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BBC World service: The danger in referring to “Asian” sex gangs

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Just contributed to a debate with Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation on whether race is relevant in the discussion of the recent sex gang cases in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, on the BBC World Service.

My points:

– Isolating race as an explanatory variable ignores all other factors and essentialises the identity of the culprits – it ignores why Asian men are over-represented in socio-economically poorer areas where street-grooming occurs and why white girls are over-represented among vulnerable groups in such areas.

– Plenty of sex-gangs are not Asian – the sex slave trade in this country is sadly alive and well and is not primarily Asian driven. In addition, pedophiles are not overwhelmingly of Asian ethnic backgrounds, suggesting any abhorrent link some may seek to make between race and inherent sexually predatory behaviour is not born out by the facts. It is also reminiscent of racist terminology used to refer to black gangs in the 1980s, particularly Jack Straw’s comment in January last year 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…”

– some have referred to culturally specific terminology in order to claim that the view of some women as worthless and thus open to abuse is restricted to certain communities. This ignores power inequities based on gender manifest at every level of society and expressed through different social and cultural idioms. Different terminology expresses a shared disdain for women, inflected with culturally specific justifications: “sluts” “hoes” “gora” “skank” – sexism is not an ‘Asian’ issue, though it does of course affect Asians as it does everyone else – it is sadly omnipresent, cross-culturally.

Finally, how can accusations be leveled at something inherent within ‘Asian’ culture (not cultures?!) when the Chief prosecutor who re-opened the case is himself an Asian Muslim, Nazir Afzal.

This is not about political correctness, it is about not stigmatising an entire community based on a mis-identification of the explanatory variable in the crimes of this group of men, who happen to be Asian. Both the police and the judge appear to believe the race of the victims and abusers was ‘coincidental’, so the real question is why as a society, we are seeking to attribute a racial dimension to it and what that says about our unspoken racist assumptions concerning Asian men. Vron Ware recounts that the Black male has been historically constructed as the antithesis of white femininity; as sexually predatory upon white innocence and beauty – we’d be naive not to notice the same rhetoric being played out now with Asian/Muslim males…


Written by Myriam Francois

May 9, 2012 at 10:45

Posted in all

2 Responses

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  1. Hit the nail on the head!


    May 9, 2012 at 11:07

  2. I totally agree with all sentiments outlined above, however, I think one of the primary reasons why Asian culture is targeted or blamed in such cases is because Asian men and Muslim scholars are generally not vocal about how abhorrent and disgusting such crimes are. People need to speak out.The problem of sex gangs within the community is generally ignored, its taboo and brushed under the carpet – people whisper about it. Yes, we shouldn’t always have to defend ourselves like its a collective crime: its not. But at the same time, commanding the good and forbidding evil is a responsibility we all have, and if more of us engaged this, then people wouldn’t have a chance to blame whole religious or ethnic groups.
    (I say all this as a British Asian woman).


    May 9, 2012 at 11:33

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