrounding Portadown amid a local campaign warning people that residents would be “kept awake by wailing’‘.
Planning permission has now been granted, but the mosque won’t be built, as the community is too afraid. In the past eight months, at least eight families have been forced from their homes.
One family was shot at through their kitchen window, a number of Muslims were stabbed, one was left in a coma after a beating, others have had legs and noses broken. The community avoids speaking out. Whenever it is quoted in the media, the attacks get worse.
“It’s a matter of time before we have a fatal attack,” said Jamal Iweida, who runs the Islamic Centre in Belfast. “The attacks are increasing. I can feel the atmosphere on the street. I have to be prepared to be called names at least once a day. I have a beard so I’m called Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, or I’m told ‘Paki go home.’‘’
Duncan Morrow, of the Community Relations Council, said Northern Ireland, traditionally a place of emigration that outsiders avoided for 30 years during the Troubles, now cannot cope with the reality of multiculturalism.
He describes a culture of sectarianism that tolerates violence in young men. Racism has always run alongside it, but is only now being noticed.
“We have a lazy toleration of racism in this community. The situation now [in Northern Ireland] is what might have happened in Britain in the 1950s.’‘
Members of the Chinese community talk of children being mercilessly bullied and ostracised, even a Chinese boy who won musician of the year. The political parties are under pressure to formulate some tough anti-racist policies to a community where racial discrimination legislation was only introduced 10 years ago.
But most of all, Belfast waits for the loyalist paramilitary leadership, which controls the working-class communities and young lads who live in fear of punishment beatings, to make a statement or move that shows the attacks will not be tolerated. — Â