The recent conviction of nine Muslim men from Rochdale for the sexual grooming and exploitation of girls as young as thirteen has reopened a race row that looks set to define inter-cultural relations in the UK for the next generation and beyond. Whether it was cultural attitudes that motivated these men to commit such atrocious crimes, or whether their acts are no different to those of three white men from Cambourne, sentenced on the very same day for the sexual abuse of up to 30 victims, both are equally abhorrent. It is the highly charged and sensitive debate that has followed the convictions of the Rochdale men that confirm that race is an issue in the public’s perception and therefore has to be encountered head on.
With both the perpetrators and tragically the victims seemingly side-lined, it is the resulting explosive argument that has come to define the Rochdale case. Individuals such as Keith Vaz or Myriam Francois-Cerrah can deny that race is a factor, and yet the prevalence of such a race row is proof in itself that there is an issue to be discussed by society at large.
The status quo of bashful denial or indifference has to be abandoned…
The compatibility of immigrant cultural and religious practice with British law and culture (if such a thing exists) should be an issue that can be discussed and debated without accusations of racism flying around. People need to see beyond the sterile supposition that suggests accusing a minority risks implicating the majority. The reality is that the vast majority of Muslims living in Britain condemn the actions of those nine men in Rochdale in exactly the same way that the rest of the population condemns them. Suggesting that race or cultural practice was a component in Rochdale is not to deny the prevalence of white or black paedophiles and rapists. It is not to ignore any wider issues to attempt to tackle a specific problem that if ignored will have damning implications on British society. As Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale wrote recently, “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.”
It is our duty to create a society that is more inclusive, more liberal and more tolerant, and yet progress requires brave actions. The status quo of bashful denial or indifference has to be abandoned and people have to be up front and honest. A common dialogue has to be established that encourages people to speak freely. It starts at the most fundamental level of terminology. What do you call someone from Pakistan who lives in Britain? Of Pakistani origin/heritage, Asian, or Muslim? Should Pakistani even be used? These are cultural attitudes that are not inhibited by national borders, as the one Afghan in Rochdale proved.
…a specific cultural attitude that must be addressed in Britain.
Therefore as much as it is about immigrant culture seemingly conflicting with that in Britain, this debate needs to confront British attitudes towards immigrants. Failing to do this only aids the propaganda of the BNP or EDL who seek a solution through conflict and bigotry.
There can be no denying that the men on trial in Liverpool had attitudes that are simply unacceptable in Britain. “You white people train them in sex and drinking, so when they come to us they are fully trained”, one of them was quoted as saying. Others were said to have justified their actions “because it’s what we do in our country”. Thank goodness Baroness Warsi has publicly stated that this is a specific cultural attitude that must be addressed in Britain. Furthermore, the head of the Ramadhan Foundation has called for action, accusing Pakistani community elders of “burying their heads in the sand” on the issue of on-street grooming, stating that it was a significant problem for the British Pakistani community.
Confronting race does not make it a scapegoat…
But this is a significant problem for British society at large. Multiculturalism will have failed if we don’t confront anomalies and therefore dispel stereotypes. We want rid of individuals like those in Rochdale as much as we want rid of the EDL and BNP, and therefore our response must be pragmatic and reasoned.
As I write I hear of the on-going trial of Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, accused of murdering their daughter Shafilea on account of her Western attitudes and ambitions. This tragic case is yet another reminder that cultural assimilation has not reached an acceptable standard in Britain. Confronting race does not make it a scapegoat. It is one component in the wider sustainability of a tolerant and equal society.
Image courtesy of Drew Myres