Eighteen years is a long time to wait for anything. It is especially hard when you are awaiting justice for the murder of your teenage son. This is what the parents of Steven Lawrence who was murdered in 1993 have had to endure until yesterday, when finally two men were sentenced for his murder.
Steven Lawrence was killed in a gruesome and vile racist attack that has over the years become the barometer of race relations in the UK. The two men convicted of his murder, Gary Dobson and David Norris were handed life sentences for their crime. However, others involved in the murder still remain at large. The initial investigation into the murder in 1993 was dropped due to lack of evidence, and the subsequent civil case also failed.
In 1999 the McPherson report into the murder found that the police force was “institutionally racist” and that this had hampered the investigation into Stephen’s death. The convictions are being painted as a watershed moment in the history of race relations in the UK.
The fact that this time the verdict was guilty is evidence to some of how far British society has come, since that fateful night in 1993.
The Lawrence family will take some comfort in the guilty verdicts, however it does not signal the end of xenophobia in British society or the police. Discrimination is not just about the colour of your skin but about society, media, politicians and state institutions failing to uphold the rights of minority communities. When looked at in this light it is very clear that British society has made little progress in tackling xenophobia.
In the words of David Cameron when discussing multiculturalism, “Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,”. What Cameron was eluding to is a set of ‘universal’ values that everyone must adhere to if they wish to be part of British society. As he later stated, he wants to see a British society knitted together by things such as “the school run to the chat down the pub”. No celebrating of diversity, so long the mantra of secular liberal Britain, more of shoving assimilation down the throats of the Muslim community, in particular.
The case of Babar Ahmed shows the police force have done little to dispel the accusations of xenophobia. Arrested in December 2003 and brutally beaten by arresting officers, he was released 6 days later. He was later re-arrested and has now spent several years in a British jail without trial. The fact that the slurs used during his arrest were against Babar’s faith in Islam is seemingly acceptable, as the arresting police officers were cleared of any wrong doing.
Intolerance towards Islam is not only present in the minds of politicians and some police officers but also the law courts. The recent conviction of Faraz Ahmed for selling copies of the book ‘Milestones’ by Syed Qutb, shows that Islam has been put on trial in the UK.
Some may claim racism to be a thing of the past in Britain, although the recent police shooting of Mark Dugan in Tottenham and the apparently racist murder of Anuj Bidve in Salford say otherwise.
What is beyond dispute is the rise of Islamophobia not only in the UK but across the whole of the liberal secular Western world. The ban on minarets in Switzerland, the banning of the burqa and praying outside in France and the vitriol of some against the UK’s Muslim community highlight the inability of Western societies to successfully co-exist with those who are different to the majority.
With blatant and systemic racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and growing intolerance to anything not conforming to its cultural norms, Britain needs to do more at home to build a better and safer society for all its citizens before waging wars and stamping on foreign values in a misguided bid to replace them with alien and failing liberal ideals.