Labor members of Parliament called on their government yesterday to protect Asian immigrants from racists in the wake of a vicious assault by white youths in the East End of London.
The demand came after a riot Sunday that saw 150 to 200 "skinheads" descend on immigrants' shops in Brick Lane with stones, clubs, bottles and bricks.
The rampage ended with thousands of dollars worth of damage and, surprisingly, only one hospitalized victim, a 55-year-old grocer, Abdul Monaf. He was knocked unconscious and had to have five stitches in his lower lip. Monaf, a British navy veteran, survived three years in a Japanese prisoner war camp in World War II.
The outbreak of racial violence against Asians and West Indians has now become an annual feature of the warm-weather season here. "Paki bashing" (for attacking Pakistanis), as it is called by its practitioners, has even taken on a tinge of respectability.
Last January, Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, warned that non-white immigrants threatened British values and called for a halt to their entry. She expressed her sympathy with the frustration claimed by followers of the National Front, an openly racist party that seeks to expel non-whites.
The sternest call for government action yesterday came from John Ryman, a labor member who often capitalizes on events for headlines. He accused Home Secretary Merlyn Rees, the minister ultimately responsible for police, of "shirking his responsibilities" and "playing footsie with the National Front."
Ryman urged more police in the riot-torn area, banning of Front meetings there, and special protection for Belgalis who complain to police.
Another Laborite, Martin Flannery asked Rees to conduct a possible inquiry into the affair and insisted that police "defend lawful citizens against these racialist thugs."
At the end of the day, Rees had ordered a private examination of Sunday's assaults. He called for reports from the police and race relations workers in the East End.
The Labor government has been thrown off balance by what it sees as Thatcher's threat to gain Labor voters among working-class whites in areas like the East End. Last summer, the Labor Party launched a pamphlet drive against the National Front and racism. But it has not issued a single new leaflet since Mrs. Thatcher opened her campaign.
Most recently, the Tory-controlled London city hall - called the Greater London Council or GLC - has come up with a "solution" of its own. Its housing officials proposed to protect East End Asians from assault by segregating them in public housing highrise developments.
This proposal, which surfaced last week, has drawn bitter protests from the Asians who insist they want to live in an integrated society.
A typical view came from Golam Mustafa, secretary of a mosque in Brick Lane, the escene of Sunday's riot.
"The GLC's ideas are outrageous," he said, "and we are very angry about them. We are strongly opposed to any idea that we should be made to live in a ghetto of the council's making. How would a ghetto stop the stone-throwing, the attacks and insults? Would the white hooligans, a tiny minority, stop picking on us just because we moved house?"
The chairman of the GLC housing committee, Jean Tatham, is to meet East End Community groups tonight and is expected to make it clear that ghettos will not be imposed without assent.
The focus of the current tension is the historically overcrowded Spitalsfield quarter. There, about 20,000 Bengalis-speaking immigrants live and work in the same cramped clothing plants where immigrants Jews labored before in the 1930s.
Bengali men, women and children there run a constant gauntlet of whites who taunt, spit at, curse and occasionally beat them. A 17-year-old Asian recently was stabbed to death by whites near the scene of Sunday's outbreak.
The Bengalis regard the police as unsympathetic and too few in numbers, unwilling to acknowledge the racial hostility behind the incidents.
After Sunday's riot, the police insisted that the affairs had no connection with a National Front meeting held there earlier in the day. Some of the rioting youths, most with close-shaven heads, were seen wearing Nation Front Badges.
The police, moreover, asserted that the affair was not a "premeditated" racial assault. In the end, they picked up 20 white youths and released 17. The other three were charged with threatening behavior.