“Our children are not halal meat,” read a poster held up by a member of the right-wing British National Party outside the Liverpool Crown Court, where nine men of South Asian origin were being sentenced for grooming and sexually assaulting white underage girls in the northern town of Rochdale.
There’s been a welter of confused commentary in Britain following the sentencing of the men – eight of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan. The lazy conclusion has been that there’s a link with Islam, or perhaps with ‘Asian culture’ or perhaps Pakistan.
The men, on the other hand, claim that the whole case stinks of racial vilification. Defence lawyer Simon Nichol told the court, “Society failed the girls in this case before the girls even met them and now that failure is being blamed on a weak minority group.”
There are no clear conclusions to be drawn. Christian priests aren’t the only unmarried men abusing young boys.
Neither Islam, nor Pakistani culture, nor South Asian families sanction their men to pick up vulnerable teenage girls as young as 13 – the oldest was 16 – ply them with alcohol and drugs and then pass them around for casual sex. Yet, one commentator, writing in The Times, concludes that abuse of boys by Catholic priests and the Rochdale grooming racket by Muslim men “must tell us something” about the two religions.
Yes and no is the answer. Yes because religions that are prescriptive about sex, marriage and the status of women are obvious breeding grounds for sex abuse, No because grooming and sex abuse are not restricted to Catholics and Muslims.
The answer may lie in a mix of tribal practices, traditions of patriarchy, racial stereotypes and gender bias. Force marriage in Britain, for instance, is not only about Muslims or Pakistanis – in fact, it is restricted to very specific cultures and contexts. Sixty percent of cases British diplomats deal with in Pakistan are concentrated in the Kashmiri towns of Bhimber, Mirpur and Kotli, where strong family connections are valued, and children often expected to marry first cousins.