Cases such as the gang-rape of 1400 girls in Rotherham, England often cause a media fuss for a week or so, then the fuss tends to die down. But it ought not to. Otherwise those responsible are never held to account and few of the lessons that should to be learned ever are.
Police Commissioner Shaun Wright, who presided over much of that disgrace, has done an amazing thing and actually resigned. Many of us had assumed that he would stay in his highly-paid office until his term was up, just as Joanna Simons of Oxfordshire County Council managed to stay after presiding over an identical case in her area a year ago (she subsequently offered a self-pitying "lessons have been learned" apology of her own). But welcome as it is, one resignation does not address a systemic and indeed societal, failure.
In all the recriminations and brief national soul-searching over Rotherham, there is one thing that has hardly been focused on at all: the role of radical, "far-left" organizations.
This is not meant lightly. There remains, of course, an important place in any society for genuine anti-fascist organizations. But it is possible, as noted before, for "anti-fascist" organizations to go badly wrong – indeed, to become deeply "fascistic" themselves.
There are several reasons for that. Being an anti-fascist in the 1930s, like being an anti-communist, was a noble and sometimes brave thing to be. People risked injury and worse when it came to taking on the people who wanted to take over the country. But today, while some of the older types involved in groups in the whole "anti-fascist" area, such as Searchlight Magazine, have seen some genuinely nasty stuff, such as Britain's National Front stoking anti-black and anti-Jewish racism in its comparative heyday, the younger ones tend, thank goodness, to be running out of enemies. They suffer from what the late conservative thinker Ken Minogue once identified as the "St. George-in-Retirement Syndrome."
Having slayed, or at least helped to slay, a dragon, they spend their days stalking the land and looking for ever more glorious fights -- but with a diminishing supply of dragons. With fewer such targets in existence, they find themselves fighting and slaying ever smaller dragons. Eventually they may be caught either swiping at thin air, identifying friends as foes -- or mistaking foes for friends.
This is precisely the situation in which many in Britain's "anti-fascist" movement find themselves. Not just waving their sword at gnats while burnishing the aura of dragon-slayer, but also spending years looking in the wrong direction. Often literally.
So while "anti-fascist" groups, such as Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate were busily trying to decide whether to campaign against the UK Independence Party (which campaigns for Britain to withdraw from the European Union), one UAF rally found itself addressed by the man who would soon decapitate British soldier Lee Rigby.
If you wanted a postcard image of where the "anti-fascist" movement has gone wrong, you could not get much better than the video where you can see a person carrying one of the UAF's "Smash the BNP" banners, while beside them, the soon-to-be murderer, Michael Adebolajo cries, "Brothers, remain in your ranks. And do not be afraid of these filthy kuffar [infidels]." There has been little or no soul-searching on this disgrace. UAF and allied organizations simply do what they criticize their enemies for doing: claim that he is just a "fringe element" and that "fringe elements" do not represent an entire movement.
If Adebolajo did not cause any soul-searching among the "anti-fascist" movement, however, the case of Rotherham should. A reader recently sent a video of a BBC Newsnight discussion in which I was involved about six or seven years ago, in which we discuss the latest "grooming gang" case back then, relating to the town of Derby, which recalled the case of the "Edge of the City."
That Channel 4 documentary, by Anna Hall, which had been due to air in 2004, looked into the occurrence -- already whispered about -- of young men of Pakistani origin grooming white girls as young as 11 for sex in the Bradford and Keighley. The film's footage included interviews with parents whose children had been abused and who hoped that their public appeals could help stop these grooming gangs.
"Edge of the City" tried to bring the issue of grooming to the fore ten years ago. But there was a problem. Among the people talking about this issue in 2004 were the British National Party [BNP]. Indeed, the party boasted, ahead of the screening, that the documentary would be a recruiting sergeant for them. A counterforce was mustered. As the Guardian newspaper wrote at the time:
"Groups such as Unite Against Fascism, the 1990 Trust, and the National Assembly Against Racism began to flood Channel 4 with requests to delay transmission. The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Colin Cramphorn, joined the call, and Channel 4 complied."
The broadcast of the documentary was postponed because of -- among other things -- the pressure put on Channel 4 by "anti-fascist"' groups.
There is good to reason to blame the BNP for its part in making this issue harder to address. It would be hard to find anyone who holds the BNP in any kind of esteem. There are, however, plenty of people who -- partly simply because of the name -- believe that groups such as "Unite Against Fascism" do what they say in their names. "Anti-fascist" groups were so completely focussed on not allowing anything -- including facts -- to work as any kind of "recruiting sergeant" of the BNP that they used their energies to suppress a film that would have brought the first-hand testimonies of raped children and their families to wide public attention at the first possible moment. As they were able to stop the first broadcast of the first documentary investigation into this, there can be little doubt of the cooling effect that such a campaign would have had on other attempts, public and official, to call attention to this dreadful practice.
After all these years, the UAF and their colleagues need to issue a public apology. They got it wrong. They did nothing to highlight the problem of the gang rape of perhaps thousands of children. So fixated were they on trying to stop the BNP getting any electoral support that they were even willing to allow facts to be suppressed. This is a story that in microcosm represents one of the greatest challenges for Britain, Europe and the United States in the years ahead. We may rightly attempt to repress nativist and racist sentiments in our midst and be as kind, accepting and decent as we can be to newcomers. But we may also hope to tackle the severe misogyny, racism and sectarianism, which can come along as part of large-scale Muslim immigration. How to deal with both -- rather than favoring one -- will be one of the challenges of 21st century Europe. These early signs suggest it is a challenge we could yet fail.