This summer marks the tenth anniversary of the 2001 riot in Bradford, which caused so much damage to property and the city’s reputation in the world at large.
Nevertheless, in academic and libertarian circles, the trend for some time has been to refer to the events of the afternoon, evening and night of July 7 and 8 as “the disturbances” and attribute the violence to poverty and social divisions.
Subsequent policies on social cohesion and counter-terrorism by central government to curb and contain the threat of more mainland violence of this sort are the subject of a good deal of criticism.
For example, the chief executive of Bradford Council, Tony Reeves, says great harm has been done to Bradford’s Muslims by these policies.
Addressing a meeting at Bradford University’s Norcroft Centre, he said: “I would dearly love to see, in policy terms, the decoupling of extremism with Islam. I don’t think mainstream Islam is about Islamist extremism at all… “If we create conditions where we empower people in our communities, we make them less susceptible to the very small minority who will damage other people.”
Mr Reeves was among a number of speakers invited to discuss these issues which feature in two books published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Invisible Village, a compendium of anonymous reflections about living in Yorkshire, compiled and edited by novelist and Bradford University lecturer M Y Alam, and Cohesion, Counter-Terrorism And Communities, written by social scientist Charles Husband and M Y Alam.
The Association of West Yorkshire Authorities also backed research for the two books, hence the presence of Mr Reeves on the panel of speakers at the meeting, along with Mr Alam and Mr Husband, among others.
Mr Husband said there was a contradiction in rolling out the two policies of cohesion, following the 2001 Bradford riot which cost an estimated £40 million in damage to property and policing, and the Preventing Violent Extremism report following the 2005 London suicide bombings, which killed 52 and injured hundreds. Four more attempted bombings were thwarted by security forces two weeks later.
The authors said: “As local authorities following government policy developed highly-integrated multi-agency structures to manage the delivery of Community Cohesion and Prevent, a significant degree of overlap and tension arose in their implementation.
“Prevent was intended to reduce the threat from terrorism by deterring those who might encourage it, and to enable Muslims to resist being drawn into radicalisation.
“Prevent introduced intensive patterns of surveillance and interventions within Muslim communities that created a very strong negative response…”
Mr Husband told the meeting the two policies carried an implicit message from mainstream society to Muslims: “We know you’re there, we know you’re problematic, we know you are the future source of bombers.”
Prevent, which led to “speculative smash-and-grab raids that took young Muslims off the street but didn’t prosecute them”, had a negative effect on traditional community development work.
“If you want to have cohesion, you deny the possibility of conflict, and conflict is part of the democratic process. Social cohesion prevents that,” he added.
Philip Lewis, adviser to the Bishop of Bradford, said the issues of extremism, both of the Right and Islam, were very real. He asked speakers to identify potential areas of solidarity across social and cultural divides between the poor white working class and British Pakistanis.
Les Black, sociologist from Goldsmiths College, University of London, referred to The Invisible Village as evidence that “habitable forms of multiculture already exist… We must pay more attention to what already exists across differences,” he added.
Earlier, he said that government does not attend to the world as it actually is, which was why he believed Prevent and Social Cohesion were profound mistakes. Interestingly, he also questioned the current obsession with identity.
“Identities are not as important as what people do every day – the people that they know, the places that they share,” he said.