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Behind Glasgows Asian Gangs

Behind Glasgow's Asian Gangs

by Imran AzamIWitness article
Imran Azam looks into the issue of Glasgow's Asian gangs and speaks to two individuals who have been at the thick end of violence and a youth worker and community worker who are trying hard to convince a generation of youngsters to reject the idea of joining gangs.

ON November 9 three Asian men were found guilty of murdering Glasgow school boy Kriss Donald. The 15- year- old was abducted, stabbed 13 times and then doused with petrol before being set on fire. His charred remains were found in the east end of the city. Imran Shahid, 29, (Baldy) his brother Zeeshan Shahid, 28, (Crazy) and Faisal Mushtaq, 27, (Becks) were each found guilty of racially aggravated abduction and murder. They were handed sentences of 25, 23 and 22 years respectively.

The first two gang members Daanish Zahid and Zahid Mohammed were found guilty of murder and abduction in December 2004. The latest convictions have taken two years because Baldy, Crazy and Becks fled to Pakistan. Baldy was tracked and arrested in Lahore. He is thought to have offered police officers a bride in the region of �200,000. In addition the Times newspaper has reported that in a desperate bid to avoid returning to the UK Baldy falsely accused Kriss and his gang of attacking and raping Muslim women.

Becks and Crazy were tracked down to a small village around 10 miles from Tobateksingh. All three claimed that they returned to Britain voluntarily but according to sources the men "did not fancy" prison conditions in Pakistan.Community leaders believe the convictions will allow the diverse populations of Pollokshields to "move on". Glasgow Central MP Mohammed Sarwar said: "I think it could have been very damaging for race relations in Scotland if these Asian suspects were allowed to escape justice."

Imran Azam looks into the issue of Glasgow's Asian gangs and speaks to two individuals who have been at the thick end of violence and a youth worker and community worker who are trying hard to convince a generation of youngsters to reject the idea of joining gangs.

Imran Yaqub or "Minta" as he's known to friends agrees to meet me in Glasgow's West End. The 25-year-old admits that a few years ago, a visit to this side of the city would not go by without him getting into a "pangaa" - Punjabi for a scrap.

However he is now a changed man and no longer easily led. Imran grew up in Pollokshields and lived in the area with his family for over twenty years. As a teenager he got involved with a local gang and as he puts it "Young Shields followed trouble, rather than trouble followed Young Shields".

He admits that the white and Asian community in Pollokshields have limited contact with each other. He adds: "The only time you mix in with white people is at work. Apart from that you don't see one another. In Pollokshields the doctors, dentists, accountants are all Asian. You eat and shop at Asian businesses. Unless you go to the city centre you will not interact with a Scottish person."

Despite such polarisation he surprisingly reveals that the majority of "Young Shields" confrontations were with fellow Asians. Whether it be the Glasgow or Edinburgh Mela, an Asian club night or football tournament trouble was inevitable. Imran takes up the story: "Everytime there was a gathering of Asians especially males from different parts of the city in one place, it would kick off. Looking back now we would fight over the most silliest and stupid reasons. It could range from someone giving you a strange look to what someone had said to you over the phone a few weeks ago."

There are two events that are never far away from Imran's mind. Once when he was stabbed on his leg outside a night club but more significantly it was in January 2003 that his life would change forever.

Driving his car in Pollokshields he found himself confronted by a rival Asian gang member who pulled out a gun. Imran states that he had no choice but to drive towards him. He was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to five years, but was released after serving half his sentence. He says: "It is easy being inside but it is hard for your family. I never want to put them through that again. Being in prison has made me appreciate my family. When I drive around the Shields I see some of the young guys acting big and I tell them not to make the same mistakes as I did. But there is only so much you can tell people. Some of them don't want to listen."

Religion has also contributed towards Imran's shunning the gang life since his release from prison. "Before I went to prison I did read my prayers but was not a regular," he says. "But when you are young all your focus, energy and time are spent hanging around with your friends. All you did was drive around looking for trouble. When you are inside you have time to read and find out more about Islam."

Asian gangs have been a fixture in Glasgow since the early 60's. The first Asian gang is thought to have originated in the Gorbals when many men defended the community from racists. As the community got larger and moved to different parts of the city gangs began to operate from Pollokshields, Govanhill, Woodlands and Paisley Road West. However as the Asian community now begins to move again to more affluent parts of the city there is anecdotal evidence that gang violence is beginning to creep in districts such as Giffnock and Newton Mearns.

As part of a programme organised by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) Adeel Ibrahim pays regular visits to Muslim inmates in youth offenders' institutions. According to him Glasgow's mosques and Imams have played an instrumental role in taming Asian gangsters.

He says: "A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for a young guy to approach his local Imam. However now if you look at the Imam at Central Mosque or the Imams in Masjid Noor - they all speak English. They were born in this country. They can relate to the issues faced by many Muslim youth.

"Many of the Asian inmates I come across are coming from dysfunctional families and have no aspirations. I don't think anyone has sat down with them on a one to one basis and asked them what they want to do in life. Their role models are people are who are involved in drugs and who drive around in fancy cars. It is easy money. They are attracted to such a lifestyle. However in the future I think you will see more youth from asylum seekers community in jails rather than Asians."

Another factor in the decline of Asian gangs has been due to the various organisations catering for the Black and Minority Ethnic Communities. Umar Ansari is a co-ordinator of youth work at the Youth Counselling Service Agency (YCSA).

He says: "Pollokshields has had a problem with gangs in the past. You have to realise that some of the youngsters are very insular. The only time some of them have travelled out of area has been for a fight. But the situation has changed. Five or ten years ago there was no such thing as after school clubs or sports programmes. There was no support on issues like drugs and alcohol.

"Many young people who could have been dragged into gangs have the option to come into the YCSA and spend time in a safe and secure environment. It is better for them to be with us than loitering on the streets."

The 27- year-old further adds that although gang violence has decreased other issues have come to the fore front. He says: "Five or ten years ago many Muslims would not publicly boast about taking drugs and alcohol. However today it has become fashionable."

However not everyone is convinced Asian gang culture is diminishing. Khalid from the West End was involved in a daylight brawl with fellow Asians. During the clash he fell awkwardly and tore his cruciate ligaments. As he lay in agony he was bottled on the head and attacked with a wheel brace. He now acts a youth worker and hopes to deter others from making the same mistakes he made.

He says: "My knee will never be the same again. My message to the kids I work with is that they need to get a job or an education. I don't want them to waste their lives hanging around the streets. It is no life. However the sad thing is that there are still some guys in the community who are now in their 30s, and yet you still see them driving around looking to start a fight even if it is with someone half their age. The situation is not as bad as it used to be but maybe we are going through a lull at the moment. Maybe we will see a resurgence in the next five years. That's why we still have to work hard to get the message through that there is no future in being in a gang or acting like a hero."