CROYDON COMMENTARY: On Saturday, hundreds of people turned out in Croydon town centre for the unity against racism march.
PETER UNDERWOOD, pictured right, was among them and here outlines why he believes it is important for us all to stand united
On the night that Reker Ahmed was attacked in Shirley, I was away from my home in Croydon attending a conference. I spent that weekend with hundreds of people who had gathered in Liverpool from all over the world for the Global Green Congress, discussing the issues we were dealing with in our respective countries and the shared challenges we all face. The congress was an opportunity to share ideas, learn from each other’s experiences, and show that we were all part of a family of fellow activists working to save our planet and care for the people who live on it.
In the middle of that atmosphere of togetherness and support, it felt even more shocking to see reports that Ahmed and his two friends had been viciously attacked in my home town, and almost killed, just for being asylum seekers.
I am always appalled by any attack on anyone just because they are different.
It seems even more tragic when the person being attacked is here because they are looking for somewhere safe to live after escaping a brutal regime elsewhere in the world. I’ve written before about why I think being an immigrant doesn’t make someone so different to ourselves; we are all in some way migrants . To quote Russell Brand, “An immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else.” Hardly justification for a putting someone on a life support machine.At the Global Greens Congress it was clear to me that all of us there had unique things to offer – from our own cultures, our histories, and our personal experiences. But at a very basic level, we are all just people. We all have hopes and dreams. We are all trying to make a life for ourselves and our family. We spend our days trying to hold down a job, pay the bills, look after our home and our loved ones, and each of us in our own way is trying to make the world a better place. As Jo Cox famously said, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
And despite this, there are those who want to drive us apart. There are some who want to emphasise difference instead of similarity. Some who see the world in terms of “them and us”, instead of just “us”. Some who would rather see us fighting each other than working together.
In the last couple of years we have seen a rise in hate speech from politicians and the media. And, unsurprisingly, there has been a rise in hate crime in this country. Too much air time has been given to those preaching hate. There have been too many lies spread that try to divide us and too many politicians denying the reality of the communities where we live.
Once you start dividing people up it becomes easy for people to only see the worst in others and only see the best in themselves. It becomes easier to blame others for problems instead of looking at the real cause. It is easier to build a wall than it is to build a bridge.
Some have suggested that stirring up racial hatred is a way of stopping us turning our attention on the rich and powerful who are really messing up our lives. Some claim that immigrants are a threat when in reality they are a benefit to our country. And some people just try to make themselves feel better by looking down on others. Whatever the reason for dividing us, it isn’t constructive, it doesn’t make us happy, and it won’t make our lives better.
When I look round my friends I am proud to see a great diversity in gender, sexuality, race, religion, nationality and in so many other ways. In Croydon we enjoy living in a multicultural society and so when you look at your friends, colleagues, and neighbours you will no doubt see that same diversity too.
This, to me, is one of the reasons why the anti-racism unity march was so important. It is a way of fighting back against the haters. It is our chance to send out a message of togetherness and hope. It is us marching together not standing apart. It is us saying we are a community and their lies will not divide us.
Following the Shrublands attack, I hope the attackers are all brought to justice. But I also sincerely hope that those attackers will come to realise why their act has caused so much distress and why their attack was so wrong. But I don’t want to dwell on the attackers as there is another story to tell.
According to the reports there were other people on that night who tried to stop the attack. There were people who went to help the injured and stayed with them until the emergency services arrived. Since that attack people have contributed thousands of pounds to a fund to support Reker Ahmed in his recovery. And there were hundreds of people who came out on to the streets of Croydon on Saturday to say these attacks are not who we are and we will not be divided.
These are the stories we should be spreading of how a community came together.
These are the messages we should be spreading that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
These are people we should be celebrating.
These are the people that I was glad to march alongside on Saturday and these are the people that should make us all proud to say that we live in Croydon.
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