Over the past few days, Britain has been preoccupied with the prosecution and imprisonment of nine Muslim men (eight Pakistanis and one Afghani) on charges of being part of a child sex exploitation ring. Much has been said about the religious and ethnic background of the defendants, not to mention their victims, who were all white minors suffering from social problems, to the point that all issues became tangled up and intertwined; criminal considerations, religious and ethnic backgrounds and racial sensitivities. The result was heated discussions that mostly inclined towards unfair generalization, the promotion of a stereotyped image of Islam and false accusations against it. Islam is a religion that is embraced by over 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe, approximately 2.8 million of whom live in Britain. Islam is Britain’s second largest religion, and Muslims make up nearly 5 percent of the country’s population. Of course, there were some rational and balanced discussions of this case; however this all went out the window amidst the clamorous voices that highlighted the religious and racial features of a purely criminal case in which the defendants are a small handful of people who represent only themselves and their own deviant behaviour.
This climate served as the perfect opportunity for racists to exploit, and so some movements staged anti-Muslim and anti-immigration demonstrations in which they raised slogans like “No to Islam”, “Protect our Children…Expel the Rapists” and “Our Children are not Halal Meat”, in a reference to the sale of halal meat to Muslims. Such movements are now active in numerous Western states, and they are exploiting the financial and economic crises as well as the widespread negative image of Islam since the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent terrorist operations, including – of course – the 7 July, 2005 tube bombings in London. This image has contributed to feeding the negative climate which has produced laws banning the niqab and hijab, as well as the construction of minarets in some Western capitals, provoking extremist violence as was the case with the crimes of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway.
The grave problem is that this climate is being strengthened by the statements that are issued by some politicians or so-called specialists, not to mention the superficial articles which promote stereotypical, mistaken, ignorant or sometimes malicious images of Islam and Muslims. In addition to this, there are also some press reports that intend to provoke public opinion or controversy by publishing some defamatory images. For example, a television report screened during the trial session of the nine defendants who were prosecuted on charges of rape, sexual assault and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, amongst other crimes, showed the defendants standing in front of a mosque. This represents a dangerous suggestion linking these terrible crimes with Islam, particularly as these defendants were not religious and their crimes were committed in Asian restaurants or empty houses and apartments, nowhere in the vicinity of a mosque! The comparison is truly scandalous when compared with the manner in which crimes involving the sexual abuse of children inside churches at the hands of priests are dealt with, for despite the noise and controversy surrounding such scandals, we have never heard anybody linking this to Christianity as a religion or to the priests’ ethnic background. It is true that there were discussions about deviations within the church, and there were calls for the Catholic Church and others to put an end this phenomenon and uncover its perpetrators, yet no one saw this as something implicating Christianity as a whole or as something that raises moral or ethical questions about all Christians.
The crime of sexual assaulting children deserves the strongest condemnation, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, their ethnic background or religious affiliation, and this is something that is not confined to individuals of Pakistani or Muslim descent. Statistics and reports prepared by specialists stress that with the exception of Pakistani men being oversubscribed in such crimes, most sexual crimes against minors are committed by “white men”. This is how the majority of media outlets used this term in their reports, rather than saying “White Christians”, for example, in the same manner that the Pakistanis were described as “Asian Muslims.”
One of the striking examples of intentionally linking Islam with the issue of sexual exploitation of children can be seen in an article published by the British Times newspaper last Thursday entitled “Let’s be honest. There’s a clear link with Islam”. The title clearly demonstrates that there is an intention to target Islam, distort its image and use the crimes and deviation of a tiny minority to put forward a negative image of all Muslims. Columnist and Jewish writer David Aaronovitch selectively chose statements that present a negative image of Islam and Muslims in this article, focusing on the defendants’ religion and their Pakistani roots as well as attacking the defendants’ “inferior culture” regarding the treatment of women.
Such analysis removes this case from the criminal realm where these defendants have been tried for their crimes and instead make the issue appear antagonistic towards anything related to Muslims and Islam. This is because this particular issue, by deviating towards such a viewpoint, is not in the interests of the victims and instead directs attention away from the search for the true reasons that allowed these deviants to sexually exploit minors. Many specialists have indicated that minors with social or family problems are often targeted by such criminals, for their circumstances marks them out as easy prey, and this has nothing to do with their complexion. In addition, crimes such as this are not committed exclusively by individuals of a certain religion or race, but are committed by men from different categories, religions and races.
There can be no doubt that the majority of British society remains tolerant, and are gradually moving towards accepting cultural and religious pluralism. Yet, this case reveals that the road ahead remains long, especially when some people find it easy to abuse Islam and defame Muslims because of the deviant behaviour of a small minority, the likes of which exist in any religion.