Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Race hate crime in Cardiff

Yesterday morning, I attended the launch of a new research report entitled 'Race Hate Crimes in Cardiff', at the Greyfriars HQ of Race Equality First, Cardiff. The report was described as only a snapshot of the situation, based on enquiries of under 200 people, but it was indicative of cause for concern on several levels.

About three quarters of those interviewed said they had experienced an incident of racist abuse or assault, but not reported it - either because they didn't know how, or to whom a report should be made, or because they didn't think it would lead to any action. Police response to complaints was worryingly mixed, from terrible to satisfactory. About a third of those surveyed said their abuse related to the fact that they were wearing some form of religious dress among women or distinctive beard among men. You can read the Western Mail's report

The city centre came out as an area of the city with three times higher a rate of abuse incidents than other. This is understandable. It's an area where people can be anonymous, behave in ways they wouldn't, if they were being watched by their neighbours. Also excessive drinking, results in behaviour less inhibited, more prone to aggression. Cardiff is more diverse in the character of its population now, both ethnically and religiously, than it ever has been, right across the city, not just down the Bay.

Nobody should forget that 'Tiger Bay' was one of the first places to experience 'race riots' back at the turn of the twentieth century, linked to unemployment and the fears arising from it. Islamophobia has been stoked up by sterotyping and sensationalist reportage in the populist media since 9/11 and 7/7. Cardiff 's population is more diverse than ever, but some who live in or frequent the city are either anxious or resentful of this.

Cardiff is my home city, yet I have endured more incidences of verbal abuse when out in public in my 'religious dress' in seven years, than in the previous thirty three years of and ministry put together. These days, clergy get attacked on their own doorsteps, and police officers out on the streets.

Contempt for authority, disrespect towards those who are visible as members of a faith community is increasingly common. Secularism is proving itself to be no guarantee of neutrality or indifference towards a person's faith or their standing the community. Ignorance and contempt of the contribution of faith communities to society has helped breed an attitude of disrespect and intolerance towards people who openly express their faith. Like it or not, this leads to vulnerable people being victimised. Nowhere is this negative attitude better illustrated than in today's ill informed attack by the national secular society on the part played by hospital chaplains in the work of the NHS.

A long time ago I had to learn to put up with people taking the mickey out of me when I walked the streets of a miners' housing estate, or went into a pub, and bat back with good humour - 'tease and be teased' was the name of the game. It was a testing start to making relationships and gaining an entry into a close knit community. I chose to accept this as part of being a religious professional.

Nobody, for any reason whatsover should have to put up with insults or threats because they cover their heads or their bodies, as a matter of belief or self-respect. It is outrageous, unacceptable. It is also linked to policy that has made our city centre a free-for-all place where anything goes. Police and ambulance services have to pick up the pieces. The rest of us pay the bill, one way or another.

I'd like to believe that the tide is turning at last, on the basis of another report today on fresh efforts to improve the reputation of Mill Lane, as an open air restaurant area. Let's hope that better social controls on binge drinking, AND a concerted effort to gain support for exposure and sanctioning of those who display racist attitudes and abuse people for showing their religious identity.

There's a tendency to think that attitude changes can all be achieved by better schooling, long term. This disregards that fact that much of what gets learned in school is forgotten or discarded. Peer group pressure, and the right kind of public opinion formation to back the enforcement of anti-discrimination and race hate legislation is what's most needed.

You can download the Report here

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