It is foul, exploitative, disgusting and sexually deviant behaviour to target young girls with gifts of fast food and mobile top-ups before luring them into situations where they are coerced into sex.
It is foul if you do it on your own. Foul if you do it in groups. Foul if you are native British and foul if you happen to be a member of an ethnic minority. So why has so much of the coverage of the Rochdale gang focused on their Pakistani heritage?
Well according to much of the coverage, the cultural background of the convicted men was pivotal. The sexual repressiveness of Asian culture, the Kashmiri bonds of “biraderi” or brotherhood and racist attitudes towards white women all came together to predispose these men to the particular form of abuse that they engaged in. There have even been calls, from allegedly eminent and respected historians for ethnic minorities to be educated in English culture so that they learn to behave like English men instead of the seething, swarthy lust-filled savages that they are. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/may/10/starkey-comment-gang-sexually-exploiting-girls. Presumably the examples of Henry VIII and George IV provide a more suitable historical reference point when it comes to respecting women.
Even so, it might just be that when perverts of Pakistani descent groom and gang rape underage girls they do it in true Asian style – with extended family as opposed to, say, their team mates at the local football club. But there is not a single qualitative difference in the nature of the crime. It might be that for the sake of enforcement a greater understanding of the social forces at play in given communities, but the idea that “Asian grooming” is somehow set apart from other forms of sexual exploitation is both racist and counter-productive.
Racist? I hear you say, that’s just political correctness gone mad; it isn’t racist to call a spade a spade.
And indeed it is not. But it is racist to call a spade a brown spade. Just as it is racist to differentiate between so called “honour killings” and an honest, old fashioned murderously jealous rage. There are certain gender-based crimes where culture is an overriding aspect; forced marriage, for example, or the disturbing trend I became aware of in Tower Hamlets where some minicab drivers would prey on young Bengali girls who’d snuck out of the house for the night, knowing that their crime would never be reported. Such abuses require are indeed rooted in particular social institutions that have been imported into this country and need to be dealt with as such. The exploitation of young girls by ruthless men, however, is a universal phenomenon and labelling it as anything else makes it more difficult to solve the problem.
This brings me to my second point – that characterising these crimes as rooted in race or culture leaves us less able to deal with them. This is because by so doing, we cease refer to them in terms of protecting the rights of women and instead co-opt them into a wider narrative about the Clash of Civilisations; the failure of multiculturalism and the inherent incompatibility between uncivilised Asian (especially Muslim values) and the more refined British variety.
And this wider narrative cannot be ignored. A recent “sex” issue of Foreign Policy magazine contained such gems as an article claiming that all Arab men hate Arab women (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/why_do_they_hate_us)
and another that began by poking fun at an Iranian Mullah’s thought experiments on matters of sexual ethics and concluded that sexual repression is the cause of all Iran’s present ills (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/the_ayatollah_under_the_bedsheets?page=0,2)Despite claiming to look at global issues relating to sex, the magazine dealt almost exclusively with Iran, the Middle East and China and relied heavily on the now obligatory nudes in face veils to drive home the oft missed point that all women are naked under their clothes. Not incidentally it gave the impression by omission the West has overcome all issues to do with the exclusion and brutalisation of women.
The “debate” is already deepening to examine the most private cultural mores of Britain’s Pakistani communities. Some of the contributions are genuinely productive and attempt to deal with the abuses that exist on their own terms, but much of what has been written is deeply patronising. An article in the Independent, for example, effectively states that Kashmiris don’t know how to make love (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/asian-grooming-why-we-need-to-talk-about-sex-7734712.html) and the eminent historian himself states that the Rochdale case is “what happens when [a country like Britain] has no sense of common identity”.
Making this case about more than the crime at hand, not only contributes to the further demonisation of marginalised communities but also actively discourages these communities from looking to their own issues because it feels disloyal to do so when the markers of a culture war have already been drawn with sexual deviants on one side and true-born Englishmen on the other.
That doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the country’s increasingly fragile race relations; it doesn’t help the communities involved to address this kind of behaviour themselves and it certainly doesn’t help the poor young women who having already exploited in the flesh are now being exploited as an abstract of English womanhood that needs protecting from a specifically Pakistani or Afghan or Kashmiri threat. There may be a specific modus operandi that the police need to take into account to make their enforcement more effective, but surely in the 21st Century we have reached the stage where we can judge men not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character – which in this case appears utterly despicable.