Bradford's culture clash

Violent confrontations between police and Asian youths at the weekend provoked widespread shock. Bhiku Parekh explains why Muslims feel so strongly about the threat posed by liberal values, while Yasmin Alibhai- Brown, below, gauges the mood in the city
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Pitched battles between police and Asian youths - some only 12 years old - have erupted in Bradford over the past two days. More trouble is expected and community representatives believe it may spread to other parts of the city. Police brutality has been confirmed by independent witnesses, but the violence of the youth has left the community reeling, not least because Asians pride themselves on being peaceful and compliant. The people of Manningham, the area where the trouble started, are deeply upset and feel once more that they are beleaguered, despised and misunderstood by the world outside.

Many Asians in Bradford hate journalists, not least those who have co- operated with them in the past. One community worker helped the BBC to make a programme which many in the city felt was so appalling that he had to go into hiding for weeks afterwards. "Why the hell do you want to do a piece on Bradford?" he told me. "You are parasites. You come here when we are most vulnerable and pick the flesh off our bones. Where are you the rest of the time? This is a hellish place, but it is also a place we are proud of. This is a special place, but you and your white friends will never understand it."

Yes, Bradford is indeed a special place that has assumed mythical status - especially for white opinion makers - in the past decade. And so we haveanthropological studies by respectable writers like Dervla Murphy, and pilgrims who represent the city as a dangerous challenge to secular liberalism, or as the bastion of "fundamentalism" or as an example of how multiculturalism has gone "too far". In recent years, other myths have grown. It is a place full of Asians pimping and pumping drugs. Or of tortured women who in trying to gain autonomy are hunted down by bounty hunters and imprisoned by their families. Or of thieves and knaves hanging around every street corner.

These images are both promoted and rejected by the more vocal Asian inhabitants of the area. For Bradford is all of these things, but it is also a lot more and without understanding that, they argue, nobody can really comprehend why this disruption has happened.

Historical and social factors make this area and the surrounding places like Dewsbury unique. The Asian community is largely made up of Pakistani Mirpuris from Azad Kashmir, one of the poorest areas of Pakistan. They are linked in a very real way to each other through village and family connections, and first cousin marriages are commonplace. For the older generation this is their primary identity. And although the younger generation has tended to assume a wider Islamic identity, especially since the Satanic Verses affair, they have not become alienated from their families and communities in the way they have in other Asian communities. There is still a deep respect felt by the young for their parents and it is an admirable quality which has rarely been applauded in a society where the young are expected to cut free.

But this respect is no longerextended to the older community leaders and the riots are part of a challenge to this group. The leaders are caught out. They cannot side with the police because of their brutality, especially that directed at mothers, one of whom is said to have had her clothes torn off during the riots. On the other hand they know that the youth out on the streets loathe them partly because the traditional leaders have been disinterested in their problems.

It is this crisis of leadership which needs to be highlighted, says Philip Lewis, author of the book Islamic Britain. "We have seen the development of a reactive Islamic identity which has become a vehicle of protest, but beyond that there is a vacuum which the older leadership, caught up in Kashmiri politics, caste and so on can barely come to grips with."

But the good news, says Ishtaq Ahmed, of the Bradford Race Equality Council, is that even in the past few days, younger leaders are emerging. "These young men are not yobbos. They are discerning, intelligent men who are evaluating things carefully and feel that even people like myself, people in their thirties who can bridge the gap, are too polite to the police." He is worried, though, that these positive developments will be thwarted by aggressive policing and authoritarian solutions. The new police station in Manningham looks like a castle, says Ahmed, and it has had an intimidating effect. He also fears that the youth attacks have targeted white business which will have a dire effect on investment and the future of the area. Do these kids have role models? Yes, he says. "There is a Mohamed Ali cult and an Imran Khan cult."

Bradford is also an area of massive educational failure, of high unemployment and consequent poverty: the mortality rate in the first year after birth is twice the national average. However strong and supportive the community tries to be, without resources, people do end up feeling bitter and hopeless.

Fabeh Hussein, lecturer in youth and community studies, says that this deprivation combined with the lack of political direction in the lives of the young has produced people who are "cold, in need of instant gratification, with the Clockwork Orange mentality. And they are being forced by the lack of opportunities to get into the 'alternative economy'.".

Hussein's lodger, Liaquat La, works with the Inner City Drugs agency and he too is concerned about the explosion in hard drug use among young Asian men in the area. They make up 30 per cent of the workload for one GP in Manningham area. The parents, he says, are bewildered and often send them off to Pakistan.

A year ago, I spoke to the father of one such young man. He was a widower who had come here in the Sixties. His daughter, he has been told, is a prostitute. "She has left home. I don't know where she is. My son is addicted. He was so clever at school. He wanted to be in the insurance business. After three years on the dole, he changed. Suddenly he had money. I did not know that he was working with my brother who was bringing in drugs from Pakistan. Then Kamran started using it. We have failed our children. I wish I had never come here."

But this is only one side of the Bradford story. Abida Malik, a scientist and mother who is nowmore devout than she once was, moved to Bradford a few years ago. "I live a mile away from where the trouble was. I look out of the window and it is so beautiful, so peaceful. I am shocked by what has happened, but I think the police were a bit heavy handed. I think that some children are not getting the best upbringing, or learning about the beauty of Islam and also about the need to integrate. But this is not a barbaric place. The Muslim mullahs are just playing power politics by portraying things in an extreme way. The rest of us are living good lives, and I can tell you, after 16 years of living in London, Bradford is a much safer and nicer place. People need to remember that."