Blog: Sex-grooming – Paedophilia is the problem, not Pakistanis

A second child-sex grooming ring has been uncovered in East Lancashire and on BBC’s The Big Questions this morning, a debate raged around whether or not this is a “Muslim British-Pakistani” problem.  The Daily Mail-esque question was “After the Asian grooming case, does the Pakistani community need to get its house in order?”   Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are of the opinion that they do.  A fair few have also been careful to be as politically correct as possible.  No one wants to be accused of racism now do they?  But I am disappointed in the reactions to this in the public domain to this.

My first disappointment is that popular media and debates have firmly placed this issue in the “identity politics” category.  It is a crying shame that the abhorrent crime at the core of this – the grooming and sexual abuse of young girls (overwhelmingly white, but some were also Bangladeshi) – has been somewhat lost.  Instead the fashionable, paper-selling criticism of Muslims/Islam (note, they aren’t saying just British-Pakistani) takes primacy over and above the remorse we should be showing these unfortunate young victims.

As I write this, I am watching a programme on Star Plus discussing child sexual abuse in India – harrowing stories are being shared by men and women who were sexually abused as children in a country where there is no law to address child sexual abuse issues and where 53% of people say they have been subjected to sexual abuse as a child.  And it wasn’t just Indians who were at it.  In 2001, the Anchorage Case saw Alan Waters and Duncan Grant (two very Muslim and British-Pakistani names), two British ex-naval officers, charged with running their own sex ring.  They are known in India as “The British Paedophiles”.  Under the pretext of running a shelter, these two men scoured the streets of Mumbai offering food to children living on the streets.  These children were then passed around to adults – native and foreign – to be sexually abused.  The nature of India’s legal system meant that it wasn’t until 2011 that the Supreme Court were able to serve justice thanks to the perseverance of the world’s largest children’s phone emergency outreach service, CHILDLINE India Foundation and the Maharashtra Government.  Waters and Grant are no different from the Khans and Alis charged in Rochdale – they are all cut from the same disgusting cloth.

Our first reaction should always be to support the victims – they’ve done nothing wrong and there is no better response to any abuse than to see those abused rising above it and, hopefully, preventing a repeat of this anywhere else.  In fact, experts, commentators, policy and sociologists/psychologists aren’t going to prevent girls from falling into this trap again.  Those who have been abused are the only ones who can possibly understand the circumstances, feelings and nuances that led them to become victims.  These young girls should be supported and empowered to overcome their trauma.  They are the only ones that other victims can possibly trust to understand and empathise with their predicament.

Instead, most people are fixated on who to blame and how to frame that blame.  I hope and pray that justice is served swiftly and firmly.  But, moreover, I hope and pray that we uncover existing abuses (if there are more) and prevent, as best we can, any in the future.  The critical point is that throughout all societies there are, and will always be, some that will exploit and prey on the vulnerable.  That trait is not limited to Muslim British-Pakistanis.

And it is here that my second disappointment lies.  I am all for calling a spade a spade.  But the spade most of us seem to have chosen here is the wrong one.  There are fundamental issues that meant these girls were vulnerable and “prey-able” in the first place – that should be our first concern.  Why were they in that situation in the first place?  Why are girls as young as 11 in situations where they can be preyed on, venturing into unwelcoming environments.  Before you throw your toys out of the pram, yes everyone should be free to go wherever they like without fearing perverts.  But if that were the case, we wouldn’t need any policing of our streets.  There would be no need for discipline from parents to children.  The vast majority of victims were from difficult backgrounds – why don’t we address these issues first?

As for the ethnic make-up of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.  We should not be surprised that Muslim British-Pakistanis in Lancashire hang out together.  That’s how communities are formed.  People gravitate to those who are most similar to them – white working classes, British Asians, Bullingdon club government ministers… Even within these communities, there are sub-communities – Millwall/West Ham football fans, doctors/engineers, News International chummies.  In the case of Rochdale, it was their collective paedophilia that brought them closer together – not their faith or their ethnicity – to carry out these atrocious acts.

Even the cultural “explanations” based on the perpetrators’ ethnicity is, to my mind, a little lazy.  Muslim British Pakistanis aren’t the only ones that can’t talk about sex openly in their communities.  They’re not the only ones who have arranged marriages.  They aren’t the only ones that act as though it’s ok to bully women.  In fact, the thing that should alarm us most is the seeming increase in child sexual abuse cases since 2004/05.  NSPCC can point to an increasing number of calls to Childline about sexual abuse since 2004/05.  Would it be safe for me to then say that the UK, culturally, has an increased tendency to sexually abuse their children based on the evidence? Probably not.

In such a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business, that nobody thought to report this before it had gone too far (one is too far) says more about those that knew it was happening than those that did it.  Perhaps the overwhelming majority of that community were Pakistani but this isn’t a solely Pakistani problem.  Crimewatch didn’t come into existence because British Pakistanis weren’t reporting crimes.  Catholic priests didn’t get away with their crimes because British Pakistanis weren’t reporting them.

According to Rochdale’s most recent Community Plan, 11.43% of its population is BME.  Newsflash: that’s still a minority.  It has been widely reported that white people are overwhelmingly represented on the sex offenders register.

We should be dreaming of a society where there is no need for a sex offenders register.  We should be dreaming of a society where young girls are not preyed upon by unscrupulous men – alone or in groups.  Until then, let’s try not to create a schism from which there may be no turning back.

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Article: Multiculturalism breeds intolerance

I came across The Vibe online magazine by chance when I was mindlessly browsing the w4mp.com website to see what kinds of jobs are out there.  It’s a great little blog, one of the “Top 10 non-aligned political blogs of 2010” in fact, and I was delighted to be able to write for them.  I’ve written more here than anywhere else.

My first article was about multiculturalism and how this idea, to my mind, has done more harm than good.  I’ve pasted it below – for the moment, I can’t link to the original piece as The Vibe website is down after being hacked but, once it’s up and running properly, I’ll post it here.

Tell me what you think

In reading Anushka Asthana’s piece in The Observer on Sunday, I was glad to see that ‘multiculturalism’ and the decorations that surround it are finally being recognised for the tokenism it is.  I was disappointed to read, however, that Asthana fails to recognise some very fundamental things.

Let me set the scene.  I was born and raised in London to Muslim parents, one from Pakistan and the other from Bangladesh.  I was educated in a public school in Essex, which had a sizeable Asian population (though the majority where white) and worked for a private bank where, at one point, I was the only Asian male in a building of about 300 staff.

Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to speak English in the house and eventually learned to read, speak and write in Bangla and Urdu.  A bit of Punjabi was mixed in whenever I visited my Nan.  Both my parents speak English – my father a paramedic and trade unionist and my mother being educated in one of the few English-language schools in Dhaka in the 60s and 70s.  I’ve been a choirboy at school, continue to act in plays (musicals and non-English language too), recited poems in Bangla, presented shows in Urdu and, of course, written articles in English.

Did or do I feel multicultural? Well, no.  None of the activities I do are supposed to be multicultural.  When someone tells me they are, I start thinking ‘is this something I’m not supposed to be doing?’  When clients would be surprised that I was fully Asian after speaking to me on the phone, I’d be entirely confused as to why my accent is the subject of such attention just because it comes out of a brown mouth.  It’s only then that I realise that I’m in some way ‘different’.

My issue with the term ‘multicultural’ is that by formally defining what should be an inherent existence within a liberal, democratic society, the lines of demarcation are made clear and, actually, those who are behaving ‘multiculturally’ are being viewed as entirely ‘different’.  Whilst it is clear that people are more aware these days of what happens in different cultures, this has only given rise to political correctness which, in turn, has driven communities even further apart.

Take the simple matter of handing out Christmas cards.  It seems people have to make the painstaking decision of whether or not we should hand out Christmas cards to certain people lest we offend ‘them’.  Once it’s established that it might be okay to hand out the cards, the greeting on the card becomes the next bone of contention – ‘Season’s Greetings’ or ‘Merry Christmas’?  I can’t think of a single Muslim person who would threaten jihad upon receipt of a Christmas card.  And it’s because you’re ‘seen to be doing the right thing’ that we end up exacerbating already frayed relations between communities.

A lot was made of the community cohesion agenda during the last government.  Another misleading idea.  It is impossible to make people get on with each other (targets included: % people from different backgrounds who get on with each other).  By all means, build greater understanding of different communities and build tolerance, but you certainly can’t make people get on with each other.  Having ‘The Hallows’ living next door to you is no more or less cohesive than ‘The Khans’ living next to ‘The Patels’ and sharing potato curry.

Fundamentally, the problem lies in the basic premise of the idea of ‘multiculturalism’.  The word seemed to enter common usage in the early noughties and was synonymous with the seeming ‘rise’ of Muslim extremism.  Even Asthana’s piece highlights that the discussion around multiculturalism was framed within the debate surrounding tackling violent extremism and specfically, though no one will say it, Muslim violent extremism in the UK.

These are two entirely different things.  Multiculturalism has nothing to do with preventing violent extremism – in fact, it’s partly because of it that we have extremists in the first place.

We now have a problem with shaking off this idea of multiculturalism that seemed to be met with such approval by a society too keen to show its willingness to embrace other cultures.  Liberty and freedom is about being allowed to express your own individual self and being tolerant of others who are different to you.  Multiculturalism fails to do any of those things, breeding intolerance and discouraging people from expressing themselves as they wish as they are restricted by the confines of the word.