Mark Steel: That, Mr Blunkett, is a clue to your parallel-lives puzzle

'What, I wonder, does it take for judges to accept a racial motive in the case of the Leeds players'
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The Independent Online

I wonder whether David Blunkett is still puzzled about why some Asians prefer to live "parallel lives", particularly in towns in the North. Especially as some people go out of their way to welcome them into British culture, even inviting them to take part in the traditional pastime of being chased up a back alley outside a night club before having their face bitten off and being kicked to within an inch of their life. If the tradition had been respected fully, there would have been a couple of skinny girls in short white skirts shrieking "leave him, Jonathan, he's not worth it", but nonetheless it was an impressive attempt at cross-cultural integration. Maybe now the Leeds Asian community will return the favour and invite the football team to break the bread at Ramadan.

The judge in the case involving the Leeds footballers insisted that racism played no part in the events, which seems a little strange as one of the last things Sarfraz Najeib heard before being chased was "do you want some, Paki?" Maybe the judge thought this was one of those quirky little Yorkshire sayings, like "ay up flower". Or perhaps he was confused as to why it wasn't "ee, thou'll be wanting some, Paki." Either way, this evidence wasn't allowed to be part of the trial, and the issue of racism was ruled out so thoroughly that when Sarfraz's father raised it in a newspaper interview during the first trial, the trial was abandoned.

Because only the most over-sensitive liberal could imagine "do you want some, Paki" has any connection to race. The judge must assume it gets yelled at white people all the time, but because on this occasion it was said to a Pakistani, everyone jumps to the conclusion there's some racial connotation. Political correctness, eh, where will it end? What, I wonder, would have to take place for these judges to accept a racial motive? Would they tell a jury "you are not to imagine that the evidence of burning crosses suggests a racial motive? It was a dark night, and therefore reasonable that the accused would require these objects in order to find their way to the rally, especially given the added impediment to their vision caused by them being inexplicably covered in white sheets."

Leeds United have finally shown some remorse for their players' behaviour, but only because they were drunk in the middle of the night. Yet, whatever the verdict, the Leeds players were part of a group which included people who carried out this attack. So it seems a strange logic to complain about drunkenness as the main crime. It's like saying the terrible thing about Hitler's invasion of Poland is that apparently some tank drivers in those Panzer divisions were over the limit. Well it was lucky no one was run over.

Drink wasn't the problem. Alcohol can't be held responsible for transforming political attitudes. You never hear anyone saying: "I don't touch vodka or I start supporting the Simon Hughes wing of the Liberal Democrats" or, "I'm a fervent anti-racist, except after two bottles of red wine when I hate the Welsh."

Anyone in Bowyer's position who was reasonable, even if they'd played no part in the actual attack, would have gone out of their way to distance themselves from their mates, and shown enormous sympathy for Sarfraz and his brother. But Bowyer clearly couldn't give a toss. Then he reacts to his fine with a statement that begins: "The club appears to be victimising me..." If Harry Enfield hadn't already thought of Kevin the teenager, this would make for a wonderful comedy character, with a catchphrase, "I'm poor Lee, they're always picking on me". It could start with him in David O'Leary's office, throwing up his arms and yelling, "Huh, ugh, tugh, this is SO unfair."

He says he wants to put "all that" behind him. As, no doubt, he did after he was fined for smashing up a McDonald's when staff were unable to serve him with what he wanted. Perhaps he feels he should be allowed, after these incidents, to give an after-fracas interview along the lines of "well, obviously I was very pleased with the way the abuse went, Jonathan provided great service with some excellent chair-throwing and then I just nipped in with a right-boot to finish it off. But basically I'm just going to take each outburst of violent bigotry as it comes."

Sarfraz and his family won't find it quite so simple to put it all behind them, but nor will the rest of us. Because the BBC documentary on the issue on Sunday night ended with Sarfraz explaining how, up until the attack, he had always considered himself Yorkshire British, but now feels reluctant to participate in society outside the Asian community. That, David Blunkett, might provide a clue to your parallel-lives puzzle.

But it could end up on a positive note, because Bowyer's on the transfer list. And a man with plenty of money but nothing much to spend it on is Osama bin Laden. He should put in a bid, as Lee Bowyer is possibly the one person in the world who could benefit from a spot of Islamic Fundamentalism. He couldn't be tempted by drink, there'd be plenty of incentive to behave decently towards foreigners, and they could both spend many happy hours discussing their dislike of McDonald's.

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