A depressing feature of the twenty-four hour news cycle is the speed with which events are politicised. Take the riots. Everyone had an explanation for the riots, and how fortunate that the explanations conformed exactly with their own view of the world. Left wing commentators said it was all about poverty/bankers/police brutality etc, and rightwing pundits countered with equally predictable rhetoric about family breakdown and Broken Britain. The riots were a political Rorschach, in which you see what you want to see. As Comrade Cohen remarked: ‘no change, however violent, can shake the cocksure out of their conditioned reflexes. Whatever coin you put into the machine, the response is always the same.‘ Who was it had that line about time-honoured disguise and borrowed language?
It is becoming the same with the Rochdale child exploitation ring. Yesterday there was a long piece on the case by Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley of the Guardian CiF site. The big problem for Cockbain and Brayley is that the offenders were all Asian men. ‘The defendants in question are at most nominally Muslim,’ they complain. ‘Practising Muslims certainly aren’t supposed to have sex with children.’ The argument becomes about defending Islam rather than about the case. They also argue against racial profiling when – at least to my knowledge – the police and CPS have not called for this, and in fact have said explicitly that race was not an issue in the investigation.
There’s a reason for this line of argument, well worked out and kindly meant. Liberal anti racists have read all the old books. They know that this case feeds into all kinds of tropes and imagery, that we thought had gone but instead just lie dormant, pulsing with a tenebrous half-life. The case has attracted Britain’s unpopular far right parties, which have not been able to disguise their delight that such horrible events have taken place. So Sunny Hundal points to similar cases where every single perpetrator was white indigenous. Why is the left fighting on the BNP’s debased terms?
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Telegraph‘s Ed West, a kind of Spenglerian maniac for the digital age. It is all the fault of liberals, he says, and not just CiF liberals, but liberals over the last fifty years. He says straight out that the case has a racial element:
Yet if the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of a particular type of crime come from one ethnic group, we can say that this crime has a racial or cultural element; if the vast majority of their victims come from another group, definitely so. To deny this seems bizarre.
He writes: ‘That this has been allowed to happen can be partly explained by the victimisation of politics from the 1960s.’ He blames, in quick succession, the 1967 Abortion Act, the advent of need-based allocations policy in social housing, sex education, and of course immigration.
The theory behind free movement was that people around the world were interchangeable and that, once exposed to British air, people would adopt British attitudes and world views. But that doesn’t necessarily happen, especially when a society is in its decadent stage; and history tells us that where barbarism and decadence clash, women are going to get hurt.
The odd thing about West’s argument is that personal responsibility is thrown out of the window. The case is not discussed in terms of the specific individuals, who made these decisions and did these horrific things in cold blood and out of choice. Nor does West offer an analysis of the professional failures in this case, which have been admitted by the police, the CPS and the local authority, and which let the abuse continue for two years after it was first reported. A strange determinism creeps in. Criminals and victims are reduced to swirling ciphers in the great sweep of history.
Is this a cultural thing? People outside Ed West’s alternate universe are saying yes. The former head of Barnardo’s said this morning that ‘For this particular type of crime, the street grooming of teenage girls in northern towns … there is very troubling evidence that Asians are overwhelmingly represented in the prosecutions for such offences.’
The liberal Asian writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown agreed with this:
I know how much physical abuse goes on behind the closed doors of such families, how many girls are married off too young, raped within marriage and treated as things… The appalling thing is that, in the enclaves where these men came from, families will be blaming the abused teenagers.
A childhood in the villages of rural Pakistan will not necessarily foster a respectful attitude to the opposite sex. Neither will a religion in which the hate and fear of women is entwined like a double helix. Weirdly, that’s an argument for more diversity and liberalisation, not less. White or Asian, if you hang around your own life in the same part of town with the same people who believe the things you do, and reinforce each other’s prejudices and delusions… then the unspeakable becomes doable, and darkness inevitably follows.
If culture feeds into this, it’s a cultural misogyny – for misogyny is the real issue here, and not just in Rochdale.
Update: I’d also recommend this article by David Aaronovitch (£).