Dilly Hussain, who was born and bred in Luton’s little neighbour Bedford, investigates how the Muslim gangs of Luton perform a dual role – that of protecting the community and committing organized crime.
Luton is one place that in recent times has not fallen short of media controversy, that’s not to say that it hadn’t previously. For a town 30 miles north of London, it would be fair to say that Luton has the same distinct socio-economic dilemmas as that of any other major city in the UK. But you can go to any Muslim populated area in Britain and I assure you, everyone has heard about Luton, or more specifically Bury Park.
Luton has historically been famous for two things – the mass production of hats and the home of Vauxhall motors. With a population of 203,000 it has one of the fastest growing populations for a town in Britain.
It also has a Muslim population of 50,000 (24.6%) and an Asian population of 61,000 (30%). One in three Lutonians are Asian and one in four is Muslim. The largest ethnic group of Muslims are from the Pakistan side of Kashmir, known as Azhad Jammu Kashmir then followed by Bangladeshis.
History of violence
Luton first came to the media limelight when Millwall FC played Luton Town FC at Kenilworth Road in 1985 FA Cup quarter finals.
The infamous hooligan element of Millwall’s fan base started a riot which consequently led to a pitch invasion. The game was stopped after 14 minutes of play and the referee took both teams off for 25 minutes.
When the referee blew the final whistle, the pitch was invaded again. Over 700 seats were ripped out of the stands. Outside the stadium in the surrounding streets, the riots and brawls continued, leaving hundreds and thousands of pounds damage to properties as a result of sheer mob madness which involved molotov cocktails and mindless acts of vandalism.
As a result, a ban was enforced on away fans by Luton Town, which resulted in Luton’s expulsion from the League Cup.
Violence and extremism
In recent times, with the police authorities knuckling down on football hooligans and the ever expanding enterprise of narcotics, Luton has entered a new era of violence and extremism.
With gang related shootings in Marsh Farm to Islamic “extremists” from Bury Park protesting the homecoming parade of British troops, once again Luton has been placed in the attention of the British public.
In 2009, around 50 Muslims belonging to “Muslims Against Crusades” (MAC), another Al Muhajiroun brand name protested against the homecoming parade of the Royal Anglican regiment. Not only did this anger local non-Muslims, but a national outrage towards Muslims for protesting against British foreign policy in such a way was fanned by the mainstream media.
However, from a Muslim perspective, putting aside the acts of a few that doesn’t represent the majority, many Muslims in the south east still send their children to madrassas and Islamic schools in Luton.
With a wide variety of Muslim groups present in Bury Park including Salafis, Sufis, Brehlvis, Deobandis, Hizb ut-Tahrir and of course Al Muhajiroun, why is Luton still infamously renowned for its Kashmiri gangs?
Most African Caribbean and Asian communities in Britain formed as a result of economic migration post World War Two, and many faced racism from their white English hosts. During the 1960s and 1970s, it would not be a good idea for a coloured person to be walking alone outside the perimeters of their community for fear of being harassed by the police or attacked by racists.
So it became a common trend that young men, usually first generation British born or those who came from Pakistan or Bangladesh at a very young age, grouped together as “protectors” of their areas against racists.
In the case of Luton, once the Muslim area of Bury Park was safeguarded from racists, the gangs that initially started as “vanguards” of the community spread their tentacles out of their respective areas and inevitably got involved with drugs, violence and criminality.
By the late 1980’s, it was a well established fact that Bury Park was no longer an open field for white racists to wreak havoc, usually affiliated with the Luton Town FC hooligans the “Bolts” and “MIGs”. Many of the Kashmiri “protectors” now took the fight to the white hooligans.
After endless pub brawls and bloody encounters at night clubs between Kashmiris, African Caribbean and white hooligans, the former emerged as the key player on the streets of Luton.
Gangs of Bury Park
By the 1990’s, gangs of Bury Park had been formed. The Reds of the Raja tribe, the Yellows of the Choudary and Jat tribes, the Gambinos, the Khans, the Ghafours, the Khwajas, all had a stake in the narcotics enterprise of Luton.
Instead of fighting outsiders against racist attacks which was no longer existent, these gangs and crime families began fighting each other, forming alliances and engaging in drug wars. This was also exploited by the strong tribal culture of Kashmiris, whereby the tribe was everything, which was also well engrained in mosque politics and feuds.
A senior affiliate of the Yellow gang told me: “It would be true to say that Kashmiris got involved in the drug trade after there was no requirement in protecting Bury Park.
“But, that doesn’t mean, if the EDL or any other groups ever thought about entering Bury Park or any Muslim community in Luton to cause trouble, that we wouldn’t go back to our root principles in protecting the people.”
A member of the Gambinos, who took their name after the infamous Sicilian crime family of New York said: “Getting involved in drugs was part and parcel of how things are on the streets.
“You look at every big city in Britain, Bradford, Birmingham, East London, Asians or Muslims start by protecting their areas and then get involved in narcotics cos usually by that time a lot of these guys have spent time in jail for violence before the era of drugs.”
When I asked a reformed member of the Khwaja family, why organized crime was so rampant in an area where so many mosques and Islamic groups have a presence, he said: “You could say the same about any other big city with a large Muslim population.
“Don’t blame Islam for not being able to tackle gangsterism, blame the culture that is fed down our throats. Money, cars, women, you can’t escape it even if you wanted to.
“I blame the thoughts and concepts of this society. Alhamdulillah, the different Muslim groups that are present in Bury Park and Luton do a great job with senior gang members and the youth. But those who are still involved in the life of crime, it comes down to their personal whims and desires which is fuelled by the values of western society, not Islam’s inability to address it.”
All interviewees wished to remain anonymous for their personal safety and legal reasons
You can follow Dilly Hussain on Twitter @DillyHussain88