There are some decisions so stupid that a person who lacked restraint might howl. One such case arose last week in the Britain.
For years, the issue of the "grooming" of young girls by Muslim men, mainly of Pakistani origin, has been a subterranean issue in Britain. Reports of such trends have circulated for most of the last fifteen years. They have been treated not just with fear but with dread.
Eleven years ago, in 2004, Channel 4 television was going to broadcast a documentary called "Edge of the City." It included footage of parents of girls as young as 11 who had been groomed for sex by gangs of men described as "Asian." But there was a problem. The European Parliament elections were coming up. The extremist and allegedly racist British National Party was expecting to do well in those elections in certain parts of the North of England. The organization "Unite Against Fascism," (a group that often behaves pretty fascistically, itself) was among the associations calling for the documentary to be pulled. The timing was certainly problematic: leaders of the BNP, among others, were boasting that the documentary would favor its party as if it were a political broadcast. The police joined those expressing concern; Channel 4 decided not to broadcast the program until after the elections.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Channel 4's decision, it proved final. No one wanted to help extremist groups that might take advantage of this story. But the story was there and needed reporting. The scandal over the delay in the broadcast played into a growing narrative -- not without foundation, as it turns out -- that there was an attempt at the highest levels, including the police and local authorities, to downplay the report.
That view has persisted ever since. It is only because of the fearless Times of London, its journalist Andrew Norfolk, and a tiny handful of others, that some of the rape-gang cases have been given the front-page attention they deserve.
In recent years, the public has learned not just that the crimes have been more numerous than anyone could have imagined, but also that they have also been more widespread. And it is not only in the North of England that these "grooming" cases have emerged.
Two years ago, in the Operation Bullfinch trial at the Old Bailey in London, seven men, all of Muslim background, were found guilty on 59 counts of child grooming and exploitation. The details of the case are painful: they include the drugging and gang rape of at least six underage girls over a period of several years. These rapes took place not in some "forgotten" Northern town, but in and around the university city of Oxford. Crimes of a similar nature have finally begun to come to court in recent years. Newspapers such as the Times deserve a huge amount of credit for covering them soberly, carefully and prominently.
The feeling remains, however, that these child-rape crimes are still passed over or covered up. The results of an independent official inquiry into the exploitation of young girls in Rotherham, reported last year, found failures at nearly every level of the institution of state. "The Jay Report" found that at least 1400 girls had been victimized in the Rotherham area alone, between 1997 and 2013. The report also mercilessly exposes how the police, council and social services were all found to have failed utterly throughout the period in question. A more damning cross-section of institutional failure could hardly be imagined.
Yet, even in the wake of that national scandal, the taboo on this subject apparently remains. Last week, in Bradford, 14 men and a 16-year-old male were charged with offenses "relating to rape and sexual abuse of a child under 16." The offenses are alleged to have occurred between 2011 and 2012. The men, most of whom are in their twenties, but the oldest of whom is 62, constitute a sadly familiar list of surnames: Khan, Ali, Mahmood, Younis, Hussain. Although reported in the local press, the case has warranted only a single, bare-bones BBC news story in the national press. It may be that the national press is waiting for the trial to commence -- or might it be that there are other things going on? And so there are. Crimes of this nature are still being kicked under the carpet -- for reasons of "political correctness" -- with no concern for the harm done to the children. The issue is a true tinderbox.
That brings me to what is so howl-worthy. In the midst of all this -- all the undeniable years of cover-up, avoidance and fear that extremist groups would prey off the story -- public anger is exploding in towns where such grooming has gone on. In parts of the North of England, there have been protests against the grooming of underage girls. Some of these may take unpleasantly generalizing form -- it may for instance include people who wrongly claim that "all Muslims" are somehow responsible for these crimes. But so long as the protests are legal, they must be allowed to continue. Not everybody has a column in the national press or can make voices heard on the airwaves. This does not mean that some of the groups that organized these protests -- including the English Defence League and a group called "Britain First" -- are at all savory. But it is possible to imagine a decent local person wanting to make his voice heard, and wanting to march against the wholesale failure of the authorities of the town that has made itself so infamous.
But now, apparently, the local council in Rotherham is hoping to remove even that power from the people of the town. Last week, the local council in Rotherham moved to request from the Home Secretary emergency powers to ban anti-child grooming marches in the Rotherham area. The reason, they said, is one of expense. According to a local paper, one protest alone last September cost the town more than a million pounds -- undeniably, a terrible drain on resources.
Nobody would deny that such protests -- and the counter-protests -- might constitute a great nuisance for businesses and others in the Rotherham area. But by even thinking of banning these marches, the members of the Rotherham council are making one of the greatest mistakes imaginable. That grooming has gone on in the area and been covered up or ignored by the authorities is not just an opinion -- it has been proven. Public grievance about such horrors is understandable. But if lawful expressions of this grievance are banned, then only one thing can happen: People will assume that there is something even worse going on. A town whose authorities allowed child-rape to go on for a decade, but which now bans marches objecting to child-rape, is setting up a whole new narrative of victimhood from which no good can possibly come. Howls of rage -- especially such howls -- must be protected speech, especially when they have a basis in fact.