Last week in the UK, a gang of seven men from Oxford -- British Muslims of largely Pakistani descent -- were sentenced to a total of 95 years in prison for the sexual exploitation of a number of girls as young as 11. The gang had subjected their victims to harrowing years of ordeals including gang-rape. Though responses to these outrages was universally, "Horrified!" the events did not, sadly, come as a surprise. On the contrary this is just the latest in a set of similar cases that have come to light in the United Kingdom in recent years. In each case -- in Derby, West Yorkshire, Rochdale and Telford -- the victims have been underage white girls, generally from disturbed backgrounds and often from children's homes. The perpetrators have been Muslim men, overwhelmingly of Pakistani heritage.
It seems that for years nobody wanted to do anything about this. A police force and prosecution service, terrified of accusations of racism or "Islamophobia," failed to act; as a result, many more girls were assaulted than they might otherwise have been. Even now, in reporting the case, there seems a desire to overlook what links these cases lest anyone feed into savory peoples' unsavory ideas. People are rightly careful to stress that we are talking about a minority of Muslim males. And they are rightly eager to stress that most of the Muslim communities in the UK are also horrified by such cases.
That the girls were selected by their abusers because of their different racial and religious background is not in doubt; it has even been confirmed by the sentencing judges.
But until now -- amid the outrage -- there has been among many people an unmistakable element of denial. Although there have been good, outspoken individuals, certain Muslims have been uncomfortably over-fulsomely praised for their "courage" in speaking out against the crimes -- as though it were something remarkable for a Muslim to speak out against a rape-gang. What a low place to put the bar of praise. If you congratulate people for speaking out against the gang-rape of children, your society may be in something of a mess.Abysmally, until now there has been no serious attempt to engage with the underlying issues -- until this past week, that is. Last Friday, an organization calling itself TAG [Together Against Grooming] arranged for 500 mosques across the country to read the same Friday sermon. This was a wholesale condemnation of the act of child-grooming. Written by a Bradford-based imam and local councillor called Alyas Karmani, the sermon condemns the "disgraceful actions" of the convicted men and calls for other British Muslims to condemn the actions of the men. Part of the released text of the sermon reads:
"Allah commands us to undertake all matters to the highest standard of excellence. As Muslims we are commanded to be just, fair and shun evil, wrongdoing and all forms of indecent and immoral behaviour. Failure to remember and act on this results in the society that we are part of declining in social and moral terms. Addressing every man today, I will speak to you of sexual grooming.
"There has been a lot in the news recently about men of Pakistani and South Asian backgrounds in Derby, Rochdale, Telford, Oxford and West Yorkshire who have been convicted of this evil and wicked crime. These actions are reprehensible and we condemn those involved and support the victims who are innocent children.
"Islam is a religion of mercy and compassion and places a strong obligation on safeguarding and protecting the weak and vulnerable from abuse - particularly women and children."
All this strikes me as rather good news, in a period fairly lacking in the same.
Unfortunately not everybody who could have done with getting involved in this initiative actually did so. Oxford's local paper, the Oxford Mail, did some solid investigative reporting and discovered that a number of mosques in the area -- precisely the area which the latest rape-gang had come from -- failed to read out the sermon.
For instance, at the Central Oxford Mosque, instead of reading out the message categorically condemning the abuse, the imam apparently spoke about "Ramadan and charity." According to one of those involved, the TAG-proposed sermon was a "publicity stunt" which merely fed into a "far-right agenda." He went on to say, "I have always felt it is not a race or religious issue. They are talking to the converted. Every single Muslim knows it is abhorrent."
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Madina Mosque was quoted as saying that it was unnecessary to address the problem in mosques. "It is not a specific subject that you need to talk about in the mosques. As far as grooming issue [sic] is concerned I think that is now history. This pattern of child abuse has finished. This sentencing I am sure has assured that." Other mosques in the area had the same resistance to the anti-rape sermon and refused either to read it out or address the issue.
It is a good thing that TAG got any mosques at all to unite in reading out the same condemnation at the same time across the country. That is how one would want any Muslim-led campaign to look. Of course there are others who would rather this did not happen.