Thursday 14 July 2016

Rotherham 12 Defence campaign: ‘Self defence is no offence’

The launch meeting for the campaign in February

The launch meeting for the campaign in February

by Phil Turner

From Unity, anti-racist and anti-fascist magazine July-August 2016, issue 16. Email UAF to ask for printed copies

SELF-DEFENCE is no offence. That’s the slogan of the “Defend the Rotherham 12 Campaign” to support 12 Asian men facing jail following an anti-fascist protest in the wake of a racist murder.

Police arrested the men after a protest against fascist group Britain First in the South Yorkshire town on 5th September last year. This was a few weeks after the racist murder of 81-year-old grandfather Mushin Ahmed, who was beaten to death as he walked to his mosque for early morning prayers.

The attack on Mr Ahmed followed a total of 18 incursions of racist and fascist organisations trying to exploit the child sexual exploitation (CSE) scandal which hit the town. These demonstrations have coincided with a rise in racist incidents reported since the Jay Report into the abuse was published last year. The report identified 1,400 victims of CSE.

Many people in the town had had enough. It was a breakthrough that 400 anti-fascists joined this demonstration. A key element was the significant number of Asian people who supported the UAF protest, for the first time since the child sex exploitation scandal broke.

But police surrounded the anti-racists and marched them away, past a pub, which was well known as a haunt of racists. The 12 say they had to defend themselves from the racists, who hurled abuse, but they have been charged with violent disorder. Their trial is due to start in early October.

Around 200 people attended the launch of the Rotherham 12 defence campaign. Lawyers Imran Khan and Matt Foot will represent the defendants along with Michael Mansfield QC.

At the meeting people compared the situation to the arrests after the Bradford riots of 2001. Following a series of violent fascist incursions into the towns of Oldham, Leeds and Burnley, the National Front (NF) planned a march through Bradford. Many young Asian men came out to defend their area. The police contained anti-fascist protesters. Anger led to a riot. In the aftermath it was blamed on mindless violence and the role of the fascists was largely ignored. Some 200 jail sentences were handed out to local Asians totalling 604 years.

Last September’s fantastic show of unity against Britain First showed how things are changing in the fight against racism as the refugee crisis intensifies. The Rotherham Unite Against Fascism (UAF) slogan “Enough is Enough—Muslim Lives Matter” followed the shocking murder of retired engineering worker Mr Ahmed.

UAF had to take on the arguments about the need to mobilise when many—understandably so for the Asian community—did not want to directly oppose the racists. But it made a stand and built respect and support. Support from British Muslim Youth, a Rotherham-based organisation set up at the height of the Islamophobia over child CSE, has been important.

The slogan “Justice for the 1,400—don’t let the racists divide us” has been the message from Rotherham UAF since the horrific scandal shocked and angered us all. A campaign based on that slogan was launched by trade unions in Rotherham which called for a “People’s Inquiry” into the scandal.

Anti-racists had to argue against the focus being on Asian men. CSE is a much bigger problem. The latest report from Rotherham Safeguarding, produced by Public Health Rotherham, reveals the majority of offenders in Rotherham are white.

Black and white unity is essential both to demand justice for the victims and to oppose the racist UKIP and fascist organisations that cynically exploit the issue to whip up anti-Muslim racism and division.

The same police force involved in the Rotherham scandal oversaw the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster and the Orgreave picket during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

The economic devastation of Rotherham, cuts in children’s services, social workers’ heavy workloads and appalling attitudes of those in power towards girls from poor backgrounds are some of the real causes. Young women’s voices were not allowed to be heard.

UAF has built up a united front including many newly radicalised young people, trade unionists, Labour Party members and community activists. Fighting racism and austerity has to go hand in hand. 

The Rotherham 12

On Saturday 5th September 2015 the fascist group Britain First called a protest in Rotherham. It was the 13th fascist protest in a little over a year.   

The far-right is attempting to build by blaming all Asians for the child sexual  exploitation scandal in the town.

A counter-protest was held by anti-racists. Some Asian men on the protest were kettled by the police. They were only allowed to leave by a route that took them past a pub filled with far-right supporters.

The 12 demonstrators say they came under attack and had to defend themselves.

Defend the Rotherham 12 Campaign

The campaign has called a protest outside the court when the case opens in October. Check links below for details.   

Phone: 07592 968 424
Facebook: Support the Rotherham 12

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