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The media always connect child abuse with religion when it involves Catholics: but when it involves Muslims, the very word is taboo. Maybe Rochdale will change all that

The fact is that this kind of ‘street grooming’ is mostly a Muslim phenomenon. So why?

By on Thursday, 10 May 2012

The solicitor of one of the men convicted speaks to the media (PA photo)

The solicitor of one of the men convicted speaks to the media (PA photo)

Two current news stories, which because of their apparent dissimilarity, are not being reported together, seem to me, the more I think about it, in many respects part of the same story. They have nevertheless been reported very differently. I mean, firstly, the current obloquy being heaped on the head of Cardinal Brady (and by extension, by the secular press, on the Catholic Church) for not reporting a Catholic priest 40 years ago for paedophile offences even though it was not his responsibility at the time to do so; and, second, the sentencing to varying terms of imprisonment of nine Muslim individuals for the gross sexual exploitation of a group of wretched, helpless underage girls (incidentally, I thought that sex with an underage girl was rape: why weren’t they charged with that? Or is that just the US? Anybody know?)

In one case, the media makes the most of the anti-Catholic hysteria being stoked up by this case; in the other, they scarcely dare mention the religion of those involved, only, and for a very particular reason, their race. The oblique mention of race here offers the perfect opportunity to avoid discussing the religious dimension of these offences: for, denying that they have anything to do with race (perfectly true) is the perfect way to ignore the relevance of religion in all this, since race and religion are conflated in that single word “Pakistani”. The accused are “Asian”, if you like: never “Muslim”.

Even now, we have the absurdity that the well-known attitude of Muslims (particularly Muslim men) towards non-Muslim women is being brushed under the carpet. When Yasmin Alibhai Brown tried to describe this attitude from her own experience, recalling, during a discussion conducted this week by Nicky Campbell, many conversations among ordinary Muslims about white women and their alleged promiscuity, she was shouted down by another Muslim participant, the otherwise admirable Mohammed Shafiq. Shafiq, chief executive of the moderate Muslim organisation the Ramadhan Foundation, has actually received death threats for accepting that this phenomenon is of particular concern to the “Asian” community: “In the early days,” he says, “the Asian community thought the exploitation was all made up, just BNP propaganda. Then they realised that it was actually going on and they found it abhorrent.”

But note the use of that word “Asian”: what he won’t accept is that this is a particularly Muslim cultural problem, hence his attempts to shout down Yasmin Alibhai Brown when she attempted to let that particular cat out of the bag. Yet he points out that the offenders are predominantly Pakistani men. “They have a respectable life in the community and then they have their night life. Asian girls are not available to them and so they look to Western girls. They think they’re easy. They see them as tarts who are there to be used.” All true, and mostly (though he won’t, it seems, acknowledge it) a Muslim attitude. All the same, Mohammed Shafiq has shown considerable courage in saying what he has said, and he deserves the credit for it.

We need to get back to the use of the term “race” and its misuse as a pseudonym for “religion”: deny it has anything to do with race, and you deny by implication that it’s a Muslim problem. Another Muslim who emerges from all this with great credit is Nazir Afzal, the newly appointed chief crown prosecutor for the North West, who was responsible for overturning his predecessor’s decision not to bring the perpetrators to trial, and who told the Guardian that “It wasn’t their race which defined them, it was their treatment of women”, before adding “There is no community where women and girls are not vulnerable to sexual attack and that’s a fact.” But nobody was saying that this case had anything to do with the skin colour of the accused men. It did have something to do with their “community”, however, and that community defines itself by its religion. In the Rochdale case and in many other comparable cases currently under scrutiny, the one common factor is that they all involve Muslim males and non-Muslim females.

So, it’s not race which is the problem: but the confusion of race and religion undoubtedly has been part of the problem. As the former MP for Keighley, the admirable Ann Cryer (who has been courageously campaigning on the issue for many years), said of the failure by police to act before now: “This is an absolute scandal. They were petrified of being called racist and so reverted to the default of political correctness. They had a greater fear of being perceived in that light than in dealing with the issues in front of them.”

One girl told police that she had been raped and provided DNA evidence from her attacker. But the CPS twice decided not to prosecute him. The 15-year-old’s abuse continued and at its height she was being driven to flats and houses to be raped by up to five men a night, four or five days a week. She was, says Mrs Cryer, singled out because she was white, vulnerable and under-age.

And, it also has to be said, because she was non-Muslim and therefore not worthy of care or respect. As the judge told the nine men while handing down exemplary sentences, they had contempt for these children because “they were not of your community or religion”. There is something that needs to be added, of course, about the dreadful failure of care for these poor girls from the wider community. Many of them were supposedly “in care” (the grossly inappropriate official description of their situation); others were from broken families. There is more than one reason why no Muslim girls were involved: and not the least of these is that no Muslim family allows its teenage girls (or its women either, come to that) to wander the streets at midnight, or to be in a situation in which it is possible for them to be plied with drink and drugs. The same is of any decent non-Muslim family (I am a father of daughters and know whereof I speak); but how many non-Muslim families are there where it is not true?

None of this, however, should deflect our attention from what is actually going on here, from what the Rochdale case has so unmistakeably highlighted. Let us return to the judge’s words: these unfortunate children suffered, some quite unspeakably (if you want the details, you will have to look elsewhere, I cannot bring myself to describe these enormities) because — let’s keep our eyes on these simple and undeniable words — “they were not of your community or religion”.

As Brendan O’Neill said in his Telegraph blog, “The truth is that there is something specific going on here …. For a variety of reasons – mainly because the attitudes and behaviour of white working-class women are so profoundly at odds with the outlook of conservative Muslim communities – there is a tendency among many Muslims to look upon such women as inferior, as ‘sluts’. What’s more, in our era of multiculturalism, ethnic minorities are implicitly encouraged to distance themselves from their ‘host community’ and even to view the host community’s culture as inferior to their own… In Rochdale, certain individuals took that sense of cultural superiority in a terribly abusive direction.”

A final question, suggested by O’Neill’s analysis: is the Rochdale case a vivid illustration of the disastrous results of New Labour’s determined policy of “multi-culturalism”? And should we now be thinking urgently of means by which that policy can be effectively reversed? There’s much more we need to do, of course. But shouldn’t that be the starting point?