A veteran of the 1968 protest movements once confided what, looking back, troubled him about his generation's rebellion. "All young people rebel." he said. "What is strange is that our parents' generation gave in." It is a sentiment that could just as easily be applied to modern Britain, if not the West. It is not surprising that people do bad things. What is surprising is that so many institutions and authorities allow them to get away with it.
Take the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal. This is just one of a large number of cases around the UK where groups of men -- whom the media identify as "Asian" but who are almost entirely Muslims of Pakistani origin -- have been found to have selected young non-Muslim white girls, often in care homes, and subjected them to multiple rapes. It is sadly to be expected that there will always be people seeking to prey on the young and vulnerable. But the question that hangs over Rotherham -- and which even the latest independent review could not fully answer -- is why so many people got away with these crimes for so long. Certainly part of the reason, as the latest report explains, was that the police were terrified of being accused of racism. But even this remains only a partial explanation. How could grown men and women have so feared being called a name (in this instance, unjustly) that they were willing to allow literally hundreds of young women to be raped and gang-raped?
A similar question lingers after the de-throning of the former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. The story of what has been going on in the East London borough has been an open scandal for years. Lutfur Rahman was first elected as a Labour councillor in 2008. He soon won the leadership of the council with the help of the extreme Islamist group, the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE), which seeks to impose sharia law on Britain. Once in a position of power, he funnelled millions of pounds into sympathetic groups, including IFE front organizations, and was soon thrown out of the Labour party but continued to run in -- and rule -- Tower Hamlets politics as an Independent. Despite Muslims being a minority (34%) in Tower Hamlets, Mayor Rahman surrounded himself only with Bangladeshi Muslims. Throughout his period in power, Mayor Rahman never appointed one non-Muslim to a cabinet post. There were fake signatures for election petitions; sham party memberships; registering voters in empty properties, and registering of many voters in tiny flats.
At the same time, no tactic seems to have been too low to beat down any opposition. When Rahman found himself running against a Labour party opponent who was also a Muslim, Rahman distributed thousands of newsletters smearing the opponent as a wife-beater and as an enemy of Islam. Opponents -- particularly political opponents who were gay -- were subjected to routine abuse inside the council chamber by supporters of the Mayor.
Meanwhile, Mayor Rahman was able to live a life of considerable comfort. Ferried around in a tax-payer-funded chauffeur-driven car, he tried to arrange a life cocooned from criticism. He financially supported local Bengali media, which reciprocated by providing him with uncritical coverage, and he refused to answer questions from anyone potentially hostile. While missing no trick in attacking his political opponents, colleagues claimed that requests to question him would breach his human rights. All the while, vast quantities of council grants were diverted to organizations that sought to serve only the local Muslim community, from whom the Mayor gained his support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a considerable number of the groups that benefited from this largesse were connected to the Mayor.
It was not until a BBC reporter, John Ware, did a half-hour program looking into the financial irregularities in Tower Hamlets that Community Secretary Eric Pickles sent in auditors to go over the books. This action – like every other attempt to investigate corrupt activities in Tower Hamlets – was dismissed by a coterie of Rahman's defenders in familiar terms. When investigators entered the council to go over the books, the trade union "Unison" picketed the event with a banner stating, "Eric Pickles – Hands off Tower Hamlets. No to racism and Islamophobia." A diminishing but vocal group of supporters kept this up right to the end, not least the former MP, George Galloway, and the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
Finally, after a ten-week hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice last month, Lutfur Rahman's run of corruption and sectarianism came to an end. Four local residents, requesting that last year's Mayoral election in the borough should be recognised to have been corrupt and be declared void, brought a case to the election court. After hearing the evidence, the election commissioner, Judge Richard Mawrey, delivered a devastating verdict.
Judge Mawrey described Rahman as an "evasive witness" who had told "a pack of lies" in court. He said that there was "no doubt" that Rahman had been behind "illegal and corrupt practices," and that he had used undue "spiritual influence" over voters through local imams. In conclusion, Rahman was found guilty of electoral fraud; the relevant poll was declared void, and the Mayor removed from office and banned from running again. The police -- who so visibly failed to act in Tower Hamlets in recent years -- now say that they are considering a criminal inquiry.
In all of this, one thing particularly stands out. It is the same glaring question that emerged in the wake of the investigations into the Northern rape-gangs: where were all the authorities? Why had every institution of government failed?
In the case of Tower Hamlets, as with Rotherham, the police appeared, again, to be terrified of accusations of the kind Rahman and his friends were so adept and cynical about dishing out. Central government, apparently fearful for many of the same reasons, failed. It was left to a few intrepid journalists and four private citizens to uphold the law.
Judge Mawrey said in his summing-up:
"On past form, it appears inevitable that Mr. Rahman will denounce this judgement as yet another example of the racism and Islamophobia that have hounded him throughout his political life. It is nothing of the sort. Mr. Rahman has made a successful career by ignoring or flouting the law and has relied on silencing his critics by accusations of racism and Islamophobia. But his critics have not been silenced and neither has this court. Events of recent months in contexts very different from electoral malpractice have starkly demonstrated what happens when those in authority are afraid to confront wrongdoing for fear of allegations of racism and Islamophobia. Even in the multicultural society which is 21st century Britain, the law must be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Otherwise we are lost."
Britain ought to have learned this lesson already. The fact that we have not -- that we seem destined to have to keep learning it, again and again -- is the greatest problem for our society. Bad people do bad things, but when all the institutions of state fail to stop them, that is a problem for us all.