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From tumult of London riots, a father's voice emerges

Tariq Jahan, whose son Haroon was killed in the London riots, has gained Britain's ear with his dignified but urgent pleas for calm.

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Yet in the uneasy calm on the streets today, and amid the high-level bickering, Jahan is in some ways the Rodney King of Britain, even if he had no role in the riots.

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In 1991, Los Angeles police officers were caught on camera brutally beating Mr. King, an African-American, after he led them on a high-speed car chase. Despite public outrage over the beating, a jury cleared the officers of almost all charges in April 1992, sparking five-day riots across the city that left 54 people dead and caused millions of dollars in damages. But King’s later spontaneous plea, “I mean, why can’t we all just get along,” seemed an antidote to raw feelings.

The British media swarmed for details on the unlikely hero, Jahan. It turns out he is the kind of person, both a devout Muslim and an ardent British patriot, that the often embattled immigrant community has long said are typical but rarely noticed. He is a delivery man of Pakistani and Indian parentage. As a young man he was found solace in a radical cleric, but later rejected the message and found his own sense of self and peace in doing good for others in his Muslim community.

"A vast majority of first-generation Pakistani Muslim immigrants came here to live with the hope of leading peaceful, prosperous lives, and see it as in their interests to hold communities together,” notes Mr. Buckley of Theos. “Although the riots have not been racially motivated, they have threatened to exacerbate tensions between different communities.”

Jahan gave a news conference last week thanking young people for apparently hearing his message (he had initially expressed doubt that younger people would listen) and on Sunday presided over a memorial service at Summerfield Park in Birmingham.

At some very basic level, the sudden rioting appears to have been a mass uprising of have-nots vs. haves, with an old grudge against British police in the background. It was sparked by the shooting of a young man in the Tottenham area of London by police who earlier identified him as a gun carrier, though it appears he did not fire a weapon at police. (The official police explanation is pending an investigation.)

Why did it happen?

Yet as it spread, the anger and looting cut across vast differences in ages, race, class, and locales and has defied easy explanations.

One of the first looters to appear in court was a teacher’s assistant. At the sales counter of a Waterstone’s book store in London, copies of William Golding’s novel of anarchy, "Lord of the Flies" were on sale. The riot debate may have knocked out historian David Starkey from his TV commentary role after he praised British fascist leader Enoch Powell and said that “black culture” and whites who “have become black” were responsible.

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