Bradford’s British Asians fear being blamed for the disappearance of three sisters who are believed to have taken their nine children to Syria.
It’s 3pm on Thursday at the Brown Cow Inn, the only pub left in Little Horton, two miles south-west of Bradford city centre. Inside, the all white group of afternoon drinkers watch children from a nearby school stream by and the racially charged contrast between the two communities could not be more stark.
“That was my school,” said one man, as the group of British Asian children in smart blue blazers filed happily down Little Horton Lane and home. “When I left in 1970, there were three Asian lads in the whole place. Now it’s a case of spot the white kid.” Another said: “If you stand up on the hill, you used to be able to see mill chimneys. Now it’s just bloody domes.”
Up the road in Little Horton, in what was once the Salvation Army centre, primary school children arrive for Qur’anic recitation classes. They had changed out of their uniforms and into shalwar kameez or kurta pijama, some of the boys keeping their school trousers on beneath their long tunics.
An hour later, the madrassa at Jamia Islamia Rizvia was open for Islamic study and prayers, the girls upstairs and the boys downstairs. There were no biscuits. Ramadan has begun and no food or water would touch the older children’s lips until sundown.
Meanwhile, at an end of terrace house just off Little Horton Lane, the Dawood family were barracked in their own home. Curtains closed and blinds down, the parents of the missing sisters and other members of their family were determined that the cameramen waiting in satellite trucks outside would not get the picture they had been waiting for all week.
That afternoon, they sent out an email to journalists who had put their business cards through the front door. Asking the media to leave them in peace, the family said they were devastated by the sudden disappearance of three of their number – sisters Sugra, 34, Zohra, 33, and Khadija, 30 – who appeared to have gone to visit their younger brother, Ahmed, 21, in Syria, with their nine children in tow. No one else should follow their lead, the family said.
At 5pm, inside his high ceilinged office in Bradford’s Venetian Gothic town hall, the council leader, Dave Green, reflected on what he described as a terrible seven days for his city. Last Thursday, a teacher was stabbed in the classroom at a school in Lidget Green, leading to the arrest of a 14-year-old pupil. On Saturday, a pregnant woman and her unborn baby were stabbed to death in front of her children in Manningham.
On Monday morning, police found the bodies of a 40-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman in Bowling Park, following a suspected suicide pact. Then on Monday afternoon came the the story that would dominate the news for days.
A lawyer in the city contacted the media to report that three sisters and their nine children had not returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca and were feared to have crossed into Syria rather than return to their homes in Little Horton. By the time the television trucks had settled in, another unwanted headline emerged. A Bradford-born teenager admitted plotting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State.
“I think it’s safe to say that it’s not the sort of week that any town or city would want. It’s been dramatic and emotional at all sorts of levels, with a series of unconnected events that have just all come at once,” said Green, a southerner who has been the council’s Labour leader for three years.
We do not yet know what led the Dawood sisters to apparently take their children into a warzone, but speculation has naturally begun as to why they appear to have turned their backs on Britain and inner city Bradford, where they were born and brought up. Some wonder if increasing segregation in the central districts of the city was encouraging some Muslims to lead parallel lives. They have little to no interaction with mainstream British life, perhaps leading to a disconnect between what might loosely be termed “British values” and a different, Islamist perspective.
It is not a new thesis. Back in 2001, in the aftermath of violent race riots triggered by the National Front threatening to march in the city, academics looked for explanations as to how the violence erupted, leading to the criminalisation of dozens of disaffected, mainly British-Pakistani men.
In a Home Office report written soon after the riots, Ted Cantle said: “Separate educational arrangements, community and voluntary bodies, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives. They do not touch at any point, let alone overlap and promote any meaningful interchange.”
In the decade or so following Cantle’s report, pockets of Bradford have become ever more monoethnic. Little Horton, the area of south-west Bradford where the Dawood family lived, is 57% British Asian, overwhelmingly of Pakistani origin, compared with just under 20% in Bradford as a whole, according to the 2011 census. In Little Horton’s 19,996-strong local population, 35% do not have English as their main language and 12% of those are unable to speak English well or at all.
Adding to the insular nature of some of the British Pakistani-majority districts is the widespread practice of importing spouses, usually cousins, from ancestral villages. The three runaway sisters had all been married off to men from Pakistan with varying degrees of success. The husband of Zohra Dawood is back in Pakistan, according to the family’s lawyer. The husbands of the other two appeared at an emotional press conference in Bradford on Tuesday to insist they were happily married and had no idea why their wives had fled.
Two of the missing Dawood sisters also spent time living in Bradford Moor, over to the east of the city, where 80% of the 10,000-strong population living in the postcode sector is British Asian, according to the 2011 census. By comparison, just a mile or so away on the Holme Wood estate, 86% of the population is white. An industrial estate acts as a buffer between the districts, with a pub run by a Sikh family signalling that you are crossing from one world into another.
Vix Chumber’s family have run the Bradford Arms in East Bowling for 16 years. Chumber, 18, talks fondly of how the pub used to get so busy when he was a lad that it would take 10 minutes to get to the bar. Not any more. “The Muslims don’t drink, do they? And it’s cheaper now to go and buy alcohol from the supermarket and drink at home anyway.”
Behind the counter, the family keeps a framed document, the glass now smashed, listing every pub which existed in the neighbouring area since 1912. There were 54. These days, there are just three ; some turned into flats, others shops and others mosques. “We’re holding out until we are the only one left. Some people will always want to come to the pub, won’t they?” Chumber said.
Apart from the loss in takings, Chumber did not seem concerned about pockets of Bradford becoming ever more monocultural. “I have white friends, Asian friends,” he said. But Parveen Akhtar, a sociology lecturer at Bradford university, said segregation was “an issue” in Bradford, along ethnic lines but also and importantly along class lines. “Where is the middle class?” she asked.
“Certainly not in or around the centre of the city. Bradford is multicultural only insofar as there are pockets of different cultures living side by side. Segregation both ethnic and class-based is problematic because it limits contact with those who are different and this, in turn, can lead to insularity.”
Green does not like the term segregation. The council leader thinks it is pejorative and imbued with a sense of enforcement. “I think that districts in Bradford are certainly monocultural … I think it’s an issue that starts in schools, because children tend to go to their nearest school and you can’t change where people live. But to change the system of school placement is incredibly difficult.”
He said the council had yet to find a satisfactory way of changing catchment areas, but had begun to experiment by twinning predominantly white schools with overwhelmingly British Asian ones.
Irna Qureshi, a local writer and co-founder of the city’s lively new literature festival – which makes a point of creating events for all the local communities by bringing together writers from around the world – said it was wrong to blame Asians for wanting to live together.
“We need to be clear about the reasons that these places have become monocultural. It’s white flight, it’s old people dying, young people moving away and the fact that the Asian community still have strong family links which means they want to live close to each other. So what people tend to overlook when they talk about segregation are the positive sides, the strong bonds and family ties which exist.”
Back at the madrassa in Little Horton, the cheery imam, Muhammad Aslam Siddiquie Bindiyalvi, struggled to explain why a local family of 12 might want to swap this West Yorkshire city for a warzone. He insisted there were no deeper cultural tensions that might make a Muslim family want to flee. “Culturally, there’s no problem here. There’s respect,” he said, offering visitors cups of cardamom-heavy tea and dates despite of his own Ramadan fast.
Others seem keen to take a firmer view. On Friday, David Cameron gave a speech telling Muslim families and leaders to do more to combat the lure of Islamic State.
The prime minister’s warning was greeted with dismay by the Bradford Council for Mosques. Ishtiaq Ahmed, the council’s president, said: “I think the prime minister and his team need to change the script on this and stop pushing the blame back on the community. We have been extremely alert and vigilant to the threat of radicalisation and are working very hard to make sure our members are made aware of the threat.”
As worshippers filed into jummah prayers at lunchtime on Friday, the thoughts of many turned back to the family whose nine Bradford-born children are now feared to have crossed into Syria. They fear too for themselves, as they are forced once again to apologise for the actions of others whose views they do not share.
“I pray that the Muslim community will not be blamed for this,” said Ahmed, before the service. “The community is united in condemning what has happened but feel very saddened for the children.”
source : The Guardian