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The Bradford Riots. Who is to Blame?

by sairah19 

Posted: 07 April 2003
Word Count: 2675
Summary: This identifies the riots between the BNP (British National Party) and the Asian community during the Bradford Riots and investigate how the problem started and how it has ended

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will not have failed to notice the race riots that took place in Oldham, Bradford, and Leeds where 'gangs' of Asian youths fought pitched battles in the streets with police in the name of equality. These kids have dropped a reality bomb in the heart of the chicken tikka eating world of New Labour, Great Britain. The government's response was to go in all guns blazing with water cannons and plastic bullets, supported by The Daily Mail on Sunday and the so-called 'moral' right, targeting the violence with a big show of force.
Racial violence erupted on the streets of Bradford as hundreds of Asian youths fought white extremists and police in some of the worst rioting yet seen in a summer of disturbances in northern towns and cities. Two people were stabbed and three seriously injured after a protest march against the National Front turned violent. At the height of the trouble, police in Bradford were pelted with petrol bombs, bricks, bottles and road signs and two city centre pubs had their windows smashed. At least 17 people were arrested.
Mohamed Khalid, a criminal law solicitor practising in Leeds argues: “These are all towns where large Asian communities have been forced into segregation from the white communities, with poor housing, poor education, poor policing, and the list goes on and on”.
Khalid, who has been practising for over 20 years, claims to have seen enough innocent Asians getting punished. He continues: “The white communities, entrenching racist views have been stirred up by far-right British National Party (BNP) and National Front (NF) campaigners, promoting hatred, vitriol, bigotry, and above all more segregation.
“Nobody seems to have noticed that the segregationists, who have then scarpered to leave the Asians to take the blame, have always provoked the riots. The question is how many Asians will be jailed when this is over, and if any neo-nazis spouting some rubbish about free speech will even be questioned?”
In Manningham, an area with deprived terraced housing estates, a group of about 1,000 Asian youths set fire to barricades on the area's White Abbey Road and hurled bricks and concrete paving stones at the police. “They set fire to cars and threw petrol bombs at buildings,” states Constable Philips, one of the many policemen present at the scene.
In response to this, the Police and Officers in full riot gear charged the groups of rioters gathered behind a burning wreck. Philips recalls: “The fire engines advanced to tackle the blazes behind a tight cordon of riot police but several times they were forced to retreat when stones and bricks were thrown at them.”
Local Tory Councillor, Mohammed Riaz, after a delegation of the community went through police lines to talk to rioters and calm tensions, but his efforts had little effect. His verdict was: “What is happening here is terrible. Businesses are being attacked, cars set on fire and I cannot believe these scenes are taking place in a city in England.
“There's no logic to this. Where is the protest, where are the National Front? There is no justification for this, they are setting Bradford back ten years.”
The trouble began after a meeting in the city's Centenary Square was organised by the Anti-Nazi League. “More than 500 people, mainly young Asian men, gathered to provide overwhelmingly support,” recalls Saif Malik, one of the students who congregated at the Centenary Square.
“In a nearby pub, National Front (NF) supporters, wearing trademark bomber jackets and sunglasses, gathered. Then somewhere in or near the pub a group of NF supporters began shouting racial abuse,” he continues “the response of us Asian youth was instant and violent; a fight began and within seconds we had spilled into the surrounding streets.”
Tahir Hussein, 28, described how a group of white men, all skinheads, had begun hurling the insults at a group of Asian men. He states: “The whole thing kicked off with some white lads calling us ‘Pakis’. There were lots of youths running around the streets and the police simply lost control.”
Few can pinpoint what started the grievances but it was The Sun ‘wot’ said it first. It claimed that Asian thugs had created no go areas for the whites. The Mirror reported “Asian-on-White violence had increased tenfold” whilst The Daily Mail lectured the Asian elders to tell their “young ‘uns to stop the violence and increase the peace.”
While politicians use the incidents to score cheap points against each other, the newspaper editorials talked about the ‘ghettos in the north’. And it was not just the British tabloids; The Times of India described it as “the worst racial violence ever seen in Britain”.
The Irish Independent quoted that the sequence of violence carried “disturbing and depressing overtones of the evolution of events in Northern Ireland over the past three decades”. If that seems far stretched, Oldham’s Evening Chronicle reported, midst the height of the riots, that the police had been authorised to use plastic baton rounds. These have never been used in mainland Britain ever before.
The Anti-Fascist Action Group, a London-based organisation committed to “ideological and physical opposition to fascism” accused British politicians of contributing with “inflammatory language on immigration”. He added that terms such as “ bogus refugees and bogus asylum seekers have a big negative impact”.
The question is how did the Asian youth, a demographic group largely invisible to mainstream white society, once seen as passive and largely ignored, become the most volatile, destructive and misunderstood kids of 2001? Three minutes of news footage from Oldham showed young Asian kids speaking in a northern slang, dressed in high street sport gear, expressing grievances few would have believed existed in 2001!
So what happened? Pop cultural commentators will tell you that like the footie hooligans and ravers before them, the Asian youth has become the latest in a long line of moral panics in the UK. Salim Adwani, journalist for the Asian Age newspaper believes these children “are threatening the entire social order with a burning desire to petrol bomb northern cities into submission”. If the tabloid press, specifically, and the media more generally is to be believed, then these children have suddenly become no less a threat to our societal values and interests as a whole.
Realists, however, will tell you that the root causes go beyond the few hysterical tabloid headlines. Mohamed Khalid, who does plenty of voluntary work in Leeds and Oldham for the Pakistani Community, states: “Seen here were the children of mainly Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants unwilling to stand by while organised racist groups invaded their streets and the impotent police officers failed to provide any protection.”
Khalid, who strongly believes segregation has a lot to do with it continues: “Thanks to racist housing policies and the schooling of these children in an educational system where expectations were low at best, it is no surprise we are left with a generation living in unemployment.” He reveals that a shocking 50% of young Asians living in Oldham are unemployed.
“Here is a group of people growing up in communities that sunk well below the radar of a Blair administration. People that have been systematically cut off, shunned, dispossessed and left to rot,” states Arun Kundnani, from the Institute of Race Relations.
Shahid Malik, a member of the UK government’s Commission for Racial Equality believes “what we are seeing in the north of England is a reaction by local people to the infiltration of far right groups like the BNP and the NF in their towns”. Malik, who tried to stabilize the problems was hit with a police riot shield, confirms: “The “underlying social problems of deprivation, criminality and opportunism created the conditions for the disturbances.”
Eight years ago we were introduced to a wave of politically conscious Asian artists such as Fundamental, Cornershop and Muslim Brit rappers Kaliphz. Their militant polemic - “we’re not pacifists, we’re pistol packing paki-fists”- was dismissed as rubbish ranting rather than an authentic reflection of Asian concern and anger. Perhaps they went too far but even a cursory glance at today’s popular culture throws up few authentic Asian reflections and representatives.
“We are fed with the usual bland faces of the Asian experience”, argues freelance journalist Nina Kaur “East is East allows white audiences to laugh at Paki-gags, Goodness Gracious Me team perform their repetitive worn out gags, Imran and Jemima Khan walking around like a west-east fantasy and then there is Big Brother’s Narinder who wants to entertain you in yer face”.
It has been over 50 years since the fallout of the British Imperialism and which produced a mass migration from the Indian subcontinent. The 1991 census showed that as the UK’s population continues to age the Asian youth is the fastest increasing population group in the country. Further it is the most economically and culturally diverse. Yet paradoxically, Asians remain the most invisible of youth groups in popular culture.
The census revealed that 19 percent of whites were younger than 15, compared with 22 percent of Afro Caribbeans, 43% of Pakistanis and 47% of Bengalis. Based on the premise that Pakistani and Bangladeshi families in the UK have a young age profile and were reaching their teens, Nina Kaur reveals: “Home Office researchers, as far back as 1998, warned an upsurge in crime among young Asians. Fancy that!” Information from 2001’s census reports a similar trend.
The greatest irony of all is that the government and the far right groups have failed to respond to its own warning. “BNP and Combat 18 have been building up their bases in the northern cities over the last few years” states Kaur “they have exploited white fears by targeting disorganised Asian communities”.
The next question that arises is what does ‘Asian’ mean? Is it the broadly referring to immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and their British born children? However the majority of Asians rioting in the North of England were British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, united by being subsequently targeted for their Islamic faith.
Remember it was Nick Griffin, an ‘acceptable’ face and chairman of the BNP who said to Jeremy Paxman that it is not an Asian problem, it is a Muslim problem: “Stop saying Asian. Its not Asian versus whites, this is a Muslim problem. There are Hindus who have been pushed out of their homes. There are West Indians who have been burnt out.”
Does the BNP give us a smell of Islamophobia? Is it not strange that a leader from an active far right party defends Blacks and Hindus and then talks about Muslim segregation? It is outrageous to conclude that the BNP was playing out at a local level what global forces have been claiming since the end of the Cold War: that Islam is the ‘new communism and the new enemy of Western stability’. More so such an admission from the BNP is proof that modern racism deals in terms of cultural differences.
Shahid Malik, a member of the Government’s Commission for Racial Equality, has called for a rethink of basic democratic principles: “Freedom of speech is not an unqualified principle. If it results in this kind of anarchy and mayhem as a direct reaction to the presence of the far right, then we have to go back to the drawing board.
“We must now go as far as to think the unthinkable: banning political parties like these. We have to start questioning the validity of parties like the National Front and the British National Party.”
Mr. Griffin, the BNP leader, denies his party had any role in instigating violence and emphatically rejects the idea of violence for political purposes. “Multiracial societies always end in violence,” says Mr. Griffin “the reason for the trouble in these cities is that racial tension was already there, as it always is in mixed-race societies. Yes, we urge white people to stand up for their rights, but it is the Asians who burned the cities last summer.”
Mr. Griffin is by no means the first to warn that multiracialism breed results opposed peace and tranquillity. “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding,” the late Conservative political leader Enoch Powell told his countrymen 33 years ago, in warning against non-white immigration into Britain, “Like the Romans, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood,” as a consequence of the naive belief in multiracial harmony.
Powell was politically ruined for his forthright remarks but Mr Griffin firmly believes what happened last summer in Oldham, Bradford and elsewhere promises to recur far into the future as Britain changes from a majority white to a majority non-white society.
He adds: “Instead of searching for convenient and unpopular political rivals to blame, the British press and politics, not to mention the United States, ought to pay a little more attention to the warning Powell issued three decades ago, before more blood starts foaming in their country’s rivers.”
Detective Chief Superintendent, Max McLean, leading the criminal investigation into the events in Bradford appealed to the local minority community to name the minority responsible for these devastating criminal acts. He commented: “It was the crimes of a few, watched by many. We asked young people to put aside their loyalties and name the main protagonists who incited others to commit such violent acts.
“We received a good response. We have collected over 5,500 photographs of the trouble, as well as video footage from the police helicopter and CCTV cameras.”
Mr McLean believes “it would have been foolish and institutionally racist of him to ignore the racial aspects of the disorder”. The catalyst for the riots were clashes between Asian and white youths, following an Anti Nazi League (ANL) Rally. We arrested over thirty people and the majority were white men.”

A statement issued by the ANL’s Julie Waterson explains what they perceive to have started the violence: “The riot in Bradford was caused by a leading member of Combat 18 throwing the first punch, while hurling racist abuse at a group of Asians. Combat 18 contains the most violent of Britain's Nazis as members.”

“The ANL had organised a rally in response to threats by the National Front” Miss Waterson continues “our rally was peaceful, attended by over 2,000 people - black, white and Asian, children, the young and the elderly.

“When assessing the violence, we must examine the role of the police in allowing leading Nazis to openly walk the streets of Bradford on Saturday, taunting anti-racists and creating tension. The Nazis made a mockery of the government ban to stop them marching when the police refused to act against them.

“In the wake of the Macpherson Report and the conviction of BNP nailbomber David Copeland, it would appear that the police have learnt nothing.”

The BNP however blame the ANL for inciting ‘anti-white riots’: “Key ANAL speakers inflamed racial tensions by firing up a crowd of Asian youths against whites who might have been present in the town attending an NF demo after all the marches had been banned.”

Meanwhile a leaked report by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) suggested that Bradford presents "the ultimate challenge in race relations in Britain."
The independent study by Lord Herman Ouseley, a former chairman of the CRE entitled Removing The Fears warned that the city's leaders had been too paralysed by fear to properly address the city's race relations and racial segregation problems.

The report written weeks in advance of the 2001 summer rioting was commissioned by Bradford Council and other local organisations to find out what needed to be done to improve the situation.

There can only be one sensible course of action for the government to take that will help stop the spread of violence through our Northern cities and that is to target the segregation, target the entrenched racist attitudes, and build on equality and understanding. Did you see the support of the BNP on election night? In West Oldham itself it won 6,552 or 16.4 percent of the vote, its best showing in the country. This apparent rise in popularity of the far right in the UK is terrifying and action needs to taken to curb it.

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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 10:53 on 14 April 2003  Report this post
As someone who grew up in Bradford I read this piece with especial interest. I think it is very well researched and written - I wonder if it found an outlet in a paper or magazine soon after the riots. Whatever, there must be scope for a 'where we are now?' article on these very difficult and sensitive issues, especially in the context of the 'war on terrorism' with all it's connotations of Islam vs The Rest. I read something not that long ago about post-riot Manningham but there is always scope for a fresh angle. I'd be very interested to read a follow-up piece.

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