The recent Asian grooming case represented an opportunity for ethnic groups to stand together in condemnation but instead finds them taking sides and pointing fingers
I have been following the media coverage of the ‘grooming’ case in Rochdale quite closely with a degree of frustration, as it is becoming all too predictable nowadays. As soon as a crime is committed by people of colour, it is regarded a scandal and those involved are almost always racialised and framed as monsters somehow predisposed to perform this type of behaviour.
So I took a deep breath and read this joint statement from Sikh and Hindu organisations denouncing grooming. The first thing that came to my mind was a reflection made by Kundnani, post 9/11 when a Sikh man wearing a turban was shot down in the US because he was thought to be an Arab, mistaken for a terrorist. In the aftermath of this event many demonstrations against Islamophobia erupted and Kundnani recalls the following scene: “Some Sikhs, instead of marching with Muslims and calling for an end to any revenge attacks, marched separately with banners saying ‘we are not Muslims’, as if American Muslims were any more valid as targets for revenge than they were” (Kundnani: 2002).
This sums up exactly what this statement is about- ‘we are not Muslim’. There is no attempt to find a common cause with Muslims from these organisations. Such a statement illuminates the hegemonic discourse in these communities attempts to articulate a position in which Sikh and Hindu interests (i.e. not to be confused with Muslims) are seen to be more important than the general principles of justice and equality (i.e. the exclusionary and discriminating nature of the disciplining of ethnic minorities). It is troubling that this approach appears to naturalise Islamophobia rather than contribute to its questioning.
A primary concern being explicitly evoked in the statement centres around the category of ‘Asian’ being ‘unfairly’ applied to target the men involved in the grooming case. The implication is that such a crime represents Pakistanis only; not Sikhs and Hindus: “We note with concern that the so-called ‘Asian’ sex gangs recently and all too often in the news are in fact almost always of Pakistani origin.” The use of the term ‘Asian’ to describe the perpetrators of these crimes is wholly inaccurate and unfair to other communities of Asian Origin.
The breakdown of a unified South Asian subject position, caused by the emergence of a Muslim political identity, creates a number of perceived challenges for the British South Asian community. In an effort to avoid being tarnished with the same brush, the concern becomes focused on the different classifications of the ethnically marked function. By separating themselves from Muslims they are forgetting not only previous struggles for racial equality but also present struggles where racism continues to condition the life experiences of Britain’s ethnically marked populations.
It would more useful to argue that there are no specific Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist or Christian crimes, nor are there any specific Black, White, Indian or Pakistani crimes; there is just crime. The responsibility of the grooming crimes in this statement is believed to belong not to individual criminals but to specific communities. The fact that some Pakistani men were found guilty of grooming tells us no more about the Pakistani community than paedophilia does about the white community. For example, the 2009 case when a white nursery school worker and two white accomplices were found guilty of child sex abuse.
The contrast between Sikhs and Hindus on the one hand and Muslims on the other, has paved the way for articulating a separate Sikh and Hindu identity which aligns itself with the majority community. Such a process of ethnic unmarking enables Sikhs and Hindus to integrate into the majority community and also facilitates the narration of a western character (Sayyid, A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism: 2003). There is a clear paradox being created where we see the organisations attempting to assert a Sikh and Hindu identity but can only imagine this in the context of a westernising gaze which sees no future for these proud heritages except through uncritical assimilation into the host society.
In relation to the second point it is argued in the statement that, “the same sex gangs have also targeted Hindu and Sikh girls in the same manner and these cases are rarely reported on as they hardly ever reach the courts.” Furthermore, it is claimed that, “political correctness stifles debate and will not facilitate a frank and mature discussion or solutions to get to the root of why the above pattern is emerging in these crimes and how to help find a solution to the problem.”
From Anders Breivik to the fulminations of xenophobic shock jocks, political correctness is blamed for the inability of these people to convince others of their paranoid fantasies. Thus, it is not at all surprising that the statement ascribes blame to political correctness for a lack of corroborating evidence. This can be illustrated in the case of ‘forced’ conversions which I studied for four years.
The ‘forced’ conversions narrative tells the story of brave Sikh and Hindu men trying to save ‘their girls’ from the Muslim ‘predator’ whose only agenda is to aggressively convert through means of trickery and manipulation (Sian: 2011). It is a narrative which continues to circulate, and through the articulation of the Muslim as a ‘threat’, a line of separation is established. There are many problematic points with this discourse. Firstly, there is an acceptance that the phenomenon of ‘forced’ conversion is happening in the absence of any evidence (despite claims, no police evidence has been recorded on this issue). Secondly, the authenticity of this narrative is rarely contested in mainstream circles. There is no concern raised about the possibility of such ‘false flag’ propaganda in which material is often fabricated for Anti-Muslim groups. Such descriptions reaffirm notions of Muslim ‘predatory’ behaviour towards Sikh and Hindu girls and exposition of the grooming case concerning white girls strengthens this Islamophobic position. Discussions of ‘forced’ conversions rarely occur in Muslim circles, thus it appears that Muslim men are converting Sikh girls almost absent-mindedly (Sian: 2011).
The organisations involved in this statement seem oblivious to the way in which their claims and prejudices align with such well-known lovers of ethnic diversity including the BNP and the EDL. The BNP tout their lonely Sikh member and the EDL are always pushing forward their members of colour to demonstrate their non-racial and multi ethnic character. Most legitimate Afro-Caribbean, Hindu and Sikh organisations have condemned such pandering. I would like to conclude by recalling the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me…
Islamophobia may start with targeting Muslims but the forces unleashed will not necessarily stop there and the murder of the turbaned Sikh in the US is a haunting reminder of the uncertain fate that lies ahead.
Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-17914138
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