Photograph by Brian Moody
Shad Ali, an ex social worker, is a British Pakistani who has lived and worked in Nottingham all his life. In July 2008 he came to the rescue of two Pakistani women who were being racially abused by a passing pedestrian.
One warm afternoon in July I was cycling through Nottingham city centre when I heard a man being extremely aggressive towards two Pakistani women who had done nothing to provoke him. As the level of abuse escalated I decided to stop and see what I could do. The women were being very passive, heads down and not acknowledging him, so instead he confronted me. I tried to calm him down, explaining it was not the fault of the women but this seemed to aggravate him even more and pressing his face against mine, he pointed to an alley way, indicating he wanted to fight it out. Realising I was not making any progress, I made the fatal error of turning round and getting back on my bike.
The next thing I remember was being punched with such force that I fell to the ground unconscious. Whilst I lay there the man started stamping and kicking my face repeatedly. One kick broke my zygomatic bone in four places so that my eye dropped and I temporarily lost my vision. I was told later that he had to be pulled off me by members of the public who probably saved my life. By the time I was taken to hospital I had brain fluid coming out of my nose and was in excruciating pain.
Within four days I’d had major reconstruction surgery – as a result of which the right-hand side of my face is still full of titanium. Then in the months that followed I had several more operations. I also had emotional and psychological problems. The trauma took a huge chunk out of my life.
Incidents involving racial hatred are few & far between in Nottingham and yet both the local newspaper and the Police seemed totally uninterested in my case – despite the fact that the man who attacked me was already wanted by the Police for having previously attacked a man with a machete. Only when I made a complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality did the Police finally decide to take some action and a few weeks later my attacker was arrested. He pleaded not guilty.
The first trial lasted a week and remarkably there was a hung jury, mainly due to the defendant’s solicitor intimidating both myself and the other witnesses. We went back to court a few weeks later and this time there was a different judge who had very little tolerance for the defence solicitor’s harassing tactics and as a result the defendant realised the trial wasn’t going his way. So after two days he knocked on the glass window and decided to change his plea to guilty. At this point he raised his hands to me in the public gallery, put his hands up against the glass and with tears rolling down his face, asked for my forgiveness.
He then received a five year custodial sentence under an IPP (indeterminate public protection order). But I felt no sense of satisfaction. I knew from my own life journey that locking away these kind of men without correct input was totally futile.
Forgiveness for me began the day after the attack when I woke up in my hospital bed feeling remarkably at peace, but surrounded by family and friends, who were all incredibly distraught – particularly my male friends who wanted retribution. I had to make sure they all knew that this was not what I wanted. Having been on the receiving end of violence I couldn’t conceive of inflicting similar pain on another human being. Forgiveness came from wondering how on earth someone could inflict that kind of pain on another human being without feeling anything.
I received a huge amount of criticism and confusion from friends and family who didn’t understand why I wanted to forgive – especially from my wife who initially felt nothing but hatred towards this man.
Forgiving has really helped me move forward after the attack. It has been about me and has nothing to do with the man who attacked me. And yet I’ve wanted more than anything to meet my attacker. What could be more helpful for him on his journey than to have me – his victim – sit in front of him and say “I forgive you”. Unfortunately, for all sorts of different reasons, I’ve been unsuccessful in my attempts to meet him although I have finally been given permission to write to him. I believe that psychologically he’s become much more damaged while in prison because prisons are there to punish people and not give people the help, humanity and guidance they need – which has so often been lacking throughout their entire lives.