Brendan O’Neill

Silencing debate on grooming gangs is a foul snub to victims

Silencing debate on grooming gangs is a foul snub to victims
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It’s official: people who talk about the problem of Pakistani men abusing white working-class girls have no place in polite society. Raise so much as a peep of concern about Muslim grooming gangs and you’ll be expelled from the realm of the decent. You’ll be shushed, exiled, encouraged to clean out your polluted mind.

That has been the experience of Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, who quit as shadow equalities minister this week over her Sun article on the gang of largely Muslim men in Newcastle who last week were found guilty of 100 offences, including rape against women and girls. Published last Thursday, Champion’s article said:

‘Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.’

But you’re not allowed to say that, even in the wake of convictions of Pakistani and other Muslim men for scores of sexual crimes. So she had to go.

The response to her article from Labourites was swift and unforgiving. Corbynistas branded her racist. Tweeters called on Corbyn to sack her (purge the misspeakers!). Labour MP Naz Shah branded her article ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous’. Then Corbyn welcomed her stepping down on the basis that Labour will never ‘demonise any particular group’.

Champion said that she was distancing herself from her article. She claimed the Sun over-edited it, but really this looks like a politician denouncing herself in public, not unlike those Soviet dissenters who would slam their old beliefs once they had been successfully corrected.

The hounding of Champion is in keeping with the stricture against open discussion of Muslim grooming gangs, the institutionalisation of moral evasion on this issue. From local officials in Rotherham who failed to act on the exploitation of girls by men of Muslim origin for nearly 20 years to certain media outlets’ caginess about using the M-word in relation to these crimes (they prefer ‘Asian’), there’s a palpable reluctance to confront the particular problem of some Muslim men’s disdain for white working-class girls.

The cowardly reluctance to talk frankly about these gangs is not only an affront to open debate, sheepishly discouraging difficult questions about multiculturalism, cultural separatism, and why it is that some Muslim men — note the word ‘some’ — seem to have a low view of working-class white girls. It is also demeaning both to working-class women and Muslims. It tells young, poor women in certain parts of the country that we don’t take their victimisation seriously. And it sends the message that Muslims are incapable of self-reflection and must be protected from robust discussion about some of the attitudes that exist within their communities.

The shutting down of debate about Muslim groomers is a particularly foul snub to the less well-off women of Rotherham, Oxford, Newcastle. They are reduced to a moral inconvenience, to pesky individuals whose suffering punctures the happy stories we tell ourselves about multiculturalism and raises questions we’d rather not ask about clashing communities in 21st-century Britain.

Contrast the treatment of middle-class women who have experienced sexism with the treatment of these poorer women who have been abused and raped. When a female Labour MP is called names on Twitter or a feminist student radical overhears a sexist joke, whole new campaigns are built. War is declared on ‘lad culture’. Yvette Cooper will call on women to ‘Reclaim the Internet’. But when girls of few means and little influence are raped by Muslim men, we’d rather not know. It gets reported on, of course, but it’s soon forgotten. It’s just too complicated.

Those who suppress open discussion of Muslim grooming gangs think they’re being socially virtuous, helping to maintain peace between communities. But in truth they have made a repulsive if implicit moral decision: that protecting Islam from criticism is more important than defending the dignity of white working-class girls. They sacrifice their feminism at the altar of multiculturalism. Their concern for women and the poor evaporates in the face of Islam. No price, it seems, is too high when it comes to ringfencing Islam and aspects of Muslim culture from public questioning — even the price of letting down working-class women, or at least making them feel like second-class victims.

Then there’s the diminishing of Muslims themselves. The true prejudice lies not in those who want to have an open debate about Muslim grooming gangs, but in those who want to protect Muslims from this debate for fear that they will feel devalued or offended by it. There’s an ugly neo-colonialist bent to this idea that any criticism of Islam or its adherents is ‘Islamophobia’ and must be extinguished to preserve the sensitivities of this fragile community. It infantilises Muslims. I trust that Muslims can cope with questions about their faith and their community and will want to do something about grooming gangs; what a shame so many in the political set do not.

It isn’t people like Champion who are ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous’ — it is the reluctance to confront communal problems. Wishing such problems away simply allows them to fester, unresolved, undiscussed, liable to creep up on us again.