Christina Patterson: Our young men are dying in a war, and it's not in Afghanistan

The Saturday Column

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So, after 18 years of grief, 18 years of police and legal bungling, 18 years of the strain that broke their marriage up, and 18 years of watching the men who may have killed their son strutting in the streets, Doreen and Neville Lawrence may finally get the chance to see some kind of justice.

This week, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said that a man accused of being in the group that approached their son, Stephen, at a bus stop in Eltham, and yelling out racist abuse to him, and surrounding him, and stabbing him, and leaving him to bleed to death, and who was tried for his murder in 1996 and acquitted because of "insufficient evidence", can be tried again. New evidence, he said, had been found.

If the trial of this man and a fellow suspect leads to a conviction, it won't remove the pain of those years, or of a police inquiry which was found to be incompetent, and which led to the publication of a report that concluded that the police were "institutionally racist", and which had, according to one of the authors of the report, "a strong smell of corruption". It won't bring their son back.

But at least it might bring his parents some kind of peace. If they'll never see their son fulfil his dream of becoming an architect, at least they can begin to find a way to lay his memory to rest. Perhaps they can even find a way for their son to be remembered not for his violent death, but, as his mother said, when she was launching an architecture prize in his name, as "a young man who had a future."

Abdeslam Belamouadden would like his son, Sofyen, to be remembered as "a good, funny boy". He "made friends and family laugh," he said. He "loved football and played for Chelsea's youth team," he said. He "enjoyed playing on his computer, and talked of being a pilot." Sofyen Belamouadden won't be a pilot. He won't play for Chelsea. He won't make anyone laugh. A year ago, he was chased by a group of 20-odd teenagers, and kicked in the head as he fell down the stairs, and stabbed in the heart, and lung, and major blood vessels, during the rush hour, at Victoria station, outside the booking office of the District and Circle line.

The fight was planned on Facebook. One of the boys who took part in it had gone to Argos in his lunch break to buy a set of kitchen knives. Another brought a samurai sword. One of the boys who punched and kicked Sofyen did it, he said, because he wanted to be like "everyone else". Another went home and put a message on Facebook. "Youths called us out," it said. "One got caught and shanked up."

On Monday, two teenagers were found guilty of murdering Sofyen Belamouadden. Three were found guilty of his manslaughter. At the Old Bailey, his father watched CCTV footage of him being kicked, and beaten, and stabbed. He watched, in other words, his son die.

Sofyen Belamouadden was 15. So was Negus McClean, who was stabbed in Edmonton in April, and bled to death. So was Temidayo Ogunneye, who was killed in Camberwell last week. He was the fifth teenager to be stabbed to death in London this year. Negus McClean was killed after a fight over a BlackBerry. Temidayo Ogunneye's BlackBerry had been stolen two hours before he died. But these young boys, who are nearly all black, aren't dying for BlackBerries. They're dying because they're in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The wrong place is London, and the wrong time is now. It's the wrong place, because if you live on certain estates, or in certain streets, or in certain postcodes, you'll see joining a gang as a natural rite of passage, like your middle-class neighbour's gap year. It's the wrong time because the pressure to be part of a gang is bigger now than when Stephen Lawrence was killed, and getting bigger every day. "As I see little kids go to secondary school," said a youth worker on the Today programme on Monday, "they go straight into that gang culture. They are," she said, "10 and 11 years-old."

She was speaking as part of a report about Truce 20/20, a charity that aims to bring conflict resolution skills developed in war-torn states to young people in Newham. "When I was in Afghanistan," said a young Afghan man who now lives in Newham, "I was thinking that it was only Afghanistan that was totally torn up with war and violence and conflicts. I was thinking that when I go to England, it will be a calm, cool country. But when I came here," he said, "I saw the same stuff going on that I've been growing up with."

Newham isn't Afghanistan, and nor is Edmonton, or Camberwell. But half the children in Newham live below the poverty line, and violent crime is almost double the national average. Many of them, and in Edmonton, and in Camberwell, feel that they don't have much of a future. They want to feel that they belong to something. They want to do what their friends do. They want, as a former gang member said in the same item on the Today programme, "to have a back-up".

"I wanted," said a young black man I stopped to talk to on my way home the other night, "to have someone to stand up for me." "It is," said his friend, "like your family". "You know," said another friend, "that they're on your side." They weren't, they said, in gangs now. They had, they said, grown out of it. They hadn't been stabbed, and they hadn't killed.

It takes more than a charity to address the culture which has led to teenagers being slaughtered on our streets. It takes more than stop and search, or talks in schools, or successful convictions, or harsh prison sentences. It means tackling poverty, and expectations, and family structures, and aspirations. It means, above all, tackling education. And it means knowing, when you're a victim, that the police are on your side.

There's a war on our doorstep. If we can find millions to fight someone else's war in Libya, and send our young men to die for a war in Afghanistan we probably can't win, surely we can also find some money, and resources, and time, and thought, and surely we can also find the will, to fight this war at home.

Too much instant calling for people to be sacked

Another day, another man in the soup. This one's called Satoshi Kanazawa and he's a lecturer at the already slightly-blighted-by-its-love-in-with-dictators LSE. Dr Kanazawa has published research about the sexual attractiveness of women. And what he's found is that Asian women are considered the most attractive, and black women the least.

The so-called research was done among white, Asian, black and native American men and women, who were asked to rate each other's attractiveness. He doesn't say whether this was a bunch of people in a pub, or a study conducted on the scale of a census. He doesn't say whether the "findings" were shaped by the cultural or racial prejudices of the people who took part. He does say that "Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races" and that "women with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features".

If I were a black woman, I don't think I'd like to hear a man who looks a bit like a Japanese Mussolini talking about me in this way. As a strapping blonde, I'm not that thrilled by the conclusion that what men (and women) find attractive is tiny, delicate, black-haired women. But I don't think I'd be calling, as lots of people apparently are, for Dr Kanazawa to be sacked. If men were sacked every time they said something stupid, there wouldn't be too many still employed.

My own research, by the way, indicates that what men find attractive is women who are black or white, mixed race or Asian, big or small, fat or thin. What they find attractive, in other words, is what's right under their nose.

The words that cut through the babble

There's been an awful lot about sex this week. There's been an awful lot about rape. There have been an awful lot of people attacking a man who has never, even in the aphrodisiacal climate of the Westminster village, attracted even the merest whiff of a sex scandal, and an awful lot of people defending a man who can't seem to walk to the photocopier without triggering accusations of sexual harassment.

But in the torrent of words that has flooded our newspapers, and our TVs, one phrase has haunted me. The lawyer acting for the West African maid at the centre of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case, who wants to remain anonymous, and who says she is so traumatised by the experience that she is still afraid she'll be physically attacked, said that she "feels alone in the world".

The woman, according to the lawyer, left her homeland in "very difficult circumstances". She is, at 32, a widow. It would be nice if some of the people rushing to defend a very rich and powerful man could also spare a thought for her.



c.patterson@independent.co.uk

twitter.com/queenchristina_

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