Bradford braced for arrival of the EDL

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The Independent Online

Nine years ago it was the National Front marching.

Today it will be supporters of the English Defence League peddling a slightly different brand of xenophobia. But whatever name they go by, many residents of Bradford fear the outcome could be the same.

Faisal Nawaz Khan has good reason to remember the last time the far right sought to parade through his home city. He was just 15 when rioting erupted in the Manningham area of the city on the night of 7 July 2001.

In what was the latest pulse of violence to hit the North of England that summer, youths threw stones at police, a pub was burnt and a luxury car dealership was attacked. David Blunkett, who was Home Secretary, had stopped the NF demonstration planned for earlier that day – just as Theresa May has acceded to police requests to do the same with the English Defence League (EDL) this time. Yet trouble still flared and today it will be left to the police to keep the "static" gatherings of many hundreds of EDL supporters and their opponents from Unite Against Fascism under control.

Despite the ban on marching, the planned protests have already succeeded in rekindling unwanted memories in an area still rebuilding itself after riots in both 2001 and 1995. Mr Khan was convicted of throwing a stone at the height of the last disturbances and was sentenced to five years in prison – one of 200 people jailed from the community for a total of 604 years. Then a promising student today he hoses down cars for a living in the shadow of the burnt-out Upper Globe pub which remains derelict after being torched during that long night of violence.

"They put all the blame on us as if we were the culprits and wanted to burn these buildings down," he says. His friend agrees. "The fascists and racists came here 10 years ago to tear down the town and why have they been given permission to do that again?" said the older man who did not wish to be named. Rumours have already been swirling around, they say. A story of an Asian woman being attacked by white youths is circulating, possibly started deliberately to stoke up tension, the men working at the car wash believe.

"It's already escalating," said the older man. Mr Khan believes young Asians will be reluctant to go into the city centre today where police will corral the two rival protests into separate areas out of sight of each other. "We have told our community to stay at home. But we have received anonymous letters through the letterbox saying they want us to go into town and get into trouble. I don't know who it is but they say go there and fight and defend yourselves. But it is Ramadan and we will be fasting."

His friend Asif Khan, 25, said: "This is causing flashbacks for everyone. We don't want a repeat of what happened. They should ban them from coming here all together."

Opposition to the EDL has been well organised since news of the planned march broke. In Bradford city centre, Maya Perry, 35, was gathering signatures for a group called We Are Bradford. It is planning a multicultural celebration as the EDL gather at the newly created urban park – an area of land on the edge of a giant hole in the city centre which is to become a huge retail complex. She was doing brisk trade gathering signatures from passers-by putting their names to a statement denouncing the EDL as Islamophobic, adding to the 10,000 already gathered demanding the march be stopped.

Having grown up in Bradford but now living in London, she too recalls the effects of previous riots but believes people need to stand up and be counted. "We know that when there hasn't been any opposition such as in Stoke the far right can rampage through the town centre, attacking Asians and destroying businesses. They say they are against Islam but in Dudley they attacked a Hindu temple. They are violent racist thugs," she said.

For Bradford's traders, today promises to be one of lost business. Ayaz Muhammad, 33, who sells luggage in Kirkgate market, said he was planning to be there though others would not be opening their stalls. "No one wants trouble. The elder at the mosque has been giving us a lecture for the last two weeks not to go into the town centre. He has been warning us that it is like a fire. The dry sticks can ignite even the green wood. They fear everyone could get caught up if a few get involved," he said.

At the Oastler shopping centre Keith Taplin, 54, was manning his butcher stall which has been run by the family since before the War. The Union Flags on display were there to mark a recent sausage promotion and he said his customer base included as many Asian shoppers as white. "This is going to cause a lot of trouble. There are two or three different groups and that is going to cause a problem no doubt whatsoever," he said. Despite the planned presence of an extra 30 security guards at the market customers were getting their shopping in early. "We have seen a lot of our Saturday regulars already this week. Everybody is keeping out of the way. And who can blame them?"