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Paul Goodman: Debate about unacceptable practices shouldn't be swept under the carpet

by Paul Goodman

The sum of Adeela Shafi's article on this site today is that the Times's recent reporting of the sexual exploitation of young girls by Pakistani gangs has been irresponsible.  She writes: "I am also thinking ‘Here we go again. The Muslim tag applied yet again and somehow people will bring it back to Islam’."  She also says: "How fair is it to label the Pakistani man even further.  Does one particular group really deserve this based on the actions of a few?"  She believes that the Times gave the story "disproportionate space".

This is a misreading of public opinion.  Most people, whatever their background may be, aren't blaming Islam.  Nor are they blaming all Pakistani men.  Rather, they're blaming some of them - and the clash between one culture that strips young girls of the safety of childhood, thrusting them into an predatory world of drink, drugs and vice, and another that has racist attitudes to non-Pakistani women, a misogynistic view of women generally, and whose nihilistic values mock the pieties of Islam.

Nor was the Times at fault in devoting five pages to the story.  Its justification is doubtless that the story's one that media outlets have backed away from investigating and covering - precisely because they didn't want to offend either Pakistanis or Muslims, or find themselves exposed to politically correct accusations. The paper will argue, correctly, that the sentences given to Siddique and Liaqat brought the wider story of sexual exploitation to light, and that large-scale coverage was therefore justified and, indeed, essential.

It won't seem that way to many people in Britain's Pakistani-origin communities.  To them, much of the outside world is at best uncertain, at worst menacing.  They feel themselves to be under hostile and unceasing scrutiny - that the default reaction of wider society is that their loyalties are suspect and their religion threatening; that they're somehow defined by the conflict with terrorism and extremism.  And Shafi's right to warn that some media coverage of British Muslims is reflexively hostile: this should change.

This may help to explain what I believe is at the core of her article.  She's not for a moment explaining away or making excuses for crimes: "seek and clear these criminals out", she writes.  Rather, I can't help reading her piece as suggesting that the problem of racist and misogynistic views - and actions - should be tackled quietly and discreetly within Britain's communities of Pakistani origin: that if government does more to protect vulnerable children, the police act when necessary, and the media averts its gaze, all will yet be well.

This view can be summed up as multiculturalism - a settlement under which different communities are allowed, within certain minimal legal restaints, to find their own way.  Its inevitable outcome is that there's no real integration into Britain's liberal and democratic settlement.  We have long passed the point at which such a policy is tolerable - if it ever was - or at which serious problems, such as the grooming by some young Pakistani men of some non-Pakistanti young girls, should not be openly debated.

There's an alternative both to silencing discussion by sweeping awkward subjects under the carpet, or exposing vulnerable people to racial and religious abuse - namely, a public conversation that's decent, honest, and doesn't shirk the issues.  I believe that such exchanges will reach a clear consensus: that there must be integration into common British norms, including, of course, equal opportunities for women and zero tolerance of racism.  The Times hosted part of that conversation behind its paywall last week -

"We need to establish why such men are mainly choosing to groom white teenagers and not Muslim girls. The simple answer is that these people think that white girls have fewer morals and are less valuable than our girls. They also believe that by grooming white girls there will be no reprisal within their own community. This is a form of racism that is abhorrent and totally unacceptable in a society that prides itself on equality and justice."

The author was Mohammed Shafiq, the Chief Executive of the Ramadhan Foundation.  He was right to brave the community among which he lives and works.  It's a challenge that should be made by all of us.


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