LONDON: A British Muslim father whose speech urging calm proved “pivotal” in defusing deadly riots in the UK in 2011 has said that his faith helped him remain calm, but that he still grieves a decade after his son was killed in the violence.
Tariq Jahan’s 21-year-old son Haroon was hit by a car alongside brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, as they tried to protect local businesses in the city of Birmingham from being attacked by looters, in scenes that authorities feared would escalate into race riots.
Jahan addressed a large crowd just hours after Haroon’s death to “plead” with people to end the violence, in an act that Derrick Campbell, a former advisor to then prime minister David Cameron, said played a key part in preventing the riots escalating along racial lines.
“Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm for our communities to stand united,” Jahan said at the time. “I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites, we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? What started these riots and what has escalated? Why are we doing this?
“I lost my son. Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home. Please.”
A decade on, Jahan told The Telegraph newspaper: “I had no idea the impact it would have. Obviously I was emotional because of the loss of my son. Everything came out from the heart.
“I think people were in shock. They were like ‘hold on, this guy has just lost his son and all he can say is calm down — and what possible reason can we have for carrying on?’ It made a huge impact, it stopped people in their tracks.”
Jahan added that his Muslim faith helped him deal with the dreadful situation in a measured way.
“It was the month of Ramadan at the time. We were fasting and it’s a time to look into yourself and reflect,” he said. “This is something that I am proud of. I can look back on my life and say I did something positive, I did something good.
“Hate won’t get you anywhere, but the biggest thing, showing love to everyone in this world, it really does, it unites everyone and I think that’s what happened here.”
Campbell, a former government advisor on violent crime who was with Jahan as he addressed the crowd in 2011, said that the riots had become “so worrying” that he traveled to the area himself in an effort to coordinate with authorities to quell the violence.
“That (Jahan’s) speech will go down in history, in my view, as one of the most effective and timely speeches I have ever witnessed,” Campbell said.
“We started to see and get intelligence that there were fracture lines developing. This was quickly moving into what could have been an all-out race riot.
“Cameron had some decisions to make about the deployment of police, maybe troops, and I was expected to go and address the nation. As we were driving from police headquarters to Dudley Road, the site of the incident, we had a discussion and it dawned on us: Would Tariq be prepared to talk to the media and to the country? So we called him while we were driving to the scene and he said yes, and we were very grateful for that.”
However, Jahan added that despite the significance of his actions preventing further loss, he has not yet recovered from the death of his son.
“Time doesn’t heal. How can you forget that your son was killed? You witnessed everything, you tried to save him and you watched the life ebb out of your son’s body,” he said. “I won’t forget. I can’t forget.”