Tariq Jahan has yet to bury his son, one of three Pakistani men run down and killed this week as they tried to guard family shops from marauding carloads of rioters.
Yet amidst his personal grief, Jahan is focused on the need for peace in Birmingham, a multicultural city of 1 million that has suffered repeated clashes between its South Asians, Caribbean blacks and the largely white police force. He wants that cycle of enmity and bloodshed to end with the death of his 21-year-old boy, Haroon, and his friends Shahzad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.
“I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites: We all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home, please,” Jahan appealed hours after giving the kiss of death to his dying son on the pavement nearby his home.
His audience included both international TV cameras and huddles of angry young Muslims debating the need to strike back — against those in the black community they blame for Wednesday’s hit-and-run attack.
A day later, Jahan’s face and message were on the front page of many British newspapers and a string of lawmakers praised him in Parliament.
Jahan said in an interview on his doorstep that he hoped to do “anything I can do to stop the situation from getting any worse.” He was still awaiting the return of his son’s body, which under Islamic law should have been buried within 24 hours of his slaying. Police forensics specialists still were studying the bodies Thursday.
But Jahan expressed doubts that the 20-something generation would listen to their elders and reject the impulse for vengeance.
“To the kids, if you are listening to a grey-bearded old fellow that you have no respect for, then try to understand this: When you are my age, you will look back at your lives and think how stupid you were,” he said.
On nearby doorsteps, young men offered vivid and brutal predictions of what should happen next.
“We’ll hunt down these ni**ers, cut off their heads and feed them to our dogs,” said Amir Hawid, 20, who lives near the Dudley Road scene of the killing and trained in the same amateur boxing club as Jahan’s son. “With Allah, you can run but you can’t hide.”
While the riots that have swept England this week have involved looters of every creed and hue, the street anarchy also has exposed racial fault lines that run beneath the poorest urban quarters, particularly in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city and its most ethnically diverse. A fifth of the city’s “Brummies” are Muslims, most commonly of Pakistani origin. About 7 percent are black, mostly Caribbean, in background.
The vengeful statements of some Muslims mirror the violence of previous years, such as in 2005, when a neighboring Birmingham district suffered two nights of street fighting between Caribbean and Asian gangs over allegations that a group of Pakistani men had raped a 14-year-old Jamaican girl. Two men were stabbed to death, firefighters faced machete-wielding mobs, and Muslim graves were desecrated.
The west side also suffered riots in 1981, 1985 and 1991 fueled by ethnic-minority hatred of white police and black resentment of the Asians’ dominant position as shopkeepers.
Birmingham’s police say they already have arrested the suspected 32-year-old driver of the car on suspicion of murder and 11 others they consider involved in the attacks on the Muslim-owned shops of Dudley Road.
On Tuesday night, scores of young Muslim men filled the sidewalks outside Dudley Road’s sidewalk strip of nine small businesses and a mosque. They armed themselves with clubs and stones after complaining that police had failed to stop looters the night before.
They pelted several cars of looters who trawled up and down the street seeking vulnerable businesses, while many locals were still at midnight Ramadan prayers.
After 1 a.m. Wednesday, witnesses said, two carloads of would-be looters did a U-turn at the top of the road, gunned their engines, and accelerated towards the packed sidewalk. They say the first car narrowly missed the scattering crowd but the second directly struck the three men, throwing them high in the air and 20 to 30 feet down the road.
Jahan said he heard the thump of the car’s impact followed by wails of terror. He ran and began trying to resuscitate one of the smashed bodies. Only then did a friend tell him that the crumpled, body behind him was his son’s.
The other two men were declared dead at the scene, while Haroon Jahan expired in a nearby hospital. Jahan, who also led Muslim prayers at a midnight candlelight vigil at the scene of the killings, said his faith would not allow him to seek blame or vengeance.
“I don’t blame the government, I don’t blame the police, I don’t blame nobody,” he said. “I’m a Muslim, I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate. Now he’s gone. And may Allah forgive him and bless him.”