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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
'Salaam Mr Mayor'

By Zaiba Malik
Presenter and producer, BBC Radio 4

Mohammed Ajeeb
Mohammed Ajeeb's father came from Pakistan for the ceremony

Twenty years after the election of Britain's first Asian Lord Mayor, a Radio 4 documentary asks how much has changed in community relations in Bradford.

The fanfare that sounded around Bradford's town hall 20 years ago did more than signify the election of a new Lord Mayor.

The musical echo trumpeted a significant advance in race relations.

For donning the regalia of that Great British institution was Mohammed Ajeeb, a Pakistani immigrant. As the country's first Asian Lord Mayor, Mohammed made clear that a racially united Bradford, and indeed Britain, would be his dream.

Monday 28 March 2005
Radio 4, 2000 GMT
But events in the next two decades were to put an end to any hopes of a multicultural utopia.


What should have been a year of celebration and civic engagements saw Mohammed thrown into a national debate, the focus of which was the education of Bradford's Asian children.

Ray Honeyford, the headmaster of the racially mixed inner city Drummond Middle School, had written a series of articles about how he felt Asian pupils should integrate more fully into the British way of life.

The city's predominantly Pakistani community objected to his reference to "Asian ghettoes" and his criticism of their traditions.

Protests were organised at the school gates with placards stating that Ray Honeyford was a "Ray-cist".

City 'tarnished'

As Lord Mayor, Mohammed's role was to be an impartial figurehead. But he had taken on the mantle of promoting racial harmony and felt he could not remain silent.

"I said: 'He (Honeyford) has tarnished the image of the city,'" he recalls in the Radio 4 documentary marking 20 years since his election, 'Salaam Mr Mayor'.

"I knew what I was saying. I did not consult with any of my political colleagues. I had no doubt in my mind that the man was a racist and I insisted he must go."

And after two years, Ray Honeyford did go. The repercussions of the "Honeyford affair" went beyond the classroom.

At a time when the country's South Asian population was growing, questions were being asked about how far they should assimilate into British culture.

There were also consequences for Mohammed. Shortly after making his views known, his home was attacked and he had to receive police protection. Racist mail, often anonymous, poured through his letter box.

The message was clear: "We don't want you coloured people over here. Get out, you blacks! You have caused enough trouble and you are not wanted."

'White flight'

Over the following years, as second and third generations were born in Bradford, it became clear that the city was becoming segregated - with the Asian community concentrated in the inner city area and the white population moving out to the suburbs.

Rioting in Bradford
Reports into the riots found communities with 'polarised' lives
Faced with unemployment and poor housing conditions, tension grew. One hot weekend in July 2001 the city erupted.

A full-scale riot caused millions of pounds of damage to the city and severely dented years of work to build positive race relations.

According to Mohammed, the riots did little to stop "white flight" in the Manningham area.

"It was very sad and depressing for me. The riots made this place a no-go area, a no-come area for the white people."

After almost 20 years Mohammed hung up his political hat.

In recognition for his services to local government he was awarded the CBE.

But for many in Bradford, his legacy is a city as divided as it was two decades ago.

'Salaam Mr Mayor': BBC Radio 4, Monday, 28 March, 2005, 2000 GMT.

City riots to be dramatised on TV
03 Mar 05 |  Bradford



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