Do ‘no-go’ zones for non-Muslims exist in Britain, as the Bishop of Rochester claims? Olga Craig reports from some of Yorkshire’s Asian-dominated areas.
It has been more than 40 years since Tim Carbin walked the length of Oak Lane, the Bradford backstreet of his boyhood. Then, when he lived with his grandmother Florence Pawson, a matriarch within the community, his task after school was to run errands.
Down to Foster’s, the baker’s, for a loaf of bread and a pound of bacon from Donald Gilbank the butcher. “And mind it isn’t too fatty,” Florence would tell him.
Mr Carbin, then 13, knew all the local storekeepers by name, just as he knew the families in the surrounding terraces.
Yesterday, outside number 95A, his grandmother’s former home, Mr Carbin gazed in bewilderment as he scanned his old haunt.
Not surprisingly, the stores of his youth had gone: such has been the change in our shopping habits over the decades that they have given way to supermarkets and fast-food outlets.
But that was not all that had changed irrevocably in Oak Lane. Among the new stores, the clothes shops sell Muslim dress, the butcher stocks halal meat and even the local takeaway advertises halal pizza.
“I feel like an alien, like I’m on a street in Karachi,” Mr Carbin says, awkwardly.
“I don’t feel I have anything in common with this area. It’s like I’ve never been here before. I knew it would be different but I knew, too, that I would feel uncomfortably like I don’t belong.”
He now lives just 10 miles away, in the north of Bradford. He hasn’t returned because Oak Lane, like so many similar areas of so many northern cities, is now an almost exclusive Asian Muslim community.
Mr Carbin is far from a racist, however. Well educated and widely travelled in Muslim countries, he has the utmost respect for the Islamic religion. What is worrying him is that Britain’s increasing espousal of multiculturalism has led not to an integrated society but, instead, to ghettoisation, with white-only and Asian-only communities existing cheek by jowl but with little or no common ground. And that, he believes, could have an ominous outcome.
He is, clearly, one of those about whom Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester (Britain’s only Asian-born bishop), wrote in The Sunday Telegraph last week: the increasing number of native white Britons who believe many of their streets have now become “no-go” areas.
Western values are not compatible with Islam. As a result, many Muslims form ghettos and engage in other forms of non-integration.
Hair-tricker sensitivities that have Muslim extremists respond to real or perceived insults with death threats, violent demonstrations, murder and terrorism, make it difficult or even impossible for non-Muslims to believe the claim that Islam is a ‘religion of peace.’ Therefore a high birthrate among Muslims, combined with high (legal and illegal) immigration figures, have Europeans and others worried about the Muslims in their midst.
The Bishop believes that one of the results of the resurgence of Islamic extremism has been to alienate young Muslims from this country and to view adherence to this ideology as a mark of acceptance.
This, he says, means many Christians and those of other faiths find it difficult to live or work here because they feel there is hostility towards them.
Britain’s “novel philosophy” of multiculturalism, he believes, has caused Muslims to lead separate lives, in separate areas, speaking their native languages.
His views have angered many in Muslim communities but, equally, they have struck a chord with many like Mr Corbin.
“This isn’t, as the Government would like us to believe, a multicultural society,” he says.
“This is pure racial segregation. And it’s like this because the Muslim community simply refuses to integrate. So people like me feel like outcasts in our own country.”
As Mr Corbin trudges farther along Oak Lane, he passes the tumble-down Anglican church where many of his former neighbours worshipped. Amid the mound of bricks, Sunday school hymn books are strewn.
Across town, in another Asian enclave, one local shopkeeper is preparing to sell up after 30 years running a family firm.
“I am retiring,” he says. “But yes, it’s true, a lot of people feel uncomfortable in Muslim areas. It’s fine for me, I’ve stayed and I know everyone, but many are fearful of venturing into the area.
“It’s not so much fear of violence, rather that they feel a sense of not being welcome, of having nothing in common with the community here, and a feeling that no one would appreciate the interest should they show it.
“I wish the Muslim community had integrated more, but they didn’t. I haven’t even been able to get them to join Neighbourhood Watch.”
In the surrounding streets, the few white residents willing to talk speak of isolation rather than intimidation. One said he had had several members of the Asian community knocking on his door, asking if he wanted to sell his home.
“At face value, that seems innocuous,” he says. “But others believe it was a message saying I should get out.”
Another tells of how his father, an electrician, parked his van in the area only to have it rocked and thumped by a group of Asian youths telling him: “This is our area now. You are not welcome here.”
It surprises no one, he says, knowingly, that a recently built massive police station, complete with a 30ft wall and a communications tower, now dominates upper Oak Lane.
In the nearby town of Dewsbury, which was once, like Bradford, a thriving mill area, similar enclaves exist. Local people were outraged recently to read that busy nurses at their local hospital had to allocate time to turning the beds of Muslim patients towards Mecca five times a day so that they could pray.
And last year, the discovery of an al-Qaeda propaganda DVD, which was handed out at the local mosque, increased tensions and further encouraged segregation among the communities. That, in turn, was capitalised on by the British National Party, which gained its highest numbers of voters in the city.
Aware that the majority of its schools are exclusively white or Muslim, community leaders held a public meeting last month mooting ideas for community events to encourage more unity among its inhabitants. But while initiatives were discussed, the notion of integrated societies was not.
“The Bishop of Rochester is right to say there is segregation and ghettoisation,” concedes Bary Malik, a local imam. “But we all share the blame for that, not one individual community. The Bishop of Rochester supposedly understands both cultures, so he should be trying to foster better relations between these communities, not aggravating them.”
But, as Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, points out, the notion of space and territory is vital to Muslims.
During the 1979 European Islamic Conference, a policy of integrating as communities, not as individuals, was advocated.
“Once those communities become the majority,” he says, “they can control education, the economy and so on. And that is what has happened.”
Another problem, he believes, is that, in the name of multiculturalism, the Labour Government has allowed a dual system of law to exist.
“Sharia law now exists in almost all Islamic communities in the UK,” he says. “Not at a penal level, but at a family level. It rules among the Muslim community in marriage and divorce, often at the expense of the vulnerable. To solve this, the Government must say no to Sharia law being practised. There should be no separate legal system in this country.”
His concern over the results of multiculturalism is not shared by the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev David James. He has worked hard to engender integration among the faiths in the city.
After the al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid, when Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, suggested that it was a matter of when the terrorist organisation would bomb London, not if, he – along with cross-community leaders – held a series of meetings about how they should react should that happen.
Their aim was to ensure that there was not a repeat of the 2001 race riots if al-Qaeda bombed Britain. It is to their credit that, after the 7/7 London bomb, Bradford remained peaceful.
He remains adamant that no-go areas do not exist in Bradford. “I have no experience or any knowledge of no-go areas here,” he says. “I don’t know where the Bishop of Rochester was talking about. No one does.”
There has, however, been one positive outcome of the continuing debate about the extent of the Islamic community in Bradford, he believes.
“It has put faith on the map. Awoken Christians to be better Christians and to have public faith. Here we openly celebrate Christmas, not some bewildering Winterfest.”