What a strange place Britain has become. You sometimes need some time
away to realise quite how strange. Take yesterday’s main story: the latest paedophile rape-gang case from the north of England. The judge in the trial told the men, during sentencing, that
they had selected their victims ‘because they were not part of your community or religion’.
But that is the sort of fact which causes the most terrible contortions in modern Britain. The perpetrators were all Muslim men of Pakistani origin and the victims all underage, white girls. We
know exactly how we should think, how loud would be our proclamations and our desire to analyse the ‘root-causes’ were this situation reversed. But this way round? Gulp.
First there is the official attempt — in this case originating from the police — to avoid dealing with the issue at all. But once the facts did come out, the second reaction kicks in:
politicians and media swiftly determine what the parameters of discussion should be.
So yesterday morning we had Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, saying on the Today programme,
‘I do not believe it is a race issue.’ Fine. So is it then a religious issue? So far I have been able to find no comment whatsoever about this. Since no meaningful analysis of the
causes behind the crime occurred (a situation that might not have been the case had the perpetrators been white Christians), this morning’s Times went the other way. Marring an otherwise typically brilliant piece by Andrew Norfolk, the paper’s front-page headline-writers tried to claim the
guilty men were in fact all of us. The headline: ‘A nation’s shame.’
Taking a leap and assuming that most of my readers are not involved in gang-organised child-rape, how much of that shame do you feel like shouldering? Does a family of four have more shame to
shoulder than a childless couple? Are singletons more to blame, or proportionately less-so? Incapable of drawing any lines where they should be drawn, our society appears to have become expert at
either failing to discern lines altogether or drawing them so wide that they become meaningless.
Of course there is the problem of how certain people might react to a case like this. Of course the racists of the BNP tried to use the situation to stem their own declining popularity. And of
course (though it shouldn’t need to be said I’ll say it anyway) the vast majority of Pakistanis and Muslims would abhor these criminals as much as everybody else. But why should a
pre-emptive fear of how some predictable thugs will react to the case mean that you don’t address the issue at all? It is all rather reminiscent of the aftermath of the Toulouse shootings in
France. There too everyone was more than content to analyse the ‘root-causes’ when it seemed that the killer might be a ‘far-right’ extremist. But when it turned out to be a
young man called Mohammed Merah? Nothing to see here. Please move along.
It should go without saying that facts can be misused by bad people in bad ways. But to respond to that by ignoring facts is not just a recipe for making the initial problem worse, but a sure-fire
way to make the reaction worse as well.
We have got stuck in a desperate situation. Pathological people are often said to lack the ability to analyse their own actions as they can those of other people. Much of Britain has developed a
curious flip version of this. Narcissistically intent on analysing our own supposed failings — particularly our allegedly unending racism, intolerance and bigotry — we appear to have
completely lost the ability to analyse, or even interest ourselves in, the actions of anybody else. The Rochdale case is not representative of all Muslims. And it’s not representative of all
Pakistanis. But it is representative of something. Isn’t it?