The Oxford ‘Asian grooming gang’ were not in fact all Asian. But they were all Muslim: is this a problem we are afraid to face?

A court sketch of the men convicted yesterday (Photo: PA)

Which is worse: religious prejudice or racial prejudice? It’s a question worth asking, in the aftermath of the guilty verdicts against the “Asian grooming gang” (Daily Telegraph) or “Asian sex gang” (nearly everyone else), in a case which for its revelations of human depravity and cruelty, committed against girls supposedly in the “care” of the “community” – were ever words so appallingly misused? – have left anyone who has examined the details stunned with near disbelief.
Almost universally, the one word all the papers avoid is “Muslim”. But that’s what this gang is, not “Asian”: of the gang of seven only five were of Pakistani origin: the other two were variously described as being from Eritrea or North Africa. What do these very different parts of the world have in common? Simply that they are Muslim: it’s a religious problem we have here, not a racial one: the gang were not all of the same race. My point was made for me, in effect by Julie Siddiqui, of the Islamic Society of Britain and co-founder of the Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, whose comment on the verdicts was that “The damage these men have done and evil they have wrought will last a lifetime for their victims which can never be fully healed. The men and those who sheltered them must now examine their consciences as they reflect on the terrible nature of their crimes. It is imperative that there is no hiding place for abuse or abusers within any of our communities.”

That word “our’” means “Muslim”: it doesn’t mean “Asian”. If you go to the part of Cowley around which most of the relatively small Islamic community in Oxford has settled, you can see in front of you what holds them all — Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Eritreans, Somalians – together: it’s the mosque, a handsome building, complete with dome and minaret, on the Cowley Road. I see it every time I go there shopping, mostly at one particular Pakistani shop, for goods which (apart from the parsley and coriander I usually buy) have in common the fact that they are imported from various parts of the Muslim world: honey from Saudi Arabia, dates from North Africa, bread from the Lebanon, spices from all parts.

Why am I going on about this? I am not saying that the problem is Islam per se, any more than I am saying that it’s the racial origin of the perpetrators (which in this case it can’t be). But there is one generalisation that can safely be made: it is that Muslim men tend to have a low opinion of, how shall I put this, the general level of chastity of white women. As Julie Siddiqui put it on the radio this morning, Muslims are not being taught respect for white women in the mosque: and she called for Friday sermons to be given on precisely this theme. I know this a real problem from my own experience of the Islamic world. Many years ago, for a year, I taught English in a boys-only lycée in Tunisia: and it very quickly emerged from our discussions that the Muslim teenagers I was teaching thought that Europe, being full of white women, was one vast brothel: that was one reason, it became clear, for the fact that these young pubescent males all longed to go there.

The fact has to be faced: the attitude of many Muslim men to non-Muslim females is a real problem. A crude generalisation, of course: but one that needs to be addressed, not evaded. After the Rochdale verdict, I noted that the accused were all universally being described as “Asian”, never as “Muslim”, and that
the well-known attitude of Muslims (particularly Muslim men) towards non-Muslim women was being brushed under the carpet. When the Muslim Yasmin Alibhai Brown tried to describe precisely this attitude from her experience within her own religious community, recalling, during a radio discussion at the time, many conversations among ordinary Muslims about white women and their alleged promiscuity, she was shouted down by another Muslim participant in the discussion, who did not like the fact that she was letting this particular cat out of the bag. “We will never know,” she wrote at the time, “how many girls were victimised and what the effect will be on their lives. The rapists will convince themselves and others their victims were ‘trash’ and that their own daughters are not… White girls are of no value at all – except when they bring in money serving men. The appalling thing is that, in the enclaves where these men came from, families will be blaming the abused teenagers. The rapists are all probably in one sense ‘good’ Muslims, praying and fasting in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night.”

It is only fair to add that, as she went on to say, “Most men who groom and rape young girls in Britain are white. And these depraved men [in Rochdale] would never have been convicted had it not been for Nazir Afzal, the North-west’s Chief Crown Prosecutor, a Muslim of Pakistani origin.” All that, of course, is true. And I doubt whether any of the Oxford criminals were “good” Muslims in any sense. All the same, I ask again, on the morrow of the conviction of these men, who were not all Asian but who were all Muslim, “Which is worse: religious prejudice or racial prejudice?”

Surely in this case the latter, since there is no basis for it whatever in the evidence, and it is in itself highly dangerous: but there is undeniably some evidence at least for the former. I know very well that what these monsters have done is in direct defiance of everything the Muslim religion teaches. But this is, nevertheless, a problem the Muslim community (and not the “Asian” community, if such a thing exists) has to face.