Page last updated at 05:48 GMT, Friday, 22 July 2005 06:48 UK

Wales' race tension and tolerance

Mustafa El-Menshawy
By Mustafa El-Menshawy

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain with elders of Neath Islamic Centre
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain held talks with Neath Islamic Centre elders after 7 July

Egyptian journalist Mustafa El-Menshawy spent 10 days in Wales, a period which included the 7 July London bombing. As London absorbs the shock of another attack, this is his view of race relations in Wales.

In one of the oldest mosques in Cardiff, there is a feeling of tension, which also hangs over the small district predominantly populated by Arab and Muslim immigrants.

After Friday prayers, most worshippers express their condemnation as well as fear they could be the target of knee-jerk revenge attacks by racist whites after the 7 July bombs that rocked London.

Some fear the worst could be yet to come, with hostility against the estimated 22,000 Muslims in Cardiff.

Many Muslim inhabitants say Cardiff has always been a better place to live, with a more tolerant population and less discrimination
After the first London blasts, the Muslim Council of Britain said it had already received more than 1,000 e-mails containing threats and messages of hate.

But many Muslim inhabitants say Cardiff has always been a better place to live, with a more tolerant population and less discrimination than other areas in the UK.

The city now boasts 12 mosques to accommodate the growing number of Muslim immigrants, mostly Somalis and Asians. Muslims in Cardiff live side by side with old Cardiff residents in several mixed areas - thanks to official cooperation and relative public receptiveness.

Police cordons in London
Police set up cordons in London after the 21 July incidents
Local school curricula also give the students the chance to explore knowledge about Islam and Muslims. And the local media are generally tolerant and relatively sensitive - evident in the care they took not to point any finger after the London attacks.

This widely claimed racial harmony in the city was apparent at Friday prayers, when the preacher at the Cardiff Islamic Centre, Mohamed Tolba, condemned in the strongest words the London bombings. He said that the bombings targeted Arabs and Muslims in the UK, too, as these were the people who could bear the brunt of any reaction.

Degree of integration

In the streets of Butetown, an inner city suburb of Cardiff, immigrants look to have bigger concerns, including those related to their home countries, than their degree of integration into Welsh society.

Many immigrants come from hotspots and war zones, including Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

Eisteddfod officials said more than any other region, next year they wanted participation from the Middle East
According to researchers, integration between different Muslim groups living in Cardiff is what is needed first. While Sudanese are more integrated, Yemenis seem keener to preserve Yemeni culture.

Each of these and other communities tends to live near each other - fuelling fears that "ghettos" could develop populated only by immigrant communities.

Several refugees in Cardiff also face language hurdles and find it difficult to get a job until their applications for asylum have been settled - a process that can take as long as seven or eight years. Unemployment also pushes life to the extreme, with drug addiction and drug dealing thought to be becoming more prevalent in poor immigrant areas.

Silence for London bombing victims in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Wrexham
Silence was observed across Wales for the 7 July bomb victims
The Welsh and Cardiff city governments try to address these problems with more urban regeneration - and sometimes with increased monitoring of immigrant areas and programmes to foster tolerance among Welsh people.

One way of fostering tolerance is exposing residents to different cultures, including those of immigrant communities in Wales. In Llangollen, in north Wales, the International Eisteddfod is held annually bringing together troupes from dozens of countries.

This year, the event drew 4,000 performers and visitors from 50 countries, but the festival has just a few Arab countries participating.

Eisteddfod officials said, however, that more than any other region, next year they wanted participation from the Middle East.

Cardiff has also just hosted another annual event, an international food and drinks festival bringing different countries' dishes and brews. Interestingly, some local Muslims have begun learning Welsh to help in their assimilation.

No wonder that in the Butetown mosque, sign directions and notice boards convey messages in Arabic and Welsh.

"As far as we are living in Cymru, we have to be part and parcel of it, whatever different interests or concerns we have," said Mohamed Tolba, preacher at the Cardiff Islamic Centre.

The attentive worshippers nodded in agreement.

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