chapter  9
30 Pages

Multicultural harmony? Pakistani Muslims and music in Bradford


National and international politics have an important bearing on Britain’s Muslim populations, but the increasingly pejorative and partisan nature of news stories tends to focus on the puritanical sobriety of orthodox Islam, often obscuring the positive richness of South Asian culture. Bradford’s Pakistani ‘community’ has often found itself in the media spotlight. It became the centre of the world’s attention in 1989 when Pakistani Muslims burned copies of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in the city centre. Culminating in Ayatollah Khomeini’s infamous fatwa calling for the author’s death, the Rushdie affair sparked heated debate about the limits of liberalism and secularism in Britain. Media focus came to Bradford again in 1995 and 2001 following periods of civil unrest within the predominantly Pakistani areas of the city. Indeed, 2001 marked a time of particular uncertainty as media interest in Islam following 11 September intensified. Muslim youth were now considered a ‘ticking time-bomb’ by the media; their ‘regressive’ and ‘fundamentalist’ religiosity threatened to constrict and challenge Britain’s secular values. The Bradford Mela is UK’s largest South Asian music and arts festival. The festival is ostensibly ‘South Asian’, and yet the largest population of South Asians in Bradford are Mirpuri-Muslims who have previously been identified as ‘orthodox’ in their attitudes to music. By examining the relative parts played by the different threads which weave into the cultural tapestry of the festival, this chapter shifts the spotlight away from recent political antagonisms in order to observe the potential of music to open up a more neutral space of debate and contestation. The Mela is a focal point in the year for music in Bradford, where multiple identities, ethnicities, faiths and traditions are performed and enacted. Active encounters and interactions generate amity amongst strangers, enabling them to reconfigure their social and political orientations before re-engaging with everyday life. This is demonstrated by suggesting that the festival is reflexive and responsive to surrounding politics, its boundaries permeated by those who attend. Through fieldwork conducted at the Mela this chapter studies the extent to which the festival represents a site for a (re)configuration of attitudes towards Pakistanis, and explores some of the possible implications of this for recent political events in the city.