Saturday, 5 February 2011

Bradford - liberty, culture and the significance of place

I live in a city which many – and especially Guardian-reading sorts – are wont to call “multicultural”. By this, in their “we’re not racists but we’ll point out there’s a lot a black folk” way, such people are drawing attention to Bradford’s substantial Muslim population.

Now I like my city – for all its faults (and they’re plenty) – it’s a great place that has been pretty good to me and where I’ve made some good friends and fine enemies of assorted races, genders and sexual preferences. But we’re not “multicultural”. No Sir! Before we discuss why this is so, however, let’s take a look at what our fine prime minister is on about:

"Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism," the Prime Minister said.

While a "passively tolerant" society allows its citizens to do what they like... a genuinely liberal country "believes in certain values and actively promotes them.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality.
"It says to its citizens: This is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe these things.

"Each of us in our own countries must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty."

Now it’s hard to take issue with these assertions – to argue that we shouldn’t be assertive in defence of liberty is to acquiesce quietly in the triumph of autocracy. But these values of free speech, free enterprise and property rights – the things that made me a Conservative – are not “British” any more than they are “French”, “American” or “Greek”. If we hold these liberties as crucial to civility – and we must – then the cry should be that they are universal values rather than values exclusive to one or other nation. The job at hand – and it’s not really a hard job – is to persuade Muslims to recognise that these values are their values too. That freedom, justice and independence of spirit are their values and that this is shared with their non-Muslim neighbours.

This brings us back to Bradford – where many of us have Muslim neighbours. Back in 2001 we had some riots – a great deal of damage was done in and around Manningham, the majority Muslim inner suburb of the City (sadly too much of the damage was directed at businesses owned by non-Muslims) and huge damage was done to the image of the city. Now for me – having lived in South London in 1981 when we experienced a different set of riots – the Bradford riots brought about an epiphany.

The complaints, concerns and anger expressed by the rioters were largely indistinguishable from those we heard after Brixton. Bad, often racist policing, lack of jobs, boredom and the drugs trade were all factors – what was needed was a spark which, in Brixton’s case was an arrest and in Bradford’s the arrival of a dozen NF idiots in a City Centre bar.

And we got ‘multiculturalism’ from Brixton and its bastard child ‘community cohesion’ from Bradford. Truth is that Bradford’s street culture is dominated by two working-class groups – young Asians from Manningham, West Bowling and Leeds Road, and white kids from Holme Wood, Allerton, Buttershaw and Thorpe Edge. Onto this divide – this dualism – we’ve placed a set of right-on presumptions that completely ignore the sense of place rights, ownership and criminality that define the communal split. And this is why waving the flag of liberty, shared values and rights – while welcome and proper – fails to resolve the ‘problem’ (if that is what we choose to call it).

As Conservatives, we should understand the idea of place instinctively – it is what really separates us from classical liberals. Our roots are important, where we come from matters. We may laugh and smile about Kentish Men and Men of Kent, make rude comments about Croydon or call the people from the next village ‘frogboilers’, but underlying this is the view that the place we are now and the place we come from help define who we are – that our soul is made from the soil of our home. As Kipling, the greatest poet of place put it about his ‘place’:

The Weald is good, the Downs are best---
I'll give you the run of 'em, East to West.

Beachy Head and Winddoor Hill,
They were once and they are still.
Firle Mount Caburn and Mount Harry
Go back as far as sums 'll carry.
Ditchling Beacon and Chanctonbury Ring
They have looked on many a thing,
And what those two have missed between 'em
I reckon Truleigh Hill has seen 'em.
Highden, Bignor and Duncton Down
Knew Old England before the Crown.
Linch Down, Treyford and Sunwood
Knew Old England before the Flood;
And when you end on the Hampshire side--
Butser's old as Time and Tide.
The Downs are sheep, the Weald is corn,
You be glad you are Sussex born!

For my Muslim neighbours and friends each passing day roots them more firmly into Bradford – into the place they’re from. And with Bradford comes Yorkshire – a place unparalleled – and England. These friends know this – they know about allegiance, honour and justice. For some the pull of making God’s kingdom on earth may attract them to extremist ideas and violence – just as was so in times past for middle class Germans like Ulrike Meinhoff. But these are not the values of Bradford’s Muslims – or not the values I see from them.

Nation does not start with grand statements of “values” but with pride – pride in village, street, farm and park. Pride in the City and town. Pride in our friends and our neighbours. The things that make us hesitate in what we’re doing for a moment, make us look up, turn to our neighbour and say; “yes this is a good place.”
The best defence against those ‘extremists’, Mr Prime Minister, is for people to turn to them and say, “we don’t need the change you offer, we like things as they are thanks.” So help us make that possible – help us make great places – and the violent extremists will fade like morning mist under a hot sun.


No comments: