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Britain's Heart of Darkness (Commentary, October 2014)

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The Rot in Rotherham

A scandal involving rape, ethnicity, religion, and the willful failure of Britain’s public authorities to protect thousands of girls from horrific exploitation has become international news. But while some of the revelations of the barbarities practiced in the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire and elsewhere in England are fresh, the story is not new. It has taken some 15 years for this scandal to reach critical mass and get the attention of the British political class. This delay was due to a toxic combination of pathologies on the part of the authorities and the British media. And it all boiled down to a deliberate and even bizarrely principled refusal to speak the truth, no matter the consequences to the innocent.

These pathologies include 1) endemic official terror of seeming “racist” or being labeled as such, 2) an obsession with not giving ammunition to the country’s weak and tiny extreme right, 3) the requirement that all liberal middle-class British people ignore or pretend not to see any negative fallout from mass immigration, and 4) the persistence of multiculturalist dogma that prescribes a morally relativistic response to cultural difference.

But other, less well-known forces were also at play. Among them is one of the few politically correct forms of social prejudice in the UK: a disdain for the white working class, and in particular the part of it that has been degraded by welfarism and family breakdown. But perhaps equally important, and all but unnoted by the mainstream press, is the problematic role played by a misguided and ineffective British counterterrorism strategy based on winning the cooperation of self-appointed Muslim community leaders and Pakistani immigrant “elders.”

The large-scale targeting of vulnerable white (and also Sikh) girls by networks of Muslim men and the massive institutional failure that allowed such exploitation to flourish reveal some dark truths about British society and the British state. One can only hope that the lessons to be learned are lessons the United States will not need to heed.

The tipping point came in late August with the publication of the Jay report. Based on an independent inquiry commissioned by Rotherham Borough Council, Professor Alexis Jay’s report recounted in harrowing detail the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 girls by gangs of men, almost all of Pakistani origin, between 1997 and 2013 in the Yorkshire town. (Rotherham has a population of 250,000 and is a satellite of the city of Sheffield.) The report was commissioned in the wake of, and provided independent evidence to support the findings of, a devastating 2012 investigation by Andrew Norfolk, a reporter for the Times (London). Norfolk had revealed confidential police files suggesting a nationwide pattern of exploitation of girls ages 12 to 16 by “Asian males.”

Norfolk’s articles had demonstrated a pattern of “grooming” and sexually exploiting children—not only in Rotherham but also in cities with large Pakistani communities such as Derby, Oldham, and Rochdale. They revealed that all across the economically depressed midlands and north of England, and in some other more prosperous towns (including Oxford), there had developed a criminal phenomenon in which vulnerable, mostly white teenage and preteen girls had become subject to “grooming” by men from Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant communities.

“Grooming” is code for a process by which rebellious, alienated young girls from the white working class and underclass—of whom there are many—are seduced with alcohol, drugs, and sometimes a degree of affection and attention, and then raped and forced to become sex slaves and prostitutes.

Many of the girls are in what the British authorities ironically call government “care”—wards of the state—or else are known delinquents. Often they are initially targeted by young men whom they consider their boyfriends but are then broken in by gang rapes and passed around groups of related older men. These criminal endeavors are based around taxi companies and associated with late-night fast-food and kebab restaurants of a kind that abound in the UK’s poorer neighborhoods.

To give a flavor of the phenomenon of sexual grooming and the official response to it, let me quote at some length from the executive summary of Alexis Jay’s report:

It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators…

Over the first twelve years covered by this Inquiry, the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant….Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE [child sexual exploitation] regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.

By far the majority of perpetrators were described as “Asian” by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councilors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councilors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.

One of Jay’s sources was a Home Office researcher who as early as 2002 provided Rotherham authorities with information about incidents of exploitation by networks of Anglo-Pakistani men. As a result of her report she was told, “You must never refer to that again, you must never refer to Asian men” and then made to go on a “two-day ethnicity and diversity course to raise my awareness of ethnic issues.”

The Times’s 2012 investigation had detailed a 10-year history of Rotherham’s police and social services failing to act on specific evidence about predation by organized groups of sex offenders from the Pakistani community. Like the Jay report, it included stories that are hard to read and even harder to fathom.

It was apparently representative that Rotherham social services allowed one 14-year-old child, who had been put into state care after her parents had tried unsuccessfully to end her relationship with an older Pakistani man who had twice impregnated her, to have daily contact with her abuser (a violent ex-convict) on the ground that the relationship was consensual. A father in a town near Manchester told social workers that his 15-year-old daughter had been lured into an underage sex ring based at a local kebab shop; they told him that the girl had simply made a “lifestyle choice.”

Another Home Office researcher, who produced a 2001 report on the crisis and wrote without result to the local police chief, had described a horrific case: “One girl’s social worker invited her abuser to attend ante-natal meetings as if this was some kind of normal relationship. This was a 14-year-old and an adult abuser, married with children and a pregnant wife.”

The police were even more derelict in their duties. Again and again they chose to ignore the complaints of the girls and their parents, often because they believed the girls were “slags” and “trash.” One Rotherham detective interviewing a girl who had been gang-raped by five men refused to list the case as one of sexual abuse as he believed it to be “consensual”: The girl was 12. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, in two cases cited by the Jay report, “fathers tracked down their daughters and tried to remove them from houses where they were being abused, only to be arrested themselves when police were called to the scene.”

Mike Hedges, the now retired chief constable of South Yorkshire, recently claimed that the sexual grooming of children was “never raised” while he was in office. It has since been revealed that he was sent letters detailing accounts of such abuse, including one from the anguished parents of a 13-year-old girl who had been raped.

The problem was so bad, and so well known in the town, that according to Jay, “Schools raised the alert over the years about children as young as 11, 12, and 13 being picked up outside schools by cars and taxis, given presents and mobile phones and taken to meet large numbers of unknown males in Rotherham, other local towns and cities, and further afield.”

The Jay report’s revelations have resulted in a media firestorm, a handful of reluctant apologies and resignations in Rotherham itself, and, in the past few weeks, the first admissions by the BBC that a specific ethnic group played a massively disproportionate role in a pattern of crime that it had worked hard to play down or ignore.

The latter is important. Until recently, the norm in covering the Rotherham incidents, and many similar ones in the north of England, had been to either avoid any mention by the victims of the ethnicity of the perpetrators, or to refer to them nebulously as “Asian” men. In the UK, “Asian” is used to describe people whose ancestors come from the Indian Subcontinent (i.e., Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Nepalis, and Sri Lankans) rather than people from Southeast Asia.

The use of this word in these cases is troubling because it is animated by racism—racism in the service of cowardice and political correctness.

Labeling the perpetrators as “Asians” was an attempt to disguise the fact that the men involved were almost all Muslims of Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent, plus a few Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and Afghans. No Sikhs or Hindus or Buddhists have been linked to the crimes, so to use the term “Asian” (as is still the norm on the BBC) is to introduce race without the slightest honest justification.

The anguish about ethnicity and terminology actually goes to the heart of the overall problem. According to the both the Jay report and the best journalism on the subject, one reason the perpetrators were able to flourish for so long was that those in authority were much more concerned with denying or deflecting attention from the existence of Pakistani rape gangs than they were with the safety of thousands of brutally abused girls.

One serious question surrounding the scandal is the extent to which these crimes have a racial or religious motivation or are somehow connected to the remarkably consistent ethnic and cultural background of the perpetrators. Put simply, were these girls targeted because they were white? Because they were infidels? Both? And what, if anything, does it signify that the perpetrators are almost all of Pakistani background?

Rotherham and similar cases are highly unusual in that “ordinary” child sexual abuse involves perpetrators and victims who come from the same ethnic group. Moreover, there is no equivalent phenomenon of Pakistani and other Muslim girls being specifically targeted for grooming and pimping by non-Muslims, or white men, or black men, or Sikh and Hindu men. This doesn’t mean, of course, that all Muslim men are a threat to girls from those groups; most sexual abuse and rape in Britain is a white-on-white problem.

No one seems to know the degree to which the perpetrators are motivated by racism or religious bigotry when they speak, as they have, of their victims as “white trash” and “white whores,” because almost all white girls in the UK are non-Muslims. But the fact that Sikh girls were also targeted would seem to imply some kind of vengeful religious animus.

One young Muslim leader, Mohammed Shafiq, who received death threats for discussing the matter in public, explained it thus: “The reality is that there is a small minority of Pakistani men who think white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused with impunity. Part of the problem is related to the fact that they should not have extra-marital sex with Pakistani girls inside their own tightly knit communities. Not only would such behavior be quickly uncovered via the local grapevine and their close family networks, but it would also offend their own twisted code of honor.  So, instead, they turn to vulnerable Western girls, whom they regard as more easily available because of greater social freedoms.”

There is other circumstantial evidence to bolster the case that religion has played a central role. As  right-wing British pundit Milo Yiannopoulos pointed out, a similar pattern involving gang rapes by Lebanese Muslim men in Sydney, Australia, led to race riots in 2000. And the Netherlands has struggled to deal with a widespread pattern of Moroccan and Turkish gangs “turning out” white Dutch girls, with a particular emphasis on underage virgins.

There is nothing in the Koran or in Islam as a whole that mandates rape and sexual exploitation, still less anything that suggests that one race is more deserving of mistreatment than another. However, as is now well known due to widely reported cases of gang-rape punishments in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier, tribal traditions of rape and misogynistic violence are often justified on religious grounds and even seen as a form of Islamic hygiene by certain communities.

There is also in Islam, as in variants of Orthodox Judaism and some Hindu traditions, a traditional concern with female purity that can lead some devotees to assume that women from other communities are unchaste, unclean, and unworthy of respect.

Which raises another horrifying aspect of the Rotherham cases—one that does not involve the perpetrators. It is the degraded character of white-underclass and even working-class life in Britain’s cities. It is hardly surprising that immigrants from conservative parts of the subcontinent and their strictly brought-up children might be shocked by some behaviors of the indigenous population.

Public drunkenness has long been a British tradition for all classes, but it is far from uncommon on a Saturday night in any English town to see puking-drunk girls staggering around or collapsed half-naked in the gutter, not to mention public sex and public urination. These are not spectacles that invite assimilation into British culture or that inspire respect. That is certainly not to say that the unattractiveness of British street culture is any excuse for grooming or raping, or that these girls, many of them under 13, are in any way responsible for their abuse by these predators.

It is also important to note that certain behaviors that are utterly normal, respectable, and dignified in Western terms—such as a post-pubescent woman going about her business with her hair uncovered and without being accompanied by a male relative for protection—are in some parts of the subcontinent (especially the parts of Pakistan from which many British immigrants come) considered immoral.

In Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of India, I have often heard women who leave their houses without a father, brother, son, or cousin being described as “prostitutes.” The men who say that are not claiming that the women are literally selling sex but that they are as undeserving of respect as prostitutes, fair game for abuse, and perhaps even deserving of some kind of punishment. 

Still, you would expect even conservative Muslim immigrants who have been in Britain for a long time, and certainly their offspring, to have made some kind of accommodation with Western ideas of female freedom and appropriate dress. But Britain is not America, and here, as in other European countries, cultural assimilation has proved to be a problematic process, especially with Muslim immigrants from certain countries.

While many immigrant groups, such as West Indians or the South Asians who fled persecution in Africa in the 1970s, have become part of the British mainstream despite having had to battle considerable racism and intolerance, many Pakistani and Bangladeshi neighborhoods have successfully resisted assimilation. They sometimes look and feel not like a normal immigrant ghetto, but like colonies, inhabited by people who despise the culture around them. Part of this contempt may be rooted in a sense that their religion and traditional sense of honor render them inherently superior to the English, but it may also have something to do with a reaction to the social and economic degradation of the English underclass. After all, many of these communities live alongside English people who have lived on welfare benefits for generations and among whom radically dysfunctional families are the norm.

The second major question raised by the scandal is this: Why were the social workers and police so reluctant to go public with or do much about the Rotherham crimes?

Ineptitude and laziness certainly played a role. But the notorious, sometimes deadly incompetence of many of Britain’s social workers is often connected to political correctness. The most infamous recent example of this was the case of Victoria Climbié, an eight-year-old girl originally from the Ivory Coast who was tortured and murdered by her great aunt and the aunt’s boyfriend. During the 10 months the eight-year-old was beaten, bound, burned, and starved, she was seen by the police, the social services of four local authorities, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and workers at National Health Service hospitals. All failed to investigate or help. Race apparently played a role, not just because Climbié’s guardians were black, as were the primary social workers and police officers who dealt with her case, but because social workers were afraid of being seen as culturally insensitive to African-Caribbean family practices.

It was all too typical that the “Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board” would write in a confidential report discovered by Andrew Norfolk that grooming cases had “cultural characteristics…which are locally sensitive in terms of diversity.” The report went on to say: “There are sensitivities of ethnicity with potential to endanger the harmony of community relationships. Great care will be taken in drafting…this report to ensure that its findings embrace Rotherham’s qualities of diversity. It is imperative that suggestions of a wider cultural phenomenon are avoided.”

In 2002, after the Rotherham council was given a draft of a report for the Home Office on child exploitation in the town, the council actually ordered a raid on its own frontline provider of children’s services to remove and destroy files that documented abuse cases, the names of suspects, and the specific locations where Pakistani exploitation networks were targeting children. According to Bindel, the police and social workers “feared race riots” if the truth were to be known.

The horrifyingly lax conduct of law-enforcement authorities should not surprise anyone who has witnessed the steady decline of British policing. Given the endemic laziness that underlies their visible withdrawal from the streets, the unhealthy enthusiasm in senior ranks for pursuing thought crimes such as “racist” speech, and the incompetence and institutional cowardice on display during the London riots of 2011, it would have been foolish to have high expectations of British police.

Julie Bindel, an expert on the grooming phenomenon, and a Northerner herself, is convinced that the local officials who betrayed the girls of Rotherham were not at all “politically correct” in terms of their own beliefs, or worried about offending Pakistani opinion. “It’s just a matter of covering their own behinds in case they were accused of racism,” she says.

Indeed, the dominant emotion of those who failed to do their jobs here was fear—fear of being accused of social evils and  fear of criminal disorder that might follow the revelations of uncomfortable truths about minority populations defended by well-funded and aggressive public-interest organizations. And it was mirrored by the deep ideological discomfort of the mainstream media in Britain with telling the truth about what has been going on. A handful of brave investigators had been trying to expose the sexual grooming of children for many years. But such was the pressure to ignore or keep quiet about it that those fighting to reveal the truth often found themselves with odd bedfellows. The first journalist to break the Rotherham story was the left-wing lesbian feminist writer Julie Bindel—and she did it, of all places, in Standpoint, the conservative English monthly.

In a 2010 article called “Girls, Gangs and Grooming: The Truth,” Bindel laid bare not only the practice of targeting and seducing vulnerable young girls and then “breaking them in” as prostitutes, but also the extreme reluctance of charities, social services, and law-enforcement authorities to admit that the perpetrators came from a particular ethnic and religious background.

Bindel was compelled to publish the piece in Standpoint because “progressive” outlets such as the Guardian would not touch the issue. After writing about “Asian” grooming for another paper in 2007, she had been deemed a “racist” and her name was included on a website called “Islamophobia Watch: Documenting anti-Muslim Bigotry.” Similarly aggressive denunciations had greeted the Labor Party politician Ann Cryer, who had gone public with complaints from constituents whose daughters had been victimized.

At times, the informal system of media censorship has been very sinister indeed. In 2004, Britain’s Channel 4 made the television documentary “Edge of the City” about parents trying to stop groups of young “Asian” men from grooming preteen girls for sex. However, the thenchief constable of West Yorkshire fought successfully, in alliance with a radical leftist group called United Against Fascism, to have its broadcast canceled, lest the program strengthen the neo-Nazi British National Party in an imminent election.

So much attention has been paid to the troubling role of political correctness and multiculturalism on one side, and bigotry, misogyny, and anti-white racism on the other that it’s easy to miss another factor in the failure to confront “grooming.” That factor is the essential but largely unspoken element of the UK’s  counterterrorism strategy, which is premised on cultivating key figures in certain communities, even if that means making unsavory compromises. Put simply, in order to get information on potential jihadist terrorists, government authorities have tried to curry favor with selected Muslim community leaders by turning a blind eye to various morally abhorrent or illegal practices.

Abandoning low-status white girls to the cruelties of local sex traffickers is arguably only one disturbing manifestation of this policy. Muslim women and girls have also been deprived of the equal protection of the law in order to win the support of elders and self-appointed leaders whom the authorities foolishly believed might help them root out young jihadists.

For many years now, as authors including Theodore Dalrymple have pointed out, the police and social services have systematically ignored the illegal removal of Muslim girls from school once they reach their mid-teens. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, they have also largely ignored the forced marriages (i.e., rapes and kidnappings) that often follow such truancy. They have failed to stop the widespread practice of female genital mutilation. And they have been accessories to the effective abolition of female suffrage in Muslim communities. (The latter works by means of a postal voting system that allows conservative men to keep their wives, daughters, and sisters at home on polling day—and, in reality, to cast their votes for them.) And it goes almost without saying that sexual and other abuse within these communities takes place with little chance of the authorities or the law becoming involved.

This grotesque group betrayal, like the sacrifice of thousands of vulnerable teenage white girls, has not resulted in intelligence triumphs or effective measures to neutralize the threat of British-born jihadists. But it has indulged the most reactionary, unassimilated, and misogynistic elements within relevant communities. Meanwhile, the long refusal to discuss the truth has indulged the worst instincts among the British elites and left in its wake a moral stain on the nation that may be impossible to remove.

Britain’s Heart of Darkness