Fifty years ago, on the 20th of April 1968, British MP Enoch Powell made the political speech which would later become known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech. Addressing a Conservative meeting in Birmingham, Powell spoke at length in criticism of mass immigration, in what would become one of the most controversial political speeches of the era and indeed of recent times. Edward Heath, then leader of the Conservative Party, dismissed Powell from the Shadow Cabinet in light of this speech, resulting in Powell’s rise as one of the most persistent members of the opposition rebelling against Heath’s government.
Ugandan Asian Fiyaz Mughal, an immigrant who came to Britain at the time of Idi Amin’s rise to power in his home country, is one of the many people who have spoken out against the intolerance provoked by Powell’s speech. Fiyaz Mughal has spent most of his working life actively fighting racial intolerance and hate crimes; he has founded several social enterprises based on social cohesion and the successful integration of refugees and multi-cultural individuals everywhere. You can find out more about Fiyaz Mughal in the short video attachment.
The Birmingham Speech
The term “Rivers of Blood” was not specifically used within Powell’s speech, which he himself referred to only as “The Birmingham Speech”. The expression was coined due to Powell’s reference within the speech to the Aeneid by Virgil, which talks about the River Tiber foaming with blood in the future. An opinion poll conducted by Gallup just days after the speech was broadcast found that almost three-quarters of the British populace agreed with Powell’s sentiments regarding immigration. Most accounts agree that the surprise victory by the Conservative party in the 1970 general election was a direct result of Powell’s speech, despite his dismissal. Heath stated that he had dismissed Powell due to the inflammatory nature of the speech and the potential for damage to race relations.
Igniting Racial Hate Crimes
The opposition to the speech was as vocal and strong as the support. The Times newspaper called the speech evil, declaring that this was the first time following the Second World War that a British politician had directly appealed to racial prejudice and hatred. The Times went on to publish records of racist attacks that occurred across the UK in the aftermath of the speech. Labour MP Tony Benn compared the racism provoked by the speech as similar to that which allowed German concentration camps such as Belsen and Dachau to exist just a quarter of a century earlier.
Today, more than 50 years on from Powell’s speech, we are seeing hate crimes spiral once more, particularly anti-Muslim attacks. Fiyaz Mughal writes that social media has played a key role in fanning the flames of hate among the far-right. The infographic attachment shows the results of an opinion poll conducted by the BBC’s Panorama television programme.
In the UK, Nick Griffin’s British National Party was one of the first far-right groups to openly capitalise on racial prejudice, making no apologies for racism and scoring votes through generating a culture of fear of terrorist attacks. In more recent times, tech-savvy groups have begun appearing across the world, such as the United States’ Alt-Right and Europe’s Generation Identity. These groups promote the idea that the Muslim community is unable and unwilling to co-exist peacefully with other religious groups. The embedded PDF has more information about Generation Identity’s recent attempt to generate support in the UK.
Fiyaz Mughal is the founder of Tell MAMA, an anti-Muslim hate crime reporting service in the UK.