“Political correctness” has sometimes been used to justify a cover-up of unpalatable facts. The fear or threat of accusations of racism has occasionally been used to prevent the exposure of crimes. Criticism of Islam is thought by some Muslims to indicate Islamophobia.
Years of serious sexual abuse of children, involving rape and brutal treatment of well over a thousand young persons in Rotherham, a city in south Yorkshire near Sheffield, were only exposed recently largely as a result of persistent investigation by a London Times journalist. So far, despite the extent and duration of these appalling crimes, only five men have been arrested and convicted. All five are of Pakistani origin.
The only person to accept any responsibility and resign has been the council leader. Demands for the resignation of officials responsible for social services as well as of the local police commissioner have had no effect, although it seems clear that there were serious failures on the part of officials as well as of the police and council members.
The most damning accusation is that the authorities were more concerned about being re-elected in a city with a large community of ethnic Pakistanis than with the victims. They did not want to know and would not listen.
Police and social services accused the children of being responsible for their own misfortunes. The young people who were mainly white from poor families were groomed and raped by the gangs: Often they were arrested rather than the men involved.
Various inquiries have been started, and most observers hope that more culprits will be brought to justice and that the authorities will be held to account.
Community relations in some of these northern towns and cities, which contain a fairly large population of Muslim immigrants from South Asia, are tricky and need sensitive handling, but this cannot justify a cover-up or the failure of the police to investigate properly.
There are many social issues including poverty and problem families in our cities. One fundamental problem has been a belief that Britain can be a successful multicultural society and that social and cultural integration is unnecessary. This has proved mistaken.
The problems also stem from attitudes toward women that are promoted and accepted in rural Pakistan, where women have suffered discrimination and where marriage customs are totally different from the accepted norm in Britain.
The actions of such vicious men as those who operated the grooming gangs in towns such as Rotherham (but also in other northern and southern cities) have further tarnished the image of men of Pakistani origin.
They have also increased the suspicions of Muslims already extensive in Britain, not least as a result of the actions of Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria and the public murder of an off duty soldier on a London street.
They have added fuel to the popular opposition to immigrants, who are beating at Britain’s doors and calling for Britain to admit them because they are being persecuted in their home lands or simply seek a better life in the Western world.
A fundamental precept of democracy as we know it today is religious freedom and tolerance, but tolerance does not mean being tolerant toward those who practice and preach intolerance.
Christian authorities in ancient and medieval times often treated fellow Christians with appalling cruelty and persecuted nonbelievers and Jews despite the clear precepts of the gospels. Now most Christians (except a few misguided extremists) accept that tolerance is a necessary Christian virtue.
Moderate Muslims share many of these principles and do not subscribe to extremist interpretations of the Quran. They do not for instance take literally the verse in the Quran that reads “When you encounter unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely.” They and we have to see this in its historical context.
Unfortunately the young jihadists, with their incomprehensible (not to say unscientific) belief that death in battle makes them martyrs destined for paradise, do take this literally. They apparently also justify their actions on historical precedents. An early biographer of the Prophet Muhammad’s records him as having ordered the decapitation of 700 men from a Jewish tribe near Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia for plotting against him.
Although some young Islamic terrorists have gone from the United States to Syria to join Islamic State they are not as numerous as from some European countries with relatively large numbers of people professing the Muslim faith. Muslims in the U.S. also seem to have become better integrated into society than those in Europe.
There are no easy answers to dealing with Islamic fundamentalism and vicious behavior, but attempting to cover up the facts in the belief or fear that revealing them is politically incorrect, racialist or Islamophobic will only make matters worse.
Local authorities and the police must be induced to investigate thoroughly and bring more of the culprits to justice. They must also be held to account for their inadequacies in the past.
Some Muslim leaders in Britain have been making efforts to deter young firebrands in their communities from going to fight in Syria, but a great deal more can and should be done to teach moderation and above all tolerance.
Muslim leaders should condemn Anti-Semitic acts loudly and clearly and should not promote sectarian quarrels between Sunnis and Shiites. They also need to come out strongly in favor of the rights of women and of equality of the sexes. Forced marriages and subjugation of women cannot be condoned in our society.
Hugh Cortazzi served as Britain’s ambassador to Japan from 1980-1984.
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