It says something when you have to think 150 times before writing a blog post because you fear your words may be misinterpreted and land you into trouble.
By now, you will be probably aware of the stir caused by Jack Straw's words in the wake of the recent conviction of a gang of nine men for the vile grooming and raping of 26 teenage girls.
In particular, the former Home Secretary was criticised for saying that there is a "specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men... who target vulnerable young white girls" and that "[W]e 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".
The Labour MP for Blackburn added that: "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically. So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat".
Now, I'm hardly Straw's biggest fan, but I find some of the reactions to his comments verging on the manic, and it's a shame as they all come from some of my most favourite bloggers: from accusations of "Nazi racial profiling" and "smearing ALL pakistani men" on Liberal Conspiracy to the baffling "Jack Straw's sex fantasy about dark men and white girls" by Madam Miaow, "Jack Straw's scaremongering" on Pickled Politics and "generating double standards" by Chris Dillow on Stumbling and Mumbling.
So here's some thoughts on the issue:
Bear in mind that Straw was particularly careful to also say that "Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences", adding that "overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders".
He shouldn't have bothered. He got likened to a Nazi before you could even utter the word.
This is the disturbing aspect. No matter the disclaimers, the specifications and the carefully weighed words. The same people who, on the left, rightly criticise the tabloid press for whipping up hysteria and frothing at the mouth, are guilty of the same knee-jerkism and are quite happy to throw cries of "RACIST!" and "NAZI!" and "DEHUMANISING PAKISTANI MALES!" at the drop of a hat.
2. Religion and culture, not race or nationality
Jack Straw made one mistake. He was too restrictive with his reference to the word "Pakistani". Religion here matters way more than a specific national heritage.
And, in fact, the chief executive of charity Barnardo's implied it when he said that "[his] staff would say there is an over-representation of people from ethnic minority groups among perpetrators - Afghans, people from Arabic nations, Pakistanis. But it's not just one nation".
Race and the colour of the skin has got absolutely nothing to do with it. Sure, there will always be some racist dunce trying to exploit the issue to make up for their lack of brain cells.
But it would be criminal if we let them deflect the core problem (and that's where too many people on the left go postal the moment you even mention it): the culture of misogyny that is rife amongst certain Muslim communities.
It is a deeply-ingrained culture of misogyny, and nothing else, that still allows the scandal of an estimated 17,000 women a year who are victims of honour crimes, including murder. It is a deeply-ingraned culture of misogyny that makes it possible, according to government figures, for 300 school children a year to disappear for the sake of forced marriages. It is misogyny and its ideology of oppression that makes it possible "to force young girls – some so young that they are still in push chairs", in the words of Yasmin Alibhai Brown – "[to be] covered up in hijabs". And that's just in the UK.
But who will speak out for them if simply raising the issue will land you accusations of "tarring all Muslim men with the same brush" and "the Ku Klux Klan [too] lynched black men in the Deep South"?
Like Johann Hari wrote two years ago, "[I]nsulating a religion from criticism – surrounding it with an electric fence called "respect" – keeps it stunted at its most infantile and fundamentalist stage. The smart, questioning and instinctively moral Muslims – the majority – learn to be silent, or are shunned (at best). What would Christianity be like today if George Eliot, Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell had all been pulped? Take the most revolting rural Alabama church, and metastasise it."
3. Red herrings and whataboutery
I find it deeply counterproductive when bloggers like Chris Dillow, someone I've always admired and respected, feel the need to write: "You wouldn’t ask the “white community” to look into itself if a white guy commits a sex crime, so why ask the “Pakistani community” to do so if a Pakistani does so".
I don't know why Dillow decides to drag "colour" into the debate, so let's just focus on his actual statement. Now, since no comparison is possible between "white" and "Pakistani" (white being a "race" encompassing anybody from Moldova to Iceland and "Pakistani" being a nationality), let's stick to the words "English community" or "British community" to see if they are ever "asked to look into themselves" in the face of problems or specific crimes.
The answer is yes. Older readers may recall the humongous debates and soul-searching that took place at the height of football hooliganism across the 1980s and 1990s.
There were literally thousands of political statements, opinion columns and sociological analyses written to dissect what was being dubbed "the English disease" and the term is still used to these days whenever UK football supporters behave like troglodites (see this and this, for instance).
Of course you do get some people shouting that "it's not just the English!" and "what about the football violence that also takes place in Holland, Italy and Turkey?", but most people understand that exercises in whataboutery and hyperbole will do little good.
Or take the tons of analyses written on the "British drinking too much", or what the government dubbed "the distinctive characteristic of the British drinking culture", its violence and aggression.
So, yeah, "the English" or "the British" have been asked to do some soul searching when it comes to certain problems. And rightly so. Bring it on. If there is a specific problem that is prevalent within your own society or community, what good does it do if you just drown it out with cries that "it's not just us!" and "AAAAARRRGH!". If you really cared about your own "community", why would you make "it also happens elsewhere" and "talk to the hand" the core of your argument?
As a person of Italian heritage, if there's one thing I find most grating is Italy's persistent shying away from an honest analysis of the Mafia on the grounds that it "hurts Italy's image" and "it doesn't do Italy any favours" and "not all Italians are in the Mafia".
And you don't need a degree in sociology and criminology to conclude that the biggest beneficiaries of sweeping cultural problems under the carpet are the perpetrators of said problems.
4. The actual issue
Dillow is right to produce the hard figures about sexual offences (for instance the fact that in Lancashire "4.163 per 10,000 white Brits were arrested for a sex crime, compared to 0.44 Pakistanis"). Once again, Straw said it himself that "overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders".
However, Straw also referred to the specific issue of gangs grooming teenage girls for sex. And, in that case, out of 17 cases since 1997, 50 out of the 56 men convicted were Pakistani Muslims.
It was Manzoor Moghul, chairman of the Muslim Forum who said that "Offenders are under the misapprehension white girls are easy prey. The way they dress, their culture, makes them easy pickings". And it was Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth organisation, who said to the BBC that "[t]here are some Muslims who think that as long as these sex gangs aren't targeting their own sisters and daughters the issue doesn't affect them" (see here).
Not regarding girls from different religious or ethnic groups with the same respect granted to their own sisters or mothers is a vile practice. It is not racist to say so.