Imams across Britain will give simultaneous sermons condemning sexual grooming next month, as part of a grass-roots Muslim campaign to tackle the problem of abuse. The co-ordinated event on 28 June will follow a conference organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to discuss ways of preventing further cases of abuse after seven men – all Muslim – were convicted this week for the grooming and sex trafficking of girls as young as 11 in Oxford. The case is one of several in recent years in which gangs of men, predominantly from a Pakistani Muslim background, have groomed young girls for sex. Julie Siddiqi, executive director of the Islamic Society of Britain, was one of the first Muslim figures to speak out on the issue. She said that although children were exploited in all communities, “the number of street-grooming convictions in the past few years involving Omars, Ahmeds and Faisals means the time has come for action. But if there are patterns emerging – and I think there are – of people from a certain background engaging in this type of activity, then that can’t be ignored either. I’m not saying all Pakistani men are prone to this, or Islam says that; of course that’s nonsense. But if we ignore these patterns we’re going to do an injustice against the victims.” A separate MCB conference, on 20 June, will include speakers from child protection and the police. It will be attended by senior Muslim clerics from around the country. A spokeswoman for the MCB said: “All communities should be tackling this and we’re doing our part to address this.”
The distressing details of the Oxford child abuse case raise echoes of a similar case last year, involving the grooming of children for sex in Rochdale. In both, under-age white girls were the victims. All or most of the perpetrators were Asian men. The girls were from vulnerable backgrounds, including local authority care homes. Drugs, alcohol and violence were used to coerce the girls – and in both cases other men paid to use the girls for sex. The greatest difference lay in the motivation of the two groups of abusers, according to Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadan Foundation, a Muslim youth organisation, who was one of the first Asian community leaders to acknowledge that a disproportionate number of the men involved in on-street grooming were British Pakistanis. “The Rochdale abusers were taxi drivers and takeaway workers using the girls for quick sex. When they took money from other men to have sex with the girls the amounts were around £20-£30 a time,” “Oxford is much more to do with money. The men exploiting the girls were charging others £200-£600 a time and bringing eight to 10 men a day into hotels and restrooms. It was much more organised.” Police, social workers, academics and children’s charity workers all agree that most abusers are white and most child sex exploitation happens in the home. Journalist Allison Pearson wrote a blistering blog post in the Telegraph condemning the police, social services, and legal system’s fear of being seen as racist, which meant hundreds of girls were betrayed by the very mechanisms that were meant to protect them. What is really to blame, it is more generally suggested, is an oversensitivity by police and social workers terrified of being accused of racism. “Sensitivities over race should not be allowed to take precedence over children’s safety,” editorials have pontificated, as if anyone could seriously hold the opposite view. All this is accompanied by sanctimonious assurances that no one is suggesting that all Asians, Pakistanis or Muslims should be tarred with the same smeary brush. But much of the coverage subliminally invites exactly that. Statistics have been trotted out supposedly to substantiate this. Yet academics seriously studying the phenomenon say that figures have been used selectively to create certainties where none exist. She called Pakistani Muslim culture a “Victorian” society where men are taught that women have no value and can be used as sex objects, especially white girls, who, because of their greater freedom as compared to Pakistani Muslim girls, are freely available to be used and abused by these Asian men. It’s fairly obvious from the discussions on this issue that while Islam is not a race, “Islam” is being used as a euphemism or shorthand for Asian men from Muslim countries. Why not admit that there is an element of misogyny in all religions and cultures that emphasise sexual purity in women and divide girls into “good” and “bad” categories? For example, American Mormon kidnap survivor Elizabeth Smart recently told the press that abstinence classes – a hallmark of American Christian culture which is popular in some British circles – taught her that being raped made her no more worthwhile than a “chewed up piece of gum”. Perhaps the only thing that distinguishes these particular criminals from non-Muslim, non-Asian paedophiles is their modus operandi of working in gangs to systematically groom girls on the street. Other paedophiles have different setups: chatting from the safety and anonymity of their homes, for example, exchanging child pornography through hidden servers on the Internet, or worming their way into the hearts of their mothers and grandmothers before attacking them in their homes. So the rabble-rousing demand that all Muslims in the UK should “integrate” while at the same time demonising them as “other”, using the Oxford sex ring criminals – who would be regarded as scum in Pakistan – as representative of all Pakistani Muslim men is an object lesson in false equivalence. All of this confounds the lazy stereotypes about sex and race peddled by those in search of a sensationalist headline. The truth is not just more complicated but less conducive to reinforcing readers’ prejudices. Opportunity is as likely a factor as race here. Young vulnerable girls gravitate to a night-time economy where the taxi drivers and takeaway workers they encounter are more likely to be Asian. So why not headlines about “Taxi Sex Gangs”? Throughout our contemporary epidemic of child sex abuse, occupation seems just as significant a factor – as the wave of accusations against 1970s televisions celebrities, soap stars, music teachers, care workers and Catholic priests shows. The truth is that sexual predation is about power and its abuse by people in positions of authority. Culpability for the failure to combat it is often to be laid at the door of institutions more anxious to protect their reputations than concerned to protect the innocence of a child. There is another danger in peddling stereotypes. It diverts attention from the wider areas in which we should all be vigilant. The Oxford case raises a wide range of issues about the assumptions and systems of social workers, nine out of 10 of whom knew the girls were being groomed for sex by men who gave them drugs. It requires scrutiny of police procedures and the management of care homes. It should ask questions of the owners of the guesthouses in which the abuse took place, and of parents and of the public, for we all have a duty to ask questions about dubious-looking relationships.
Ziauddin Sardar is a leading British-Pakistani Muslim scholar and critic. In this interview with Susannah Tarbush, he talks about the magazine “Critical Muslim” he founded and which he sees as an “intellectual, cultural, philosophical and creative backup” for the revolutions of the Middle East
In January a year ago, a refreshingly different kind of Muslim publication, the quarterly Critical Muslim (CM), was launched in Britain. Published by London-based C Hurst & Co, CM takes the form of an attractively-produced paperback book of over 250 pages. Its stated mission is to be a quarterly of “ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, increasingly interconnected world”.
CM‘s founder and editor is leading Muslim scholar, critic and public intellectual Ziauddin Sardar. Born in Pakistan in 1951, Sardar grew up in London where he still lives. He is a prolific and much-read writer: since the late 1970s he has written some 45 books as well as numerous articles and essays. Sardar’s CM co-editor is the prominent British-Syrian novelist, critic and blogger Robin Yassin-Kassab.
To mark the first anniversary of CM‘s launch, Qantara interviewed Ziauddin Sardar on the quarterly’s concept, first year of publication, and future plans.
November 30 to December 2, 2010
Counterterrorism police detained eight suspects with links to a banned Pakistani Muslim militant group blamed for the deadly 2008 attack in the Indian city of Mumbai. The Spanish Interior Ministry explained that the working methods of those arrested involved stealing passports and travel documents from tourists visiting Barcelona and then were sent to Thailand, copied and then passed on to terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda. The operation was carried out in coordination with Thai and European police forces.
The parliament of Pakistan and several Pakistani Muslim organizations protested against the decision of Norway’s Aftenposten to re-publish Kurt Westergaard’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the publication.
Editor in chief Hilde Haugsgjerd says the protests were to be expected.