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Archive for July 2013

‘Grooming’ Is Not A Racial Or Religious Issue – It’s Societal

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 30/06/2013

 

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Throughout this week, the story dominating the headlines and discussions has been of the Oxford grooming gangs. We have been asking ourselves: what made the men do this? Was it their culture  and religion; do they view women as lesser beings? And so on.

No doubt these questions should be asked and debated. We live in a free society after all and when many of the men who have been convicted are Asian and Muslims, then it is almost inevitable.

However, we have become so obsessed with what part race and culture may have played in this that not once have we stopped to think: why were these children failed by the system, what help and guidance are the victims receiving and what action is being done to support them now?

 

There is no doubt in my mind that social services, the police,  families and friends knew, but all kept silent, as was revealed in a BBC Asian Network discussion.  In fact, one of my sources informed me that authorities showed ‘willful blindness’ because of political correctness; they were too scared to take action because of the ‘race card’.

It was not just white girls who were abused. I know of Asian girls who have been raped and abused in such a way but because communities were too concerned with appearances – not wanting it to be broadcast that one of their ‘own’ girls had been ‘defiled’ – the reports and stories were buried, especially by those in positions of power.

As a result, the EDL and BNP were able to exploit it because they depicted themselves as breaking the silence.

Dispatches grooming gang reconstruct

 

Some action is finally being taken by a number of communities to tackle this issue. Together Against Grooming (TAG) said imams at hundreds of mosques had pledged to read a sermon to congregations during Friday prayers condemning the sexual grooming of children.

However, Alyas Karmani, the imam and youth worker from Keighley who wrote the sermon, admitted on Friday’s Newsnight that it was unknown how many mosques had actually read the sermon.  

It was bold in the sense that mosques and imams do not usually discuss these topics, least of all for a Friday sermon, and shows that they are finally taking action.

I am sure TAG’s intentions are good, but with all due respect, the sermon fails to address the issues. One part of the sermon says:

“Islam promotes a strict moral code of conduct on men and forbids any sexual activity outside of marriage. We are obliged to be active in ensuring the prevention and avoidance of any behaviour which can lead to inappropriate and unacceptable sexual behaviour and indecency.”

I do not see how abstinence would have prevented those girls from being abused, especially when some of the groomers were married, and it is rather insulting that they do not even make a distinction between pre-marital sex and the rape of children. It seems to be more of a PR exercise full of piety quotes from the Qur’an and hadith, trying to save the honour of Islam rather than actually addressing the issues.

We are all taught from a young age what is right and wrong and certainly Muslims in particular are brought up to abstain from alcohol, drugs and sex before marriage, so it is not as though this is brand new information. But what does need to be reiterated is that if anything like this is happening in our communities – if children are being abused – then we must all speak up against it.

People are still burying their heads in the sand. Some Muslims believe that a mosque is not the right place to talk about such things which is quite ironic because many Muslims always insist that scholars and imams are the first people we should speak to on such matters, (“leave the debating to the scholars”, they say) yet now that some mosques are doing something at last, they are complaining.  It is a no-win situation.

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Monawar Hussain, founder of The Oxford Foundation, which runs educational programmes to promote religious and social harmony, said the sermon was a “fundamental error of judgement” that would play into the hands of far-right groups.

We are so concerned with keeping up appearances and refusing to tackle the problems in our communities lest the far-right groups will exploit this, but brushing this under the carpet actually fuels the far-right even more.

BBC’s Adil Ray, who explored the subject of on-street grooming in a documentary , has been vilified in the past and recently for daring to speak out. Many of those have been Pakistani Muslims, who have accused him of being a sell-out. The attitude seems to be to keep your head down and keep quiet.

The phrase ‘culturally sensitive’ is thrown about when such stories are brought to our attention.  But as Guardian columnist Zoe Williams rightly said , “If cultural sensitivity is going to be used as a junk drawer, to toss things into when you can’t find a place for them in mainstream debate, that’s not good enough.

 

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According to some of the victims , they are still being let down by the authorities.

Anjum Dogar, one of  the groomers from Oxford, said: “The way I see it is troubled kids making up allegations. I can get people to talk about their characters here. They are well known, some of these girls.”

This is precisely the problem. These children, for that is what they were least we forget, were treated like dirt, dismissed as ‘unreliable witnesses’ whose stories would not be believed by ‘respectable’ members of society. It is no wonder then that it took so long for them to receive justice, if at all.

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, issued ‘Ground breaking’ new guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse earlier this month. This is certainly a welcome step and I whole-heartedly hope that this leads to the protection of our young people.

But as we all know, the problem is not always with the law, but when it is not being enforced. Victims must not be left to suffer in silence and those who exploit them should be brought to justice.

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