The fallout that has followed the jailing of a gang involved in sex crimes this month is causing disquiet in Britain's Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities.
Protest at racial slurs as UK sex-crime gang is jailed
LONDON // The fallout that has followed the jailing of a gang involved in sex crimes this month is causing disquiet in Britain's Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities.
On one hand, leading Hindu and Sikh organisations have launched a joint public protest over the fact that much of the media and politicians have described the gang as "Asian".
All nine members were also Muslim - eight originally from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan.
The gang members were identified simply as "Asian" by the bulk of the British media although some newspapers, notably The Times and Daily Mail, highlighted the fact they were all Muslims.
For their part, Muslims fear that using religion to identify gang members who were involved in grooming and sexually abusing white girls as young as 13, feeds Islamophobia in the UK.
"The blame game is pernicious and only distracts from deep-seated social problems inherent in Britain," said the Muslim News newspaper last week.
"Politicians and the media need to be responsible in what they say and write as that conjures up even more hatred towards Muslims. There are already too many victims of child abuse without trying to smear a whole community and their faith."
Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain - an umbrella group for about 500 Muslim organisations in the UK - fears that extreme right groups, such as the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL), will overemphasise the involvement of Muslims.
"Instead of attacks and blame, our resolve must be to prevent a repeat of such abuse ever taking place again: we must be committed to education and yes, asking difficult questions. But we must also do so with cool heads and not act simply on hearsay and emotion," he said.
Nevertheless, leaders of Britain's Sikh and Hindu communities are equally concerned the term "Asian" is being used incorrectly to describe the sex gang, particularly as statistics indicate that, in recent years, the grooming of vulnerable white girls has been dominated by groups of Pakistani men.
In a joint statement last week, the Network of Sikh Organisations, the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Sikh Media Monitoring Group said that all Britons with roots in the subcontinent were being tarred by the use of the term "Asian".
The statement added: "We believe the reluctance of the media and the government to discuss the issue that there is a disproportionate representation of Muslims in such cases - and why the victims are almost always non-Muslim girls - is only adding to the vote bank of far-right groups such as the BNP and the EDL."
Tim Loughton, the government's children's minister, is now calling for an open debate about "issues around culture" that might explain why men of Pakistani heritage now predominate prosecutions for street-grooming sex offences against non-Muslim girls.
Baroness (Sayeeda) Warsi, co-chairman of the ruling Conservative Party and the first Muslim woman in a British cabinet, said in an interview with the London Evening Standard newspaper that it had to be accepted that race was a factor in the Rochdale case and a similar one in Derby last year.
"There is a small minority of Pakistani men who believe that white girls are fair game. And we have to be prepared to say that. You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first," said Lady Warsi, whose parents are from the Punjab.
But Shamit Saggar, professor of political science at the University of Sussex, believes there are real hurdles to overcome in simply apportioning cultural responsibility to one group without being specific about the exact nature of the problem.
"If not, messages get lost and, worse, whole groups get tainted through loose association," he said. "For instance, on the demand side, there is a specific local cultural tolerance of something that must be condemned and punished severely.
"But, on the supply side, there is also a wider societal culture of hyper-sexualisation of young children that needs to be tackled.
"There is no point in trying to pin evil on a single community as we may discover that it also lives within our own ranks."