Terror in London: Centuries of tolerance to immigrants has made our capital a great city

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The Independent Online
GREEK STREET, close to Friday night's explosion, takes its name from an Orthodox community that was based there in the 17th century. It is as good an illustration as any of the cultural and social diversity that has been a feature of London for centuries.

It has always been a tolerant place. In the past 150 years, some of the world's most significant dissidents, thinkers and leaders-to-be have made their homes in the capital: Marx and Lenin; Gandhi and Nehru; Nkrumah and Kenyatta. More recently, Middle Eastern dissidents, including those opposed to regimes in Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have made London their base.

Whole ethnic groups have settled more permanently. Golders Green and Stamford Hill in north London are centres for the capital's sizeable Jewish community, while Brixton, in south London and Brent, in north-west London, are centres for the capital's Afro-Caribbean population. Almost one in 10 of all black Africans in the UK live in Lambeth, where they constitute about one in 15 of the population. Elsewhere, parts of the East End and Southall in West London are home to generations of immigrants from Bangladesh, the youngest and fastest growing of all the ethnic groups. More than half of Britain's Bangladeshis live in London, and just under half of them, 43 per cent, live in the borough of Tower Hamlets - scene of last week's Brick Lane blast. The centre of the city is home to the largest Chinese community in the country. Across the UK as a whole, ethnic minorities make up 5.5 per cent of the population - three million people, according to the 1991 Census. In London, that figure is 20 per cent and expected to rise to 28 per cent by 2010.

In France, such a make-up has been enough for overtly racist politicians such as Jean-Marie Le Pen to enjoy substantial electoral success, but in London far-Right groups have continually failed to win votes in any significant numbers.

Nationals from 34 different countries make up communities of more than 10,000, including 50,000 Cypriots, 12,000 Vietnamese, 21,000 Poles and 20,000 Turks. Just over 40 per cent of the UK's Middle-Eastern population live in London, but unlike other ethnic groups, the areas of highest concentration in inner London are generally the affluent boroughs: Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea. The fact that nearly 150 languages are spoken in the city's schools is testament to this unique diversity.

"London had always been a culturally diverse city," according to the author Peter Ackroyd. "It's a city built on immigration and it has needed outsiders to flourish. It can take you years to feel you belong to some cities but in London it really takes about three months."