Posts Tagged ‘muslim’
You can read this on my Huff Post blog, here
Yesterday’s interim report on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) has reignited debate over ‘asian sex gangs’ and whether the PC brigade are impeding the police from identifying the variable of race as relevant. In a debate with Tory MP David Davis on BBC Radio 2 yesterday, he put to me that we all apparently ‘know deep down’ that girls are targeted due to inherent misogyny in the Asian – and specifically Muslim – community. In defence of his argument, he referred (erroneously) to the Quran. Because of course, ‘Muslim’ paedophiles like to consult their Holy book before they ply children with alcohol and abuse them.
The latest report is a vital contribution to our understanding of child sexual exploitation, but it focuses only one particular type, namely that involving gangs or groups. Although Asian men are overrepresented in this particular category, 95% of the UK’s sex offenders are white males. An interesting question the report does raise is why Asian men favour this gang or group set up. It could be that in certain gang dominated areas, typically impoverished areas where BMEs are overrepresented, CSE is an extension of broader criminal activity. A paucity of details about perpetrators means we can only speculate, but what the report makes clear is, “there is more than one type of perpetrator, model and approach to child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups.”
The report also belies the suggestion that such groups target ‘white girls’, playing on age old fears of black sexuality preying on white innocence: “the characteristics common to all victims are not their age, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation, rather their powerlessness and vulnerability.” Indeed the report showed victims come from a range of backgrounds, ethnicities and genders, with 28% of victims from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
In a Daily Mail article yesterday, Yasmin Alibhai Brown argued that “some Asian cultural assumptions make the paedophiles feel no guilt or shame about what they do,” raising questions about a culture which could condone such abuse. The report itself states: “There is no doubt that girls and young women are targeted due to the way some men and boys perceive women and girls.”
There is no denying the existence of misogynistic attitudes among some Asian men. In the Muslim community, I’m the first to denounce their existence. Each subculture has its own variant to express disdain for women – sluts or skanks, hoes and bitches, gora or kuffar. Pick your idiom and I’ll show you a lexicon referring to women deemed worthy of contempt. The problem is, misogyny is not exclusively ‘Asian’ .
What exactly is uniquely ‘Asian’ about these cases? Alibhai-Brown suggests the fact many of the men “cannot relate to women except as objects” is symptomatic, but various feminist groups, including OBJECT, regularly denounce the objectification of women in popular culture as leading to the dehumanisation of women.
What exactly is ‘Asian’ about men plying young girls with alcohol at ‘parties’ and then taking advantage of them? In Britain, alcohol is one of the most commonly cited factors in attempts to explain or excuse rape, alongside a woman’s attire. According to the Fawcett society nearly a third of people (30%) say a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk and more than a quarter (26%) if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing (AIUK 2005).
The report raises some worrying questions about the perception of women or girls whose lifestyle might not conform to mainstream views of ‘propriety’, a view which filters through to CPS professionals, who dismissed victims as ‘promiscuous’ and ‘liking the glamour’. The report notes that some of the most common phrases used to describe a young person’s behaviour by CPS professionals, were: ‘prostituting herself’, ‘sexually available’ and ‘asking for it’. Why did these professionals perceive the girls in this way? A study by Warwick university argues that working class women are framed in the press as “oversexualized and with the ‘wrong’ kind of relation to men”. When you consider the troubled background of most victims, including the fact that 34% are in the care system, this has serious implications.
This sexualising terminology and the suggestion by Alibhai- Brown that “many abusers are sexually frustrated,” reflects a widely held misconception that rape is primarily about sexual gratification, when studies suggest power and control are central. The abuse described in the report, namely the fact that oral and anal rape were most widely reported, alongside physical violence, suggests a pattern of intentional humiliation and control. The misrepresentation of rape in the media has left even CPS professionals confused as to what constitutes rape.
The Leveson inquiry recently heard that misrepresentations of violence against women in the media impact on public perception of these crimes. Marai Larasi, head of the End Violence Against Women coalition affirmed that the media perpetuates a culture of blaming female victims, including through the “exoticising of violence through racism or anti-religious rhetoric”.
Rather than viewing the men responsible as cultural aberrations whose views of women were drawn from the plains of Afghanistan, we would do well to ask to what extent they reflect pervasive representations of (certain ‘types’ of) women and in particular of working class girls.
Let’s talk about culture – popular culture which has led to such confusion over the notion of consent, to images spewed out by the porn industry skewing the way young people think about sex. CPS professionals themselves have expressed concern that pornography is impacting children’s understanding of what constitutes ‘acceptable, required or expected’ sexual behaviour.
The closest Alibhai-Brown came to an ‘Asian’ cultural explanation was the suggestion the men were buying the girls ‘kebabs.’ Why would we assume, as a society, that Asian men live in mental ghettos where their values and ideas are so radically different to those of the rest of society. It seems to fit neatly into the characterisation of Muslims and Asians as ‘resistant’ to integration, essentially ‘different’ to the rest of us and the classic orientalist depiction of the ‘hypersexed Muslim’. It also lets our common culture off the hook, by avoiding a deeper examination of normalised sexist attitudes which prevail. Ultimately though, it is the victims who pay the price. Twice.
The discussion looked at the on going protests in Muslim communities across the world, what has fuelled them and the underlying tensions that these events have exposed.
Maajid Nawaz, co-Founder and executive director of Quilliam, founder of Khudi and author of Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening. He was formerly on the UK national leadership for the global Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). Twitter: @MaajidNawaz
David Aaronovitch, writer, broadcaster, commentator and regular columnist for The Times. He is author of Voodoo Histories: The role of Conspiracy Theory in Modern History and Paddling to Jerusalem: An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country. Twitter: @DAaronovitch
Myriam Francois-Cerrah, writer and journalist. She is currently a post-graduate researcher (DPhil) at Oxford University, focusing on Islamic movements in Morocco, and teaches Middle East politics. She writes for the Guardian, the New Statesman, The London Paper, Index on Censorship, The Cherwell,The F-word and others. Twitter: @MFrancoisCerrah
Kirsty Hughes, the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship – an international freedom of expression non-governmental organisation. She is a commentator on European and international affairs and has worked at Chatham House and written for Friends of Europe and the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Twitter: @IndexCensorship
Tom Holland, an award winning and bestselling author of Rubicon, Persian Fire and Millennium. His most recent book In the Shadow of the Sword was accompanied by the Channel 4 documentary Islam: The Untold Story. Twitter: @holland_tom
My article in this week’s New Statesman (print and online) can be found here
Simon Danczuk, the town’s MP, and Myriam Francois-Cerrah discuss the relevance of race and religion to the grooming case.
On 9 May, nine men were jailed for their role in a child sex abuse ring in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. Eight were of Pakistani origin and one was from Afghanistan. Their victims – teenage girls from local care homes – were white. Far-right groups have tried to exploit the issue while debate rages over whether race or religion played a role in the crimes. Here, we present two perspectives on the case.
We can’t ignore it
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale
This month, Labour experienced some of its best ever local election results. Turnout, however, was worrying, falling as low as 13 per cent in parts of Greater Manchester. For me, one of the abiding memories in Rochdale was the exhilaration of new councillors as they won their seats; but I also recall walking up to a group of youths fixing a motorbike outside a house on a council estate in the Littleborough area on polling day. “Will you be voting?” I asked. They shifted uncomfortably, looked askance and mumbled, “No, but we would if the BNP were standing.”
A few weeks earlier I had sat facing a distraught mother in one of my weekly surgeries, watching her shake with fear and anger as she described how an Asian man had raped her daughter.
If politics is to mean more than bureaucratic white noise to people, it has to give a voice to the voiceless. When mothers tell me their daughters are being hounded by groups of Pakistani men, I will not leave it to the likes of the BNP to address their concerns.
Economic anxieties, high unemployment and uncertainty about the future blight the country, but in working-class Pennine seats like mine in the north-west of England, a host of other complicated issues follows in their slipstream.
I thought long and hard before telling the media this past week that race was indeed a factor in the grooming scandal that has brought shame on our town, and that a small Asian subculture has to be confronted. Anti-racist vigilance is the default position of many politicians like me who remember the deeply entrenched societal racism of the 1980s, but this should never blind us to uncomfortable truths in some sections of the Asian community – or any other, for that matter.
For a while now, I’ve had concerns about disturbing attitudes towards women shown by some of Rochdale’s Asian residents. It goes way beyond casual chauvinism to something far worse. In the two years I have been an MP, I’ve had to throw people out of my surgery because of their violent views on women.
I have been asked to write letters of support for rapists and, in one case, for a man who had attacked a woman with a hammer. Research by Professor Roger Penn of Lancaster University shows that a good proportion of young white women in Rochdale have been subjected to verbal abuse by young Asian men.
It sickens me that law-abiding Asians in our town might be stigmatised because of the actions of a minority of warped individuals. But I believe that neither the police and social services nor community leaders can afford to duck this issue any longer. If even Asian councillors were writing letters of support for people now found guilty of horrific sex crimes, it is clear we have a culture of denial.
Since I spoke to the media, other MPs have told me privately that they agree with what I said. Asian campaigners who have spoken out against predatory Pakistani men say that white people have thanked them for saying what they could not say themselves. This is a sorry state of affairs.
It is time we abandoned the shibboleths that leave the political classes isolated from the realities debated on buses, in pubs and on the factory floor. Compare this position to the inspiring bravery shown by the young girls who stood up to evil predators in a court in Liverpool. They were doubly let down, because their background led some within the police and social services to think it was a lifestyle choice that had driven them into the arms of abusers. Vulnerable people need help and support, so we must have the courage to face up to these problems.
As I write, I hear the English Defence League is planning another march in Rochdale. Such racist thugs will not be welcomed in our town and neither will the BNP. But we will not resist them simply by denial. We need to take this debate out into the open and make sure it is led by reasonable voices that want to build a strong and cohesive community – not by siren calls of hatred from those who want to divide it.
Race is a distraction
“We need to talk about race,” pleaded one guest on Question Time – and the Rochdale case has certainly thrust the issue back into the spotlight. Yet the focus across a wide range of media on race as an explanation for sex grooming misses why Asian men are over-represented in poorer areas where street grooming occurs and why white girls are over-represented among vulnerable groups in such areas. About 95 per cent of the men on Greater Manchester Police’s sex offenders register are white. Most sex gangs are not Asian. The criminologists Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley warn: “If on-street grooming continues to be reduced to the big Asian networks alone, a whole host of other offenders will get overlooked.” Asians are not over-represented in the sex-slave trade or among paedophiles.
What’s more, to link sexually predatory behaviour with race is reminiscent of the racist terminology that was used to refer to black gangs in the 1980s. Take Jack Straw’s comment in January 2011 relating to a separate case in Derby: “These young men are in a western society – in any event, they act like any other young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that.” Straw both singled out the men as “foreign” and reduced their behaviour to physical urges, ignoring the dimension of power inherent in rape, which is primarily a crime of violence, not sex.
Confusing matters further has been the tendency of some writers, such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, to conflate race with religion. “The rapists are all probably in one sense ‘good’ Muslims, praying and fasting
in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night,” she wrote in the Independent on 9 May.
This overlooked how, as Cockbain and Brayley pointed out, “the defendants in question are at most nominally Muslim”. Practising Muslims certainly aren’t supposed to rape children.
Other writers, such as David Aaronovitch, have presented the common view of some women as worthless and thus open to abuse as somehow inherent to Islam. Aaronovitch wrote in the Times on 10 May that grooming is the “cousin of honour killing”. Surely if this were the case the main victims would be Muslim girls.
Furthermore, such assertions ignore the inequities of power based on gender at every level of society, and expressed through a wide range of social and cultural idioms. The terminology expresses a shared disdain for women, even if it is inflected with culturally specific justifications – “slut”, “ho”, “skank”. Sexism is not an “Asian/Muslim problem”, though it does affect Asians and Muslims, too.
The focus on the race or religion of the perpetrator conveniently obscures the failures by the police, Crown Prosecution Service and social workers in bringing these men in Rochdale to trial sooner. What’s more, it makes us look past our own rape culture, in which victims’ claims are dismissed and where one in three rape allegations involves alcohol. The methods used by the Rochdale criminals are common to many white British sex offenders.
Those who seek to locate these crimes within some inherently Asian or Muslim characteristic fail to acknowledge that the vast majority of such men are law-abiding. They also choose to overlook the sheer diversity of Asian cultures – and that the chief prosecutor who reopened the case, Nazir Afzal, is an Asian Muslim.
To express these concerns is not a mark of political correctness; it is about avoiding the stigmatisation of an entire community based on the crimes of a group of men who happen to be Asian. The more important question is why some people have been so keen to attribute a racial dimension to this crime and what that says about our assumptions of Asian men.
Historically, it was black men who were viewed as the antithesis of white femininity, or as sexually predatory on white innocence and beauty. We would be naive not to notice how the same rhetoric is playing out now about men who are Asian and Muslim.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, french journalist Agnes Poirier and Myriam Francois-Cerrah, Oxford University Islamic Society, discuss the proposal to ban the face veil in the UK by UKIP on BBC NEWSNIGHT