Honour culture protects Pakistani grooming gangs
As Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, can confirm, wading into the child grooming debate in Britain is a bit like putting on a blindfold and running headlong into a minefield. In the year since she highlighted the recurrence of cases where gangs of British Pakistani men have exploited white girls, she has received death threats and has needed police protection.
As a member of the British Pakistani community, I feel in a privileged position to say what Sarah Champion meant to say without fear of accusations of racism or xenophobia. And here it is: our community suffers from a deep-seated cultural problem. That problem is honour culture.
The Pakistani population of Britain has a strong sense of community. We truly do feel that what affects one affects all. Our sense of community has enabled us to thrive in this country. But this esprit de corps has a dark side. Whenever one of us is disgraced, even if through their own actions, we feel that it reflects upon the whole community and respond as if we are all under attack. And when under attack, we get defensive and we shut down debate.
Honour culture means that we shall see no evil and hear no evil. Not when sexually frustrated young men abuse children, nor when concerns are raised about the kind of Islamist preaching our children get into their heads from the internet, nor when our neighbours’ daughter disappears on a trip to Pakistan.
We do not save face by refusing to see evil when it is clearly there. We do far more damage to the image of our community when we fail to hold our own accountable, and when we are seen to come to the defence of criminals and dangerous radicals.
The numbers don’t lie. In no fewer than 16 British towns and cities, grooming gangs have been prosecuted for raping young girls since 2011. In only two of those cases were the abusers not from South Asian backgrounds. Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has therefore taken the first brave step in asking the all-important question: why are men convicted of grooming-gang sex crimes disproportionately of Pakistani origin?
If we had the courage and integrity to tackle these issues in our communities head on, we would be helping the victims, we would improve the public image of our communities, and we would give actual racists and Islamophobes less ammunition to use against us. Our first priority should be to get our house in order, not to deny that we have genuine problems.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College