'Volcano of tension' was ready to erupt

Bradford riots: Violence involving 'westernised' Asian youths had roots in strained community relations with police
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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The Bradford street riots in which Asian youths clashed with the police were triggered by an apparently trivial matter, but the underlying causes of the violence run far deeper.

As the broken glass, burnt tyres and bricks were cleared away, a picture began to emerge yesterday of a community struggling to come to terms with itself and modern Britain. It also revealed another occasion in which the police face accusations of racism and heavy-handedness.

Relations between the West Yorkshire force and the 80,000-strong Asian community in Bradford, which is predominately Muslim and originally from Pakistan, have been strained recently. One of the most contentious issues has been prostitution and kerb-crawling, which the community has been trying to stamp out but believes the police should do more to combat.

Community leaders also blame unemployment of up to 50 per cent among male Asians in many parts of the city. They also point to lack of training and poor education.

Another important factor is the breakdown of the influence of the family and community as many third- and fourth-generation British Asians have adopted Western values and aspirations. The authority of the police no longer holds the respect it once did.

Mohammed Ajeeb, the former Lord Mayor and deputy leader of Bradford Council, explained: "Gradually the cultural and religious values and parental control are being eroded and being replaced by Western standards and values.

"This means the community no longer has the influence it once did over the actions of some of its youth."

Max Madden, the Labour MP for Bradford West, added: "These are Thatcher's children who face a very difficult time getting jobs and training. Many feel angry and frustrated. They are finding conflicts within the conventional Asian family and are no longer accepting the traditional hierarchy. They are leaderless and there are no longer the conventional community elders for the police to communicate with.

"There are all these new emotions and relationships boiling away that can - as we saw on Friday - be sparked off by the tiniest incident."

The "spark" on this occasion appears to have come from the police response to a complaint about Asian youths playing football in the street. The youths' reaction to this incident was intensified, according to community leaders, because they feel betrayed. Asians have been co-operating with a recent clampdown on drugs and believed that the police reaction was poor reward for their help.

Relations have also been strained over the issue of vice. In the past two months Asians have set up a number of vigilante groups to patrol the Manningham district of the city which has a thriving trade in prostitution. The patrols have been targeting prostitutes and kerb-crawlers in an attempt to drive them out. One group of residents says that it has set up road blocks and pickets in an attempt to keep prostitutes away.

The community has described its vigilante approach to clearing up prostitution as a "tarts out" campaign. Dissatisfaction with police action on kerb- crawlers is a growing source of conflict between police and religious leaders.They say the vice trade has increased since the ITV series Band of Gold, which was about prostitution in Bradford's red-light district. Many in the community feel that the police have not displayed a high enough profile or considered the problem a particularly serious one.

Faqir Mohammed, acting president of the Bradford Council of Mosques, said: "Youngsters and even their parents are not happy with the police and they are tired with their behaviour and attitude. The situation was like lava in a volcano waiting to erupt."

Mr Ajeeb added: "From time to time, youngsters have experienced disenchantment and anger in the way police have dealt with them and it is not a new thing. Some officers' behaviour has clearly not been acceptable." West Yorkshire police emphasise that they have a vigorous anti-racist policy and always try to work with the Asian community. They have promised a full investigation into Friday's incident.

Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable, blamed the rioting on growing tensions in youngAsians. "Cultural and religious leaders have been worried for the past 10 years or so that the younger generation don't follow their teachings and feel that they have great difficulty in controlling them."

Culture clash, page 15