In July 1981, 12 young Asian men were arrested in dawn raids across Bradford and charged with conspiracy to make explosives and to cause explosions. Almost a year later, following a trial which exposed the scale and intensity of everyday racist violence and the extent of police racism faced by their communities, they were all acquitted. 1981 had already witnessed uprisings of working class African-Caribbean, Asian youth, joined at times by white youth, angry about poverty, unemployment, racist attacks and police harassment. These had spread from St. Paul’s in Bristol to Brixton, Southall, Toxteth in Liverpool and other areas. On the other side, racist skinhead thugs linked to the National Front (predecessor of today’s BNP and EDL) had invaded Black (mainly African-Caribbean and Asian) communities attacking people on the streets and in their homes and targeting community buildings. On July 11th the news that vanloads of skinheads were planning to invade Manningham, Bradford’s main Asian area spread through the community. Only a week before coachloads of skinheads had attacked Southall’s Asian community and it was community self-defence, not the police, that had protected Southall. In Bradford, the recently-formed United Black Youth League (UBYL) responded by organising a protest through Manningham. And with an attack imminent they had also filled milk-bottles with petrol, in preparation, they later explained, for creating a “wall of fire” to prevent the thugs from entering Manningham. They hid them in bushes in case they were needed.Fortunately the skinhead plan was called off and the ‘petrol bombs’ were never used. But they were discovered and the police swung into action. A Special Branch list was used to identify members and sympathisers of the UBYL. In response to the arrests, campaigns to defend the Bradford 12 sprang up organised by Black communities and their anti-racist allies across the country. The trial starkly revealed the police’s attitude with one officer after another denying the reality of racist violence which the defendants described. Despite attempts to rig the jury by failing to include anyone from Bradford’s Asian community, the Bradford 12 were found not guilty on the basis of the right to self-defence. Now, in the face of escalating racism, particularly targeting Muslim communities, it is time to reclaim the spirit of the Bradford 12 and remember our slogan:
Self-defence is no offence!
The Bradford 12 case was fought in an era in which migrants to the Britain from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean and their descendants born here came together in Black organisations: their names, whether Asian, African or African Caribbean, did not preclude unity among themselves and with progressive white British people. It was a unity that resonated through the central slogan of the Bradford 12, Self-Defence is No Offence.
The Bradford 12 campaign, legal as well as political, epitomised the uncompromising principle of the right to resist racism and came out of an understanding that what was experienced in this country was an extension of colonialism’s racism and its plunder, exploitation and the occupation of our countries.
Now, 30 years later, extreme right groups with a variety of names are still given police protection to rampage through communities. But the working class communities like the one which the Bradford 12 had defended are in a far worse position. In the last 30 years they have faced increasing unemployment and poverty under the neoliberal policies of successive Conservative and Labour governments. Now, they are confronted by a new onslaught in the Con Dem sledgehammer of benefit cuts and public service closures – for which the previous Labour government laid the foundations.
State racism is alive and well. Racist immigration laws, housing policies, education, employment and the criminal justice system affect not only long-established Black communities in this country but many other groups. They include new migrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa and people fleeing the imperialist wars being fought by Britain and its allies in the name of human rights. Seeking asylum and safety in this country – known for its ‘democratic values’ – these refugees find themselves denied the means of survival – evicted as it were from the category of human.
Racism has also been recast. Islamophobia- nurtured by the last Labour government to meet the global needs of imperialism and facilitate the new scramble for Africa, Asia and the Middle East, has been added to the earlier arsenal of racist ideas – justifying unprecedented racist violence and repression.
On a day-to-day level, this means that Muslim communities in Britain now live in fear of the ever-increasing armies of spies being paid by projects such as Prevent. And terror raids by the police mean people often cross the road from those who have been raided, while some community centres and cafes refuse to allow campaigners meeting rooms to discuss the cases of those arrested under terror laws.
Muslims and Muslim ‘lookalikes’ are now gunned down in Britain in the interests of ‘security’. This old racism with new claws continues on, now hidden, now open, now in attacks on people’s homes and workplaces, now on the streets, and always in the establishment. Just as Margaret Thatcher whipped up racism and justified repression with her notorious ‘swamping’ speech in the era of the Bradford 12 , David Cameron in his recent speech at the European Security Conference declared not only the death of state
multiculturalism but unbuttoned the gloves, threatening to launch a ‘muscular liberalism’ against those opposing British colonial wars.