By Yvonne Ridley
Has an open season of hate been declared on the Pakistani community in Britain? I have to ask after listening to a former Labour minister’s astonishing attack on young, Pakistani men in recent days.
Using the same politics of race – which cost neighboring ex-MP Phil Woolas his seat – Jack Straw launched what I can only describe as a hateful blast on the Pakistani community in Britain. The former UK foreign and home secretary accused some Pakistani men of seeing white girls as “easy meat” for sexual abuse. In a speech which could have come from the pages of a BNP election leaflet, the Blackburn MP talked of a “specific problem” involving Pakistani men and called on the community to be “more open” about the issue.
All of this only days before a crucial by-election in Britain in a constituency where the predominant minority community hails from Pakistan. He launched his attack after two Asian men subjected a series of vulnerable girls to rapes and sexual assaults. The two were, quite rightly, given indefinite jail terms. Personally, I thought life sentences would have been more appropriate for what they did.
Abid Mohammed Saddique, 27, was jailed for a minimum of 11 years at Nottingham Crown Court and Mohammed Romaan Liaqat, 28, was told he must serve at least eight years before being considered for release. They were the leaders of a gang who befriended girls aged from 12 to 18 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.
As a journalist of more than 35 years, I’ve sat through countless court cases and trials and listened to similar, horrific stories pour forth. As long as there are vulnerable young women, of no particular faith and skin color, they will be targeted by criminally-driven men of no particular faith and skin colour. Having lived in Soho, London’s so-called red light district, for two decades, I’ve watched the prostitution and drug rings change hands from the control of English to Maltese to Turkish to Albanian male gangs.
Their motivation is money and their victims are always the same … young,vulnerable women and occasionally young men. Skin color is of no significance. This is not a white on black crime, or a black on Asian crime or anything to do with race or culture and to suggest otherwise leads us down a dangerous path of politics and race. Yet this did not stop Straw telling the BBC’s flagship Newsnight program on Friday that there was a “specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men… who target vulnerable young white girls”.
Having lit the touch paper he went on: “We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way.”
Warming to the theme, he then became more sensational in his thoughts onSky TV news as he described Pakistani men who were “fizzing and poppingwith testosterone” who considered vulnerable white girls as “easy meat”.
Don’t all young men fizz and pop with testosterone? Wasn’t there somefizzing and popping going on when a very attractive Daily Mirror, blonde, blue-eyed female journalist offered his teenage son some drugs in a bar? Remember that one, Jack? And if this is such a serious problemin the Pakistani communities, why on earth is Straw just raising it now? Why did he not raise it a decade ago, 20 years ago or even two years ago with the senior leaders in Blackburn’s Pakistani community? Why now?
The reason is simple – there is a by-election down the road in Oldham.
Incidentally, this is where disgraced Labor politician Phil Woolas was kicked out because he lied in his election campaign literature using thepolitics of race and religion to oil the wheels of one of the most odious election campaigns in British history. And now Straw is using thesame style of tactics.The judge in the trial said he did not believe the crimes were “racially aggravated”, but this did not stop Straw from steam-rollering ahead saying he thought vulnerable white girls were at risk of being targeted by some Asian men. His remarks have drawn condemnation and criticism from senior Labour colleague Keith Vaz – who said it was wrongto “stereotype a whole community” and he naturally asked why the ex-home secretary had not spoken out previously.
The Leicester East MP, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said he did not believe there was a “cultural problem” and called for a high-level investigation of such grooming across the UK. Atleast there is at least one sane politician left in the Labor Party andI would urge others to come out and condemn Straw’s statements, but they might wait until after the Oldham by-election. Former British Government minister Phil Woolas was finally rumbled for playing the raceand religion card in a political game which has fuelled Islamaphobia inthe UK last year.
Two high court judges ordered that his election as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth was “void”. Woolas was brought before the court on accusations of stirring up racial hatred and seizing on anti-Muslim sentiment in Oldham by claiming that his rival endorsed a Muslim campaign to remove him.His campaign was aimed to “make white folks angry” at his opponent, the Liberal Democrat’s Elwyn Watkins, as part of a desperate bid to retain his seat in the run up to the May 2010 general election. Woolas was barred from the House of Commons and ordered to pay £5,000 and costs to Mr Watkins.
The reality is Woolas had previously triggered a new, New Labour strategy which sought to encourage columns and online blogs written by aggressive secularists and so-called progressives to make Islam-bashing trendy. It was a poison which began creeping in to newspaper and magazine columns as well.
Those driven by racism also joined in the fun seeing 42as thelast legitimate refuge to peddle their race-fueled hate. Phil Woolas was the man responsible for making Islamaphobia a national sport and while I’m sure he will be repulsed by the activities of the British National Party and the English Defence League they thrived in this atmosphere. Woolas then became more specific in his targeting … the Pakistani community.
He created hysterical headlines about “Muslim inbreeding ” with his comments about the health risks of cousin marriages among Pakistanis. The way he spoke about the issue was as though some Frankenstein-like creatures were filling the baby wards in maternity hospitals around Oldham, Bradford, Burnley, Blackburn and Birmingham.
I know the Pakistani community very well and 99 per cent hold dear the same family values which were once evident in British communities beforebinge drinking, promiscuity and pill-popping became so commonplace. ThePakistani parents in Oldham share the same concerns as their white counterparts and if we could bring the two communities together they would be united in a common cause to protect their children from drugs, crime and other evils.
Instead Labour politicians like Straw are manipulating Oldham’s voters by trading on fear and hatred and the cynical exploitation of this trialserves only to keep the white and Pakistani communities apart. I was hoping the downfall of Woolas would serve as a salutory warning to all of those who indulged in the fascist politics of race, religion and fearbut I was wrong.
A new election has brought in the same old hate and rhetoric designed to polarize communities.Sections of the Labour Party are once again ruthlessly deploying the politics of fascism to win popular votes and approval. This is the same opportunist way that Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party made inroads in Austriaas did Pim Fortuyn’s List Party in Holland. Geert Wilders went on to take the hate to new levels.
To all the Oldham voters I would urge you not to allow politicians like Jack Straw to cynically drive this ugly bandwagon of race hate through your community. The by-election in Oldham is very important – please useyour vote, use it wisely and whoever or whatever you vote for make it clear you will not bow down to the politics of hate and fear.
Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women’s Union, also a patron of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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