by Amna G Riaz
A few months ago I wrote ‘Is there a problem of grooming and rape in the Muslim Pakistani community?’ I argued that I was sick of grooming being framed as something inherent with British Pakistani Muslim men. I also argued that criminals should be treated as criminals, the media and politicians (at the time of the Oxford grooming case), needed to stop pandering to xenophobic views by emphasising these mens’ ethnicities. I still hold these views, and these views are consistently proved whenever news stories break regarding a grooming case involving specifically men of colour. What is often forgotten or consciously ignored at these times is that most grooming cases happen online by white perpetrators.
I felt it lacked in-depth analysis as to why there were Asian grooming gangs. Although I still hold the view that the media is insistent on presenting the ‘Asian man’ as the sexually violent and dangerous ‘other’, since reading Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Some of my best friends are… a collection of her writings in The Independant, I admired how she was self-critical of Muslims and Ugandan Asians alongside her usual attacks on institutional racism. Disclaimer: of course as a young person and feminist I was offended by her attack on modern feminist recently but let’s forget that for a second. I admired her for criticising Muslims too (she is a Muslim) and I found myself nodding to her criticisms. I think it is important, to look the other side of the story. Alibhai-Brown for example talks about racism amongst brown/Black people; between Caribbeans and Africans, and I would say this is largely true amongst some Pakistanis, Indians and Bangalis, .
I hope this doesn’t come across as an attack on Islam, I have criticised areas in which ways Muslims’ practice of Islam has led to the existence of these values held by these men. I also hope this doesn’t pander to xenophobes and Islamophobes (I would shudder if it does because they are the last people I would want to be agreeable with). But I feel untrue to myself if I do not look at the practice of Islam in this country in a fair way, and how some cultural practices (which are inspired by religion) have resulted in these men holding racist and sexist views. Again, this practice of Islam doesn’t apply to all Muslims and or all British Pakistanis because of course the practice of Islam is not homogenous in this country. I am only reflecting the practice of Islam that I have personally experienced.
Let’s talk about Muslims then. Unlike the media that loves to frame ‘Muslim’s and ‘rape gangs’ in one sentence, this problem has little to do with Islam. This problem is about masculinity, sex education and MOST IMPORTANTLY, PATRIARCHY PATRIARCHY PATRIARCHY.
I’m one of ‘those’ feminists that recognises that men are also victims of patriarchy i.e. the idea that men can only be masculine and are chastised for being otherwise. Of course they don’t ‘suffer’ literally in the same way as women or women of colour do, but their actions are a product of a type of patriarchy present in some some, Pakistani families (conservative ones). I have lived in Bradford, Manningham for that matter, I know and have seen Asian boys and their masculinity and patriarchal practices and it is ugly. These men are treated by ‘deities’ (I borrowed this from Alibhai-Brown) in the house, mothers cooking their precious sons their breakfasts (yes, I’ve seen it all and I cannot stand it!) So they enter the real world i.e. out of their homes and are expecting to be treated like Kings and when they don’t get treated like Kings their lives crumble (hence ‘suffer’ from patriarchy in these terms). Often these Asian ‘gang types’ lack in skills, education or charisma for that matter, and suffer from racism too. Remember I said in my last article that Asian/Black boys with gold teeth and ‘pseudo Jamaican accents’ (I borrowed that from Alibhai-Brown too) find employment harder. Asian gangs and grooming is a by-product of this, these men feel they are entitled (as men). Having said this I still am adamant that this kind of patriarchy exists across the globe, and Asian sex offenders are a minority, Greater Manchester’s police statistics show 95% of sex offenders are white
The next problem is sex, sex education is limited generally in Britain, sex is taboo and it not happening within some Pakistani Muslim families, especially if the parents are immigrants. Additionally sex is rigorously policed (inspired by religion which- preaches sex after marriage), Gangs often target vulnerable young white girls, and it is their vulnerabity that is the crucial factor not their ethnicity here. They also exploit Asian girls and victim blaming means the men get away with it. One could argue that these Asian men are both racists and sexist bigots as they simultaneously police Asian girls’ sexualities. Muslim Women’s Network report: UNHEARD VOICES – Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women shows that the grooming of Asian girls is largely ignored. It demonstrates that the unspoken agenda seems to be one that wants to exploit these mens’ ethnicities in order to increase Islamophobia and racism in this country rather than provide sympathy and support for the victims. Victim blaming is therefore normalised.
Are Asian boys in these gangs ‘Muslim’? Not really. Who do you find in Mosques, (which the EDL et al love to claim are terrorist training centres), in Bradford’s central Mosque (Hanfia) it’s old men discussing Pakistani politics, their committees are full of self-righteous, self-elected middle aged Pakistani men. Where are the women? and where are young people? There are not many. These so called (and self-labelled) ‘community leaders’ are too busy paying themselves high salaries from the charity boxes they collect than applyong themselves into having an understanding of what young people go through. They almost never talk about racism (unless it is strictly Islamophobic, – of course it is tied in with racism). They don’t discuss patriarchy, some leaders don’t recognise rape within marriage.
Only once in my experience have mosques actually reached out to young people and this was when the EDL marched in Bradford in 2010. Even then they relied on parents to tell their children not to go to the city centre to confront the EDL. They ignore patriarchy in Pakistani families because of course they are men, so they don’t suffer from it, neither are they all English speaking which puts many youth off. They don’t know what it means to be young and discriminated against; they are far too busy focusing on young people’s dress, beard length and whether women can enter graveyards. Those young people who are studying to become future Muslim scholars and leaders, and who therefore study the real Islam, are often from elite circles of students. For those dodgy Asian gang types there are no outreach schemes for them or rehabilitation which leaves them side-lined and their criminal activities unchallenged.
Only one Imam, Muhammed Asim Hussain in his spech ‘wanna be a bad boy’ who goes into depth about Asian gang culture, he is charismatic and has actually won a younger audience.
But I’m still queasy when he says ‘your mothers, sisters and daughter’, this picture simply explains the problem I have with that statement.
These ‘Muslim gangs’ are therefore barely drawn to Islam, in fact they are excluded from it and so it is simply unfair for the media to continuously print ‘Muslim grooming gang’. Muslim parents and/or Muslim names does not make you Muslim.
Regardless of if they do call themselves Muslims, Islam doesn’t allow these abhorrent actions anyway. But what does the BBC’s Inside Out programme reveal? It showcases the stigma attached to the victim, victim blaming is worse than the ordeal. The girl in the program leaves for America to start a new life, she doesn’t receive any counselling or support, her ordeal is brushed under the carpet and her family treat her like a problem as she ‘tries to forget’. As long as she can get married to a willing man everything is fine right? The ‘honour and shame’ culture acts as a support mechanism for these gangs in continuing their criminal activities with the belief that they will not be caught. The programme talks about Sikh girls, but Muslim girls are also victims. Yet the Sikh leader doesn’t seem to pick up on this horrendous oppressive situation, he is more interested in framing this issue in a more harmful and divisive way by asking ‘why aren’t we getting the same support as other communities’. The key word is ‘we’, as though Muslims in this country have special status. I hope it is not his intention. He later on says in the programme,the ‘same people keep cropping up’, I cringed a lot, it is beginning to look as though Muslims are a problem for him and for ‘our’ British society.
There is no easy answer to how this can be stopped, but the starting point is huge amounts of support for the young exploited girls, complete elimination of victim blaming and a better understanding of sex and relationships in schools. Also we cannot simply ‘lock away and throw away the keys’. They are horrific crimes and crimes that can effect whole communities, but these criminals also need to be rehabilitated, regardless of ethnicity.