Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thugs damage Britain’s reputation – let’s build a memorial for Mohammed al-Majid

Over the past few days I have been saddened, and sickened, by news of the tragic death of Mohammed al-Majid in Hastings. Mohammed, a young man of 16 with his whole life before him, apparently died as a result of an attack by local youths. Police are treating the incident as racially motivated and witnesses have described how Mohammad was trying to escape the scene when he fell and struck his head on the pavement. Other witnesses insist local youths were also kicking Mohammed’s head and stamping on him.

Whatever the details of Mohammed’s death this is an appalling time for his family and friends; Mohammed’s father, who sent his lively, intelligent son to Britain to perfect his English, found himself sitting by his child’s death bed in King’s College Hospital, surely every parent’s worst nightmare.

Speaking as an Iraqi who has lived happily and peacefully in Britain since 1990 I want to try and ensure that Mohammed’s death does not damage relations between Britain and the Arab world. We must not permit thugs and racists to blemish Britain’s reputation and deter foreign students from studying here.

Britain has a great tradition of defending civil liberties and the rights of ethnic minorities. It has built one of the world’s most successful and tolerant multi-racial societies – this is a reality which can be witnessed on a stroll through any city street. Although I am an Iraqi and nothing could ever destroy my love for my home country I am also proud to be a British citizen. I want to defend my adopted country from bigots and racists and I feel confident that the vast majority of Britain’s population feel the same.

Returning to the particular case of Mohammed’s death there are several things the British authorities can do to reassure all foreign students and their families. The police have acknowledged the role of race in this attack and this is a good beginning. They must continue with this policy of transparency – uncomfortable facts must not be covered up to save anyone’s face. Investigation of this crime needs to be meticulous but it would be helpful if it does not drag on too long, permitting rumours and allegations to multiply.

Mohammed’s family is entitled to compensation for the death of their son; the sum paid should reflect his youth and potential earning capacity over the course of what would almost certainly have been a long and successful life. Prompt payment of compensation would save Mohammed’s family from enduring the uncertainty and pain of prolonged legal debates.

On a wider level I believe British society should use this sad case as an opportunity to inspect itself and acknowledge its shortcomings. I have mentioned the relaxed, cosmopolitan atmosphere which can be found in many British cities. However, in the countryside and smaller towns racial tensions and prejudices are often not acknowledged and addressed. This needs to change and I believe it can, given the British people’s adaptability and willingness to compromise and negotiate.

Regarding the authorities in Qatar and other Arab countries they must hold Britain to account for Mohammed’s despicable murder. At the same time they should not let this tragedy discourage their students from studying in Britain. One of the lessons of Mohammed’s death is the need for co-operation and understanding between different countries and cultures. Sending talented, energetic young people to study abroad is one of the surest ways of achieving this goal.

Britain and the Arab world have long-established ties and they must be preserved and built upon. I chose Britain as my second home because I believe it is the European country with the best insight into Arab culture and politics. I have always admired Britain’s liberal traditions and so do many young Arabs, that is why they want to study here. Surely building on these shared goals would be the best memorial to Mohammed’s sad and untimely death.

No comments: