Bradford riots

Bradford riots


Written by: Arun Kundnani

An important new drama by Neil Biswas, to be broadcast on Channel 4 next week, shows how the lives of members of the Pakistani community of Mannigham were defined and destroyed by the Bradford riots of July 2001.

The riots were the worst outbreak of street violence on mainland Britain in a generation and involved over a thousand people in a night of pitched battles with the police, following a racist attack on an Asian man in the town centre. But, till now, the impact on the local Pakistani community has been largely ignored.

Hundreds of young Muslim men, almost all first-time offenders and many in the midst of university studies, received sentences of between four and six-and-a-half years for their involvement, despite handing themselves in to the police and entering guilty pleas.

In Bradford Riots, to be broadcast on Thursday 4 May 2006 at 9.00pm on Channel 4, the story of one family’s experiences of the riots is told. The drama is closely based on the actual experiences of rioters. Writer and director Neil Biswas spent a year researching Bradford’s Pakistani community and visiting prisons to speak to some of those convicted. The strength of the film is its faithfulness to both personal and political narratives, without reducing the one to the other.

The film revolves around a single family that is painfully torn apart as events unfold. There is the university student Karim, who begins his Saturday afternoon in the library. But as circumstances weigh heavily against him, he ends up in the midst of the violence; his own tragic fate is thereby sealed. There is his elder brother Faisal, a devout Muslim, who is dubious of the company his younger brother keeps but whose life is also taken over by events beyond his control. There is Faisal’s wife, Shazia, for whom the meaning of the riots hits home in the experience of being ostracised by formerly friendly white acquaintances, when she picks up her son from the nursery. There is Karim and Faisal’s father, Azad, a former mill worker whose old-fashioned faith in British fair play leads him into too readily handing his son over to the criminal justice system.

Ironically, it is Karim’s friend Aki, a local ‘bad boy’ and drug dealer, who is the most perceptive about the new ‘us and them’ mood of the post-riots situation and the ruthlessness with which the police and courts will pursue the rioters, especially after September 11.

With a thumping soundtrack by Asian Dub Foundation, Bradford Riots is an important document of one of the defining events of the decade, showing the real life stories behind easy talk of ‘community cohesion’ and Britishness.

Related links

From Oldham to Bradford: the violence of the violated – IRR analysis

Four sentences reduced, eleven upheld, in appeal for Bradford rioters – IRR News story

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

3 thoughts on “Bradford riots

  1. I would like to say “WOAH!!” Year 2000 really was a year we all hated but last night it was like, it all came back. It truely was brilliantly acted out. It must have left the whole of Britain thinking and probably regretting what they thought of muslims youths. I just wanted to know if ‘Karim’ and his brother are out now? Are some lads still ‘in’ for the riots or not? Thank you

  2. I think the programme was very insightful. A lot of people do not actually know that the Bradford riots were started due to an attack on an asian man by the BNP and were the result of massive increases in tension over race. Where are the politicians and what are they doing about removing such blatantly racist groups?! free speech? whatever.

  3. This film shows how racist the English Police are against us upnei Asians. The Desi community is always being victimised, especially us muslims. The Asian guys in the Bradford riots were reacting to the racist English thugs who beat up an innocent Asian lad. They were wrong to throw bricks at the Police, but they never deserved such long sentences. 5 years for throwing stones after the kid turned himself in and it was also his first offence in his life. It shows how racist the institution is. They didn’t care about how everyone praised Karim and his teachers saw how good he was and clever. It is sad that racism is entrenched in the Police. I personally saw my brother arrested when he was beat up by some white guys. My brother was arrested for assault, even though he was just defending himself. The police don’t know the meaning of justice when they are dealing with Asians. This was a very good film and it exposes the police very well.

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