"When Donald Trump says there are parts of London that are ‘no go’ areas, I think he’s betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of President of the United States”, said the then-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson in 2015. The Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, also condemned Trump’s remarks. So it is shocking to see our current Home Secretary now repeating these same far-Right tropes about ‘No-go areas’ in the UK.
Tweeting about the twenty men convicted of vile and horrific crimes including rape and sexual abuse, the Home Secretary said “These sick Asian paedophiles are finally facing justice. I want to commend the bravery of the victims. For too long, they were ignored. Not on my watch. There will be no no-go areas”.
These are dangerous, irresponsible and divisive words. While they would be objectionable coming from anyone, they are particularly frightening coming from the current Home Secretary. He has already been roundly criticised for these comments, and rightly so. This statement, consisting of just 33 words, was not just divisive and harmful, but also capable of inciting racial hatred. Just last week, police reported a surge in hate crime directed at people because of their religious beliefs. Such crimes have risen by 40% in two years, and 52% of all such offences were aimed at Muslims. At a time of such rapidly-rising religious hate crime, the Home Secretary should be working hard to address this, rather than making incendiary statements that may lead to further such offences.
As a former Secretary of State for Communities, Sajid Javid, more than anyone else, should be careful about the language he uses and the potential effects of his language on community relations. Not only is the tweet objectionable for its connotations, but it is factually incorrect. The myth of ‘No-go areas’ has been repeatedly debunked and, in 2015, Fox News was forced to apologise for allowing its anchors and guests to claim there were ‘No-go areas’ in the UK. As Fox News admitted, there is “no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas that exclude individuals based solely on their religion” in the UK. It is incredible that, three years later, the British Home Secretary himself is now repeating this myth.
Describing these criminals as ‘Asian’ is not only unnecessary and offensive, but an apparent attempt by the government to absolve itself of responsibility. This categorisation of criminals by their ethnicity is a slippery slope. Just like this government now deprives British citizens of their citizenship when they commit serious crimes abroad, in an attempt to disown them, this description of these paedophiles is an attempt to absolve the government of any responsibility. Describing them as “Asian”, we can keep our consciences clean, in the mistaken belief that they are nothing to do with Britain or British society. By calling them ‘Asian’, the Government can essentially clean its hands of them.
Many of these criminals will have been born and/or brought up in the UK, so it is incredible to see them described as “Asian”. How long does one have to be in the UK to be accepted as British? After how long is one no longer defined by the colour of one’s skin or the country one’s parents came from? Just why would the Home Secretary describe British-born British nationals as “Asian”? Just as it would be offensive, racist and plain wrong for someone to describe Sajid Javid as the “UK’s Asian Home Secretary”, so it was wrong to describe these criminals as “Asian”.
In this country, we categorise people by their actions, not by their race - and rightly so. It is fair, indeed right, to be disgusted and appalled by these men - by the fact they are “sick paedophiles”, not because they are “sick Asian paedophiles”. They have finally been locked up, some for decades, because of what they did - not who are they are or where they come from. Our legal system works hard to ensure this is the case and that it is obvious to all concerned; it is shameful to see the Home Secretary, of all people, undermining this. We should not be giving these criminals, or others like them, an excuse to claim they are being punished for being Asian, rather than for being paedophiles.
The Home Secretary’s attempt to actually take credit for these convictions, while the least offensive part of the tweet, is almost laughable. He has been in post for six months, whereas these cases would have been on-going for much longer. Any involvement of his in these cases, or in the development of the laws that saw these men convicted, seems most unlikely. So to suggest that he had anything to do with the victims of these vile crimes finally being given a voice is disingenuous.
The public reaction to this tweet shows how hurt and offended people are by the Home Secretary’s words, and how ill-judged the tweet was. Whether or not he intended to elicit such a reaction, he should now take responsibility for it. As a mature politician and public figure, he should try to understand why his tweet was wrong, and apologise for using such language. Defining these criminals by their ethnicity and talking of ‘no-go areas’ is playing into the hands of the far-right and cannot be tolerated of a Home Secretary. He should admit he got this wrong, retract the tweet and apologise.