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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
British Asians fear victimisation

By Jill McGivering
BBC News correspondent in Bradford

Kamran Siddique
Kamran is cynical about the government's intentions
Twenty-one-year-old Kamran Siddique is a polite and mild-mannered young man, about to take his final exams to become a youth and community worker.

He says he was pretty liberal back in 2001, before the Bradford riots erupted.

But what he saw in the aftermath of the violence changed him. Three of his cousins and another three friends were each sentenced to several years in prison for throwing rocks during the riots.

Now he is more cynical.

"If someone burgled my home and I called the police, they'd be fine with me," he told me.

"But in terms of riots, where the police have got a different hat on, I'd say they're biased."

He is one of many in Bradford's British Asian community who are still angry about the sentences meted out after the riots.

BUS STOPS

"We see Millwall fans do the exact same thing," says Kamran, "and walk away to their houses."

The impact?

"You start thinking there's injustice in the justice system."

Conspiracy theories

We met Kamran at a community youth project for young British Asian men, West Bowling Youth Initiative.

Police powers, justice and discrimination are passionate topics here.

Haque Siddique
Haqueq Siddique challenges the accepted view of the 9/11 attacks

The current debate about civil liberties is a mask for something else, says project leader Haqueq Siddique.

"The idea of ID cards, stop and search, terrorism and 9/11 opened the floodgates for the government doing what they already wanted to do."

Conspiracy theories abound.

"Al-Qaeda doesn't exist, it's a fantasy," says Haqueq Siddique as the young men gather round, listen and nod.

"It's the politics of fear."

And the 11 September attacks?

Voters' views on terrorism laws

"There was no link," he says, "between the 19 Saudis who blew up the twin towers and Bin Laden."

He dismisses the anti-terrorism legislation introduced since then as unnecessary. "Terrorists don't really want to hurt people," he explained.

"They want to get a message across."

In Bradford, these are not uncommon ideas. Many British Asians we spoke to felt victimised, both by tougher police powers, which they felt targeted their community unfairly, and the justice system's handling of the riots violence.

Riot 'heroes'

Yunas Samad, a senior lecturer in sociology at Bradford University, says this perception of unfair treatment is having an unfortunate effect.

People who received tough prison sentences after the riots are now coming out of prison and, even those with prior criminal records, he said, are being feted.

QUICK GUIDE

"Instead of the community being critical of them, it's all being pushed to one side," he told me.

"They're being treated like heroes, as the men who stood up to the establishment."

All this creates a complex environment for policing. Chief superintendent Phil Read admits that, since 9/11, Muslim communities feel they're under scrutiny.

But he insists the police emphasis is on building bridges.

Nuzhat Ali
Nuzhat worries the current fear of terrorism could go too far

A recent home affairs select committee report, he says, stated the police were not unreasonably targeting the Muslim community.

"We are sophisticated enough to realise there are more good people out in the community than bad," he said.

Protection and tradition

But concerns are widespread.

In Bradford's suburbs, we interrupted Nuzhat Ali, currently a student in education as well as home-schooling two of her three children, as she cooked a chicken curry in the family home, her head covered by a patterned headscarf, her black skirt angle length.

She compared the new anti-terrorism powers being introduced with Nazi Germany.

"I'm not saying we're there yet," she said as she stirred, "but if we look at history, we need to learn the lessons of where it could go."

Her husband Maroof Shaffi, a lecturer in IT, paused in the doorway to listen and join in.

"Fundamental rights are being eroded," he said.

"Are we trying to turn the clock back to 1215 [the signing of the Magna Carta] when Kings and rulers could put people away?

"As a British Asian and Muslim, he said he feels he has to be careful now.

"It scares me that I can no longer speak out," he said.

"Am I going to be labelled a terrorist if I speak out against the state of Israel? The rule of law has to be supreme."
Maroof Shaffi
Maroof Shaffi says it's wrong that he doesn't feel he can speak out

Gareth Crossman, the director of policy at Liberty, agrees. He is opposed to both ID cards and the new anti-terrorism legislation.

"We say if people are criminals, they go on trial, they get their day in court," he told me.

"That's what we do in this country. Public concerns about terrorism were very real and should be respected, he said, "but we have to balance the need to protect the public with centuries of traditions of protecting the individual from the actions of the state."

Back at the West Bowling Youth Initiative, Kamran is already thinking two generations ahead. He is a first time voter himself and hopes to spend his working life nurturing Bradford's youth.

When I ask him how he sees the future, he squirms, as if he recognises that being positive might not make him popular here.

"I'm a little bit optimistic, to be honest," he says sheepishly. "The new legislation is going to affect the next generation. But it's down to the individual to deal with it. I'd like to help them through that."



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