There is something surreal about watching your city being profiled on television for all the wrong reasons: where were the cameras last weekend when 130,000 people of all cultures enjoyed a trouble-free Mela – an Asian part of Bradford's popular annual festival?
Instead, Bradford is presented as a site of intractable and deteriorating race relations. What was intended to be a peaceful protest by the Anti-Nazi League against the BNP and National Front spiralled out of control.
It could have turned out so differently. Youth workers had almost eased the anger of the crowd successfully, when inflammatory comments from one speaker stirred them up again. Then the rumour factory started spreading tales of this Asian youth being stabbed or that youth being taunted by right-wing thugs. The rest is history or media footage.
How are we to understand events in Bradford? Should we bracket them with Oldham and Burnley? Each of these cities has a distinctive history and mix of communities, as well as specific reasons for outbursts of trouble. We should beware of conflating them.
However, with regard to Oldham and Bradford, both have suffered huge de-industrialisation with the dramatic decline of staple textile industries. Both have growing young British Pakistani communities, living within relatively self-segregated worlds, often in very straitened circumstances. Large numbers of these young men are massively underachieving in education. This creates anger and alienation from their own leadership and wider society.
If we are to identify what is going wrong, it is right to disaggregate the category "Asian" – British Indian communities are achieving more than the ethnic majority on most key indicators. Many of these communities are "Muslim" but the issue is not "Islamic". Indeed, the youngsters who attend the mosques are not those throwing petrol bombs at the police. We must await the publication this week of Herman Ouseley's inquiry into how to improve inter-community relations in the city. He can build on the mela factor, a reservoir of goodwill and imagination in all communities to live together and enjoy diversity.
However, it will also need the political will to engage with youth in all communities and to make sure that monies coming into the city for regeneration are well spent and the education system begins to deliver for all. The city's two worst schools serve white estates: unless we can address disadvantage in both communities we will end up with each scapegoating the other.
Dr Philip Lewis is the inter-faith adviser to the Anglican Bishop of Bradford.Reuse content