Friday 11 May 2012
Tom Chivers Wakes Up
Finally Tom Chivers grows a spine and starts to talk sense instead of liberal bollocks. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100157378/race-rochdale-victim-blaming-and-a-liberal-blind-spot/ Was race a factor in Rochdale? Despite claims from certain quarters that we're "not allowed to say that", most commenters are suggesting exactly that. But on Question Time last night, a vicar who worked in the area said it was not. "Race doesn't have anything to do with it, any more than does religion or culture," he says. Instead, it was about a "breakdown in society", and about how 12- and 13-year-old girls nowadays (not the victims themselves necessarily, he was keen to add) dressing "as if they are looking for that sort of issue to take place". "Children aren't allowed to be children any more," he said, and parents aren't bringing up their children how they used to. There is a lot of flawed thinking here. First, it seems to seek to shift the blame away from the grown men who raped 13-year-old girls, and on to the girls themselves for dressing inappropriately. Children and women of any age can walk around in whatever clothes they like, and it's still not their fault if someone rapes them. I don't actually know of research which suggests that provocative clothing increases the likelihood of rape, but even if it does (it's an empirical question and we should be honest about the answer), we still need to blame the rapist. Consent is impossible at 13, however short a skirt the 13-year-old is wearing. Further, if a "breakdown in society" and "children growing up too quickly" was what was driving poor defenceless men to rape, then we would expect that to be happening equally across society. But sexual violence, along with all violence, has been dropping since the early 1990s, while the "sexualisation of children" presumably has not, if handwringing social commentators are anything to go by. And it is hard to be sure, but it appears that Rochdale is not a completely isolated incident, and that British Asian men actually are more likely to commit "grooming" offences than the rest of the population. One statistic, which was admittedly given with several caveats, was that 46 per cent of "grooming" offences in the UK were carried out by Asian men, despite Asians making just 7 per cent of the population. David Aaronovitch in The Times reports that 59 out of 68 recent convictions for grooming-related crimes involved British Pakistani men. Assuming those figures are broadly accurate, it seems very unlikely that this is a statistical fluke. There is something which needs to be explained. First, it is idiotic for people to pretend there is no connection to race, or culture, or religion, or something. If these crimes are more common among Asian men then there must be a reason. Racists might like to believe that it is a genetic one. Of course, that is a possible explanation (again: it's an empirical question, and one we should address honestly), but those of us who are not racists will demand evidence to support it, and as far as I am aware there is none, so we can ignore it. The more serious suggestion is that there is something in the religious or cultural background of British Pakistani men which is behind the problem. It's not the only remaining possibility – it could, for instance, be economic – but that seems unlikely, given that British Asians do not make up 46 per cent of unemployed or poor people in this country. Also, trying to blame child abuse on economic circumstances is bizarre, as though these men are doing it because they can't afford cinema tickets. Again, it's a possible explanation, but there is no evidence for it, so we can ignore it unless and until there is. We're left, then, with culture and religion. Secretive, closed-shop religions and cultures, laden with sexual taboos and rigid hierarchies, seem to have more problems with sexual abuse, and attendant cover-ups, than more open ones, as Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship has argued. We've seen that with the unsettling events in Ireland and elsewhere over recent years; the day before yesterday The New York Times revealed that in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, people who reported the sexual abuse of disabled children were shunned by their peers, for turning against their own, washing dirty laundry in public. In Ireland, as Jenny McCartney has reported here recently, similar secretiveness, combined with an unyielding power structure and fear of discussing sex, led to abuse going covered up for years. That, together with a fear on the part of the police and other groups of being labelled racist, may have been part of why the crimes went undiscovered for so long. But it doesn't explain why the abuse itself seems to be more prevalent among Asians, and (it seems) Muslim Asians in particular. Does Islam "encourage" this behaviour? What does that mean? Do imams go around telling people that they should try and molest as many schoolchildren as they can? Obviously not, just as no one encouraged parish priests in Ireland to take advantage of their young flock. But clearly there is something which enabled it. If you'll forgive the analogy, no one in Scotland "encourages" heart disease, but cultural factors mean that it is more prevalent there than in other parts of Britain. Aaronovitch is right, I think, when he says that it is part of a wider problem with misogyny among those groups. There are parts of Asian culture, and strands of Islam, which are supportive of "female circumcision" (genital mutilation, to you and me), of killing female family members for having sex ("honour killings", as they are disgracefully named), of forced marriages and child marriages. It would be stupidly blinkered of liberals and the Left to turn a blind eye to these disgusting and illiberal practices, solely because they are being carried out by an ethnic minority. That doesn't mean the Left have to leap on the angry Islam-condemning bandwagon, either. There's no evidence that paedophilia is more common among Muslims, or Catholics or orthodox Jews for that matter. But the environment in which it can go undetected seems to be. The fact that Islam may be a risk factor for child abuse does not mean we get to judge all Muslims for the actions of some people who share their religion, any more than we get to condemn all Catholics for the actions of some of their priests. It's not only wrong, it's stupid. As the security expert Bruce Schneier pointed out in a post on Sam Harris's blog in the context of terrorism, "profiling" like this is hugely unhelpful: "singling out Muslims alienates the very people who are in the best position to discover and alert authorities". What it does mean is that we need to drop any lingering postmodernist nonsense about cultural and moral relativism. There are things which are good and things which are bad. It's not always easy to tell which is which, but that's not the case with raping children, or with forced marriage, honour killings, or female circumcision. This isn't to say that Islam has a monopoly on the practices which are bad or that the West has a monopoly on those which are good, but excusing (or ignoring) all sins because they are "cultural" is as disgusting as it is stupid.