Race crime has been in the headlines again. This time, two reports of men from predominantly Muslim communities, sexually exploiting and raping underage white girls. In Rochdale, England, eight men from the British Pakistani community and an Afghan were convicted of conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16 and other sexual offences including rape and trafficking for sexual exploitation. The judge said they treated their victims "as though they were worthless and beyond any respect".
It is beyond doubt that these men are predatory rapists with zero respect for females. However, public reaction to the case quickly descended into a debate about racism. Predictably, the BNP and other racist/far-right groups and publications, jumped on the religion and race of the convicted men and their female victims. In addition, many liberal-left commentators rushed to deny the race or culture aspect playing immediately into the hands of racist and misogynist discourse, and leaving themselves open to accusations of double standards. In fact, the gender-hate aspect became so overshadowed by race, that the criminals bizarrely ended up being painted as victims of racism.
Although the Rochdale crimes were predominantly about gender not race, the blurring of 'race' with religion and culture was also at fault. To deny that neither of these was a factor in this particular case is to ignore the root of the problem. Liberal-left commentators argued that paedophilia and sex-trafficking were not predominantly committed by men from the Pakistani or Muslim community in Britain. True. However, that does not block the question as to to why the men in this case targeted only white girls? Responses such as men preyed on these girls because "they were perceived to be unwanted, unloved, they were on the streets late and nobody seemed to care", not only perpetuate white, working-class stereotypes but also answer only half the question. It shifts the blame back to the girls and their families as opposed to the predatory men. What factors drove these men to prey on these girls?
The second story was about the 'Lover Boys' in the Netherlands .This story was similar to the Rochdale case, with high incidences of sex trafficking offences against white girls by men predominantly from the Moroccan community. The name, 'Lover Boys' itself being a typical example of how patriarchal culture transforms rape and sex-trafficking into an almost harmless bit of male fun. Whatever next, 'Playful Pimps'?
Even though the Al-Jazeera report was a paradigm example of liberal-left reportage of a sensitive issue, after reading both these stories, I noticed some common themes :
1) a reluctance by the liberal-left to state these were racially-motivated crimes (even if it was not the defining factor);
2) an apparent lack of female voices in dealing with the problem in Muslim communities;
3) a failure to fully acknowledge that sexual exploitation of females is caused and perpetuated by any religion or culture that has at its heart a celebration of male dominance and supremacy.
First, race is clearly an element in both these specific cases. This is not to agree with the BNP or other far-right groups, its merely to state the obvious. In fact, not openly acknowledging this, plays right into the hands of racists.
Second, although it was refreshing to see Al-Jazeera's positive portrayal of a Moroccan man tackling the issue within his community, the apparent lack of female voices (particularly Muslim ones) in dealing with the problem appears to have gone unnoticed:
'Initially two imams, Abu Bakr el Fadil and Ahmed el Ouazzani, began the process of information gathering and started using the Friday prayer to launch a campaign on the issue of youth criminality, especially the problem of forced prostitution and pimping among Moroccan youth. After some time I set up a network of imams, including well-known imams such as Sheikh Shershaby, Sheikh Jneid Fawaz and Sheikh al Bakkali, who took the battle against 'Lover Boys' nationwide.'
If men and Imams are the ones dealing with gender-hate crime, is that really empowering females in that community?
Finally, there was very little analysis of how any patriarchal religion and culture (including Islam), that deems it spiritually and socially acceptable to deny women basic human rights of agency such as freedom of dress, movement, expression, education, sexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and so on, engenders, legitimises and perpetuates such crimes against females. Without aligning myself with Islamaphobes, one would have to be extremely naïve, or wilfully ignoring the experiences of many women around the world today, to maintain that Islam does not encourage an ideology of male supremacy and female inferiority. Even 'moderate' interpretations of Islam unintentionally confirm the idea that there is a purer, fundamental version of Islam which absolutely places females as inferior and who must be controlled and subordinated. I am not only accusing Islam of sexism and misogyny here. We can see such attitudes in most religions in the world today, particularly when the religious texts have undergone hundreds of years of (mis)interpetation by male religious leaders and clergy. However, I have never been sexually harassed in a public space as much as when I lived in the Indian sub-continent and that experience needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
Sexual harrassment, schoolgirls in veils, forced marriages, sex-trafficking, FGM and honour killings have no place in a secular, equal and respectful society. Neither do harmful and unnecessary plastic surgery, eating disorders and the widespread marginalisation and pornification of women in the media. If people want to go down the cultural relativist route, then what about respect and tolerance for a culture that values secularism and equality? If we don't speak out about all types of misogyny in all religions and cultures (regardless of race), then women (as well as men) will continue to internalise these ideas about 'womanhood' and bizarrely become their own oppressors in the name of 'freedom' and anti-racist discourse will become part of the problem.