Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The thorny question of Muslim youth and rape

British former Home Secretary Jack Straw courted controversy this week when he commented on a case of a gang of young men, primarily of Pakistani background, who sexually assaulted a number of white British girls in Derby. He said:
"Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders.

"But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men... who target vulnerable young white girls.
"We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way."
Mr Straw added: "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically," he said.
"So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat.

The convicted men were ringleaders Mohammed Liaqat and Abid Saddique (pictured below), as well as Graham Blackham, Mohammad Rehman, Faisal Mehmood, Akshay Kumar, Naweed Liaqat and Farooq Ahmed. They groomed vulnerable teenage girls with drugs and alcohol, then sexually assaulted them. There were 27 victims in all.

Straw's statement predictably met with a flurry of criticism from some quarters, yet also agreement from others. What do you think? Do the South Asian and/or Muslim communities have a problem with rape, particularly towards white women? Is it a racist statement to make? Or is it a serious issue that the cultural Left are too scared to touch?

It's important not to be simplistic here. I have quite a few views on this, not only as the child of a Muslim Asian migrant but also as someone who has worked with many clients who have offended against women, and heard the full spectrum of young men's views about sex and relationships.

You could note that in Cornwall, another gang was very recently convicted of preying on mostly white girls as well. The details were very similar... yet these guys were white. Clearly the primary problem here is of gang culture, and possibly young male culture, rather than Pakistani culture.

However... as an Australian, the case sounds all too familiar. It is chillingly similar to two gang rape cases that shocked Sydney in the early part of the last decade. One was a group of 4 Pakistani brothers ("The K Brothers") and one Nepali who sexually assaulted as many as 18 teenage girls. Another was the 14 young men of Lebanese background  led by Bilal Skaf (pictured below) who gang-raped teenage girls at train stations. In the Skaf case, all the girls were "Aussie" (ie. white), and this was specifically mentioned as justification for their treatment. I'm unsure of the ethnicity of the girls in the K brothers case, but there is clear implication that they were not Pakistani.

Why white girls? In the Skaf case, there was clear racism at play. The gang members told one victim "You deserve it because you are Australian." Another was called an "Aussie pig", asked her if "Leb cock tasted better than Aussie cock" and explained to her that she would now be raped "Leb-style". In the case of the Asian gang recently convicted in Derby, there is some evidence of racial abuse. It should be pointed out that while the gang may well have had a prejudiced view of white girls that led to targeting them, I would guess it is largely due to opportunity and availability. White teenage girls, I would assume, are on the whole less conservative than Asian teenage girls and thus more vulnerable to grooming with drugs and alcohol. And with Asian girls there would be a greater chance of retribution from vengeful relatives.

Of course, it is important not to conflate the actions of a twisted few with an entire religion or culture. All three gangs I've discussed here are predominantly made up of Muslims; but are they actually Muslims in anything other than name only? Certainly they came out of a Muslim culture, yet when a sex offender is white, is his religion or ethnicity ever deemed relevant? It's probably safe to say they weren't devout religious people. It must be said that nowhere in Islam does it condone rape, and indeed the Islamic punishment for rape is severe. And I'm quite certain that the incidence of rape in Pakistan is nowhere near as high as that in places like the UK and US.

Yet... culture can give mixed messages. For example: Western male culture, in the main, abhors rape and views rapists as scum. But simultaneously, it promulgates the very attitudes that perpetuate a culture in which rape can thrive. For example, the idea that a promiscuous woman is a slut and thus less worthy of respect; the idea that a man's ability to "score" is reflective of his manhood; the idea that a man should be dominant when it comes to sex and relationships. These attitudes are not taught explicitly, yet most men unconsciously absorb them to some extent.

Those same values are present in all societies, to various degrees. It is worth noting that one of the victims of the K brothers claimed the police didn't take her seriously because she had been drunk, and had implied she was a slut. In South Asia and the Middle East, arguably the most sexually conservative regions in the world, the disdain for promiscuous women is taken to the highest degree, and links in with the so-called "honour killings" that sometimes happen there. (Note: while honour killings do correlate strongly with Islamic cultures, they are absent from much of the Islamic world, such as West Africa and SE Asia. They also occur among Indian Sikhs and Hindus.) 

When a man commits a sexual crime, he normally has certain beliefs about himself, the world, and the victim. Foremost among these is that the victim somehow deserves it, and that the perpetrator has some kind of entitlement to do so.

Religious conservatives love to blame the permissiveness and so-called immorality of modern Western culture for the incidence of rape. And while they may have a point, conservative morality can also fuel this kind of behaviour. It is a worldview that sees a sexually free woman as a slut, a whore, and thus someone of degraded morals and worthy of scorn. Such a person is often seen as "deserving" of what fate befalls her. You can see it discussions of rape and in rape trials, when the revealing nature of a victim's clothing is called into question, or likewise their sexual history.

It is generally accepted that Western society is more sexually free than most others; at least to the extent of being more open about it. Australia has a female PM living in a de facto relationship and no one bats an eyelid. Celebrities sexual exploits are popular tabloid fodder, and magazines dispense sexual advice to male and female alike. You could say that there is plenty of pre-marital sex happening in various non-Western societies, but the difference is that there still remains an "official" cultural stance that such behaviour is frowned upon.

When migrants come to the West, they are almost always more conservative than the mainstream society around them. This often changes, of course. But among many, particularly the more conservative older generation, there remains a prejudice about the young Westerners, particularly Western women. The more emphasis a culture places on chaste behaviour for its young women, the more it tends to view those who step outside these boundaries with distaste.
This is not a universal view among migrants by any means, but it is nonetheless a common phenomenon in virtually every ethnic group. Stick to "our" girls, because "their" girls are a bit, well, slutty.

This sort of attitude can be found to some degree amongst any migrant group, be they Korean, Kenyan or Kazakh. But it must be said that Islamic cultures take it a step further. Islam, with its rigid disapproval of premarital sex, places great emphasis on the tempting nature of women. Thus the need for hijab, covering up women to prevent men harassing them and being led into temptation. Now this might work in a sense, but it also has the effect of giving some men a very juvenile mindset when it comes to temptation. By primarily giving women the responsibility for not encouraging sin, it is easy for men to abdicate their own responsibilities. The idea that male sexuality is so powerful that men themselves cannot control it is common in many cultures, including in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it has achieved greatest currency in the Islamic world.

The distinction between a "good" woman and an "impure" one is made even more clear by clothing and behaviour. A good woman is one who covers her body and behaves properly. One that goes out partying, wears make-up, reveals a bit too much skin, or is perceived to be promiscious - she is impure and immoral, and thus not deserving of the same respect as the "good woman".

Now, in conservative countries where women cover themselves up and behave conservatively, this might work; yet it is still easy for women to be disgraced for relatively innocuous things, such as being seen with a boy. Consider then, the culture clash when someone from these countries arrives in the West and sees women in crop-tops and miniskirts. Most adjust to the new social norms they are faced with, but some cannot shake the view they have grown up with, which divides women up according to their level of moral correctness. And the girls who show off all that skin and go out drinking at bars, in this worldview, do not gain much high regard.

It is widely acknowledged that one of the most shocking incidents of racist violence in Australia's recent history, the Cronulla Riots in late 2005, was a reaction to the behaviour of a group of Lebanese men who routinely harassed blonde women at the beach and frequently called them "Aussie sluts".

Bilal Skaf's father once said that if the girls had been wearing hijab, they wouldn't have been raped.

The excellent British-Pakistani journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, speaking about the current case in Derby, says in this article:

Most Asian men do not go around raping young white girls and women; many have happy and equal relationships with white partners. However, an alarming number of Asian individuals, families and communities do believe that white females have no morals, are free and available, deserving of no respect or protection.

Up in Bradford a few years back, I met Muslim pimps, some wearing mini Koran pendants on heavy, gold chains. "Not our girls," they reassured me, "just them white girls from the estates, cheap girls. They love it man, all the money they make! What else will they do with their lives? We're helping them make a career."
Much laughter, until I asked them what they would do if a white pimp groomed their daughters. They would kill the pimp and the girls too, they said. They would too.

The sort of young men of Muslim backgrounds who commit this sort of crime are certainly not acting out any religious or cultural imperative. Rather, they are cherry-picking whatever cultural influences serve their purposes in the worst way. The rebellious sociopathy of the gang lifestyle; the lure of easy sex and cheap titillation that abounds in Western countries. These things of course are totally at odds with the culture of Pakistan, Lebanon or any other traditional country. Yet by channelling that traditional perspective of female morality, and victimising only those they view as degraded and cheap, it becomes that much easier to justify.

So back to the original comment by Jack Straw. He seems to generalise about Pakistani men, but given the overall context of his statement, I think it's clear he doesn't wish to tar the whole British Pakistani community with the same brush. I actually think he's spot on, and the British Asian community, and certain migrant communities elsewhere in the world, do need to do some soul-searching on this matter. It's one of the nastier consequences of a sadly too-common tendency among some migrant groups: to live in the West, yet view Western culture with distaste. This sort of thinking surely has no bright future.

See also:

Knobhead of the week: Samir Abu Hamza

Was Islamophobia a factor in the wrongful conviction of Farah Jama?

Define "race-based attack"


  1. Jack Straw was explicit that he wasn't singling out a single nation, like Pakistanis. That's why he also mentioned Arabs and Afghans.

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