Sunday, 13 October 2013

EDL Defending Who From Whom?

Once upon a time it rained (quite a lot) in a peaceful northern city. A group of activists travelled to the city bent on defending the rights of the disenfranchised. About two hundred of them disgorged from trains, buses and cars onto the streets. But the people of the city went about their business in co-operation and harmony. The activists wandered about a bit. No one took any notice. The activists left. It rained some more. The end.

Not much of a story? What were the English Defence League doing in Bradford yesterday? Why did they think their presence was needed? And perhaps most intriguingly, what do they believe they are defending England from? When I walk around Bradford (or Leeds or Nottingham or Derby, for that matter) I am so intensely proud to be British. I relish the diversity of cultures and the sight of people of hugely different backgrounds enriching each others' lives through work and commerce and education. My husband and I have friends and colleagues of many faiths, languages and ethnic origins, all of them thoroughly British. In Bradford there is an extraordinary sense of entrepreneurship among the young. I don't want to romanticise things - there are times when different parts of the community remain isolated or aloof in ways you wish they wouldn't. People can be scratchy. That happens everywhere I meet people; it happens along social and economic and historical and educational fault lines and it happens between people with different accents and aspirations.

Why do we need a group of activists to defend anyone from anyone? The people of Bradford questioned this too. Why are they coming to our city? So they took action. On Friday there was the most marvellous day of coming together when the people of Bradford showed the nation what it means to be a mature, vibrant and varied British city that is comfortable with itself. They took to the squares and streets in a quiet way to witness to the fact that Bradford can do more than handle difference and the opposition and opprobrium difference attracts from people who feel threatened by anyone not like themselves - Bradford is a community that celebrates the way of life great diversity brings. 

The day before the EDL demonstration-that-wasn't over a thousand people came together in Centenary Square to emphasise the hopes and faith of the city. They held a vigil, distributed two and half thousand green ribbons around the city centre, wrote moving messages on a peace wall and boosted trade in the city. Lots of the participants were taken by surprise but joined in enthusiastically. Bradford Together had organised the event working with Bradford Women for Peace, Bradford Women's Council, HOPE not Hate, Unison, the TUC, and many of the mosques and churches.  Bana Gora of Bradford Women for Peace, Selina Ullah, Director of Bradford Women's Muslim Council, Ratna Lachman of JUST Yorkshire and Bishop Nick Baines all spoke enthusiastically of the event which exceeded expectations and demonstrated how strongly the people of Bradford feel about their city - a place where all faiths, ages and colours work together. This was the real story.
Well done Bradford!
Thank you for showing the way!  

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