Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Asking difficult questions

Like most people I’ve been listening to the reporting of the outcome of a recent trial in Manchester of eight Pakistani and one Afghan man found guilty of sex trafficking young girls in Rochdale. The details of this crime are abhorrent to my liberal western ears and I’m sure to a majority of people, but I was interested to hear the view of one Pakistani community leader (Mohammed Shafiq) who claimed that elders (which in his community means males) were burying their heads in the sand over this issue suggesting that many (older) British Pakistani men felt that “white girls” are worthless and can be abused or even deserve to be abused. Many commentators were quick to try to distance this case from race or ethnicity. Even in the face of statistics to the contrary, Keith Vaz chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and Labour MP denied that this problem was in any way related to race saying,

"It's totally wrong to say that it is, because you open up a Pandora's box as far as race relations is concerned and I don't think that's necessarily what we want."

I’m sure he didn’t mean that to sounds like a threat, but it could certainly be misinterpreted as one, i.e. don’t make a fuss or you won’t like the consequences. Anyway, regardless of what this comment means, I agree with Vaz, it would be very hard to show that this is a race problem. The only things I think you could say with any degree of certainty is that this is primarily a male problem and more specifically a male attitude problem.

Perhaps it would be more fruitful to look at the social factors influencing these particular men, and of all of those the elephant in the room would seem to me to be their religion. One of the guilty men was even a religious studies teacher. Whilst many would argue that Islam does not advocate sex trafficking and clearly it’s obvious to anyone that the vast majority of Muslim men and women are ordinary decent people, I can’t help wonder what effect the installation from boyhood of a dogma that advocates thinking about women as somehow less than men or that Western liberalism is somehow inferior to Islamic theocracy has on already unstable or sexually repressed minds. I think it would be safe to assume that it doesn't help.

Clearly there are some serious questions to be discussed and debated around this case and many others like it, issues such as the wisdom of religious and segregated schools (and not just Muslim ones), better community cohesion and tolerance. More generally we need to ask how accommodating we want to be of belief systems that openly run counter to hard won principals of equality and secular morality that have evolved within our country and legal system. Time will tell whether or not we are allowed to have that debate openly and freely or whether the politically correct shutters will descend shutting out the light for victims and criminals alike.

No comments: