LEADING ARTICLE:Broken bargains in Bradford

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The Independent Online
The rioting in Bradford over the weekend was not the first involving Asians in this country nor, quite probably, was it the worst. It was, however, the first in which a predominantly Muslim mob fought the police as their main enemy. Muslims in this country have a reputation as better citizens than most of their neighbours; except in the Salman Rushdie affair, they have not come into violent conflict with the surrounding society. It is a considerable shock to see them hurling petrol bombs and smashing town centres.

It is all the more shocking that they should be doing so in Bradford, which is regarded as the city where accommodation with Muslim values had gone as far as anywhere in Britain. The city has had a Muslim mayor; its schools serve Halal meat and observe the Muslim holidays.

Such policies have formed part of an accommodation that might be considered a form of repatriated imperialism, whereby a predominantly Kashmiri Muslim group accepted without too much complaint the framework of rules established by a white ruling class, while ensuring that its own mores and culture continued to flourish. Traditional societies are complex organisms, which can be changed only gradually if they are not to be destroyed completely. So long as they can produce law-abiding citizens on their own terms, it is foolish for the outside world to inquire too closely about how this is done.

There was an unspoken bargain between the traditional leaders of the Bradford Asian communities and the outside world that they would socialise their own people if given the room in which to do so. A similar bargain operates between society and other religious groups whose beliefs and practices would also be unattractive to general opinion.

But the events of the weekend suggest that this bargain is breaking down. The community leaders are losing their grip on the communities they would like to lead; anyone who has wrestled with the appetites and discontents of a teenage child will sympathise. Asian young people may have been preserved from the liberal ideals of the surrounding society, but the amoral norms of modern global capitalism are dissolving this society as they tend to dissolve all others. The Manningham district is now plagued with open drug dealing conducted by gangs of aggressive youths, who operate alongside a sex industry whose scale and location is the stated casus belli of the weekend's troubles.

These young Asians exhibit all the symptoms of marginalised, frustrated, inner-city youth. They don't have jobs, they have flunked their chance of education and they don't know to what they wish to aspire.

What this means is that the separation of cultures that worked in the Seventies and early Eighties in Anglo-Asian society will not work in the future. Asian leaders must face the fact that, just like their white neighbours, their sons and daughters are beyond their command. The need now is to find new ways of socialising Muslim young people before the frustrations that torment today's small band of rioters turns into a wider disintegration. That will require action in the fields of education, economic regeneration and the management of the drugs problem. It will require further acts of sustained tolerance and flexibility. These are difficult problems, but they are neither unfamiliar nor insuperable.