How on earth is my religion to blame for Asian gangs and sex abuse?

Melanie Phillips's latest outburst against Islam and Muslims is opportunistic and goes beyond the pale.

So there I was, on a Monday morning, in a rather good mood, having had Ed Miliband give my forthcoming book about him a free plug, live on Sky News and BBC News, and still recovering from the shock of having Norman Tebbit (yes, that Norman Tebbit!) aim some warm words in my direction in a blog post on the Telegraph website about British Muslims; a post in which he wisely concludes:

There are Muslims out there seeking an accommodation with our society. They may not be able to defeat the Islamist fanatics, but we would be foolish to reject a hand held out in understanding and reconciliation.

But then I turned to the Daily Mail and, specifically, to Melanie Phillips. The headline?

While Muslim sexual predators have been jailed, it is white Britain's hypocritical values that are to blame

My first response? Can you imagine a headline that said, "While Jewish murderers have been jailed . . ." or "While Hindu bank robbers have been jailed . . ."? When was it that we first started classifying crimes and criminals by religious affiliation?

Phillips, of course, has long suffered from a sort of Muslims Tourette's syndrome -- she refers to Muslims 18 times in her column today. From the outset, she makes clear that she plans to go beyond Jack Straw, Leo McKinstry and others who have fallen over each other to make spurious arguments about the "cultural" factors behind the so-called on-street grooming of young girls for sex by criminal gangs. Nope, Mel has the dastardly religion of Islam in her sights:

Police operations going back to 1996 have revealed a disturbingly similar pattern of collective abuse involving small groups of Muslim men committing a particular type of sexual crime.

Sorry, but I have to ask again: what has the assumed faith of these men got to do with the crime itself? I must have missed the chapter of the Quran that encourages Muslim men to go out and ply young girls with alcohol (!) and drugs and then pimp them out to older men for sex. While I disagree with Straw, McKinstry, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, David Aaronovitch and others who have speculated about the various cultural factors behind these crimes, I'm not that surprised that "culture" has raised its ugly head -- and I, for one, would welcome some peer-reviewed, nationwide studies of this particular crime and the perpetrators of it. But religion??

Phillips writes:

For while, of course, most Muslims repudiate any kind of sexual crime, the fact remains that the majority of those who are involved in this particular kind of predatory activity are Muslim.

First, we don't know that's the case. Sorry. But we don't. You can't extrapolate from such a small sample (50 out of 56 men) in one corner of the country. That's also the view, I might add, of the two UCL academics whose research was cited by the Times in its original story last Wednesday. In a letter to the Times published on 7 January, they wrote:

While we were heartened by the open and insightful discussion of the crime, we are concerned that limited data can be over-extended to characterise an entire crime type, in particular, in terms of race and gender. The identity of victims and offenders identified to date, primarily in the Midlands and the north of England, may misrepresent this crime on a national level.

In our work, based on two major police operations, we found that perpetrators were predominantly but not exclusively of Pakistani descent: several other ethnicities featured, too. Only through nationwide scoping studies can ethnicity be reliably established. If we allow ourselves to be blinded by this emergent and untested racial stereotype, we risk ignoring similar crimes perpetrated by offenders of other ethnicities.

It is also worth remembering that the "fact remains" that the "majority of those who are involved in" internet child sex offences (95 per cent) are white, as are the majority of prisoners (80 per cent) behind bars for sex crimes. And, as Chris Dillow notes:

Straw gives us no statistics to justify his claim.
Those that do exist seem to undermine his claim.
Table 5.4b of this pdf shows that, in the latest year for which we have data, Lancashire police arrested 627 people for sexual offences. 0.3% of these were Pakistanis. That's two people. 85.5% were white British. In Lancashire, there are 1,296,900 white Brits and 45,000 Pakistanis. This means that 4.163 per 10,000 white Brits were arrested for a sex crime, compared to 0.44 Pakistanis. If you're a journalist, you might say that the chances of being arrested for a sex crime are nine times greater if you're white than Pakistani. If you're a statistician, you might say they are 0.037 percentage points greater.

So what conclusions should we draw about white people from such statistics? Has Melanie checked with her white husband Joshua or her white son Gabriel as to why white men are so much more likely to commit sex crimes in this country than men from non-white, minority communities? Is this a problem of "white culture" or Judeo-Christian culture? Why the "conspiracy of silence"?

Phillips continues:

For these gang members select their victims from communities which they believe to be 'unbelievers' -- non-Muslims whom they view with disdain and hostility.

You can see that this is not a racial but a religious animosity from the fact that, while the vast majority of the girls who are targeted are white, the victims include Sikhs and Hindus, too.

"Religious animosity"? According to the Times's own research, several victims of a British Pakistani gang in an unnamed northern city were Bangladeshi Muslim girls. So much for Islamic solidarity among Asian gangs. And has Phillips, or Straw, ever been to Pakistan? Don't they know that young girls are sold into sexual slavery in Pakistan, too, where they all happen to be Muslims, as do the perpetrators of this heinous crime?

The only "fact" that we learn from Phillips's rant is that she is willing to find an Islamic angle to any story, no matter how horrific the story, no matter how tenuous the angle. For someone who rails against anti-Semitism under every bed and foams at the mouth at the first sight of journalists or bloggers stereotyping or generalising about Jews or Israelis to then make such sweeping and lazy assumptions about Muslims is particularly hypocritical and, I would add, unforgivable.

Since the Times story broke last week, just two people have decided to "Islamise" it and thereby exploit it for their own Muslim-baiting agendas: Nick Griffin and Melanie Phillips. Shame on them both.


On a side note, I should point out that I am the co-author of the Ed biography that I referred to in passive, above, and that is provisionally entitled Ed: Ed Miliband and the Remaking of the Labour Party. My co-author on this project is my former New Statesman colleague, James Macintyre. You can read more about our forthcoming book here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The New Statesman website hits record 20 million monthly page views

“Both editorially and financially, the New Statesman is in the best shape it has been for decades.”

The New Statesman today (1 December) announced record monthly traffic to its award-winning politics and culture website. Together with its microsite, registered 20 million page views in November 2015. Circulation of the magazine now stands at 32,400 – its highest since the early 1980s. 

Editor Jason Cowley said: “Both editorially and financially, the New Statesman is in the best shape it has been for decades. Our web traffic is excellent for such a small team, and the magazine is growing in influence and reach, we are in profit, and we have several special projects – including high-profile guest edits and new microsites –planned for 2016.

“November’s record figures follow a redesign of in August, which has enhanced our web presence. The new, cleaner, more stylish and mobile-optimised site is taking our journalism to an ever-growing online audience. Those who visit from social media, in particular, stay longer and read more.

“I’m particularly delighted by the quality and intelligence of our long essays, profiles and narrative reports. Since 2013, our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East and the rise of Isis has been especially notable because of the expertise and excellence of our contributing writers John Bew and Shiraz Maher, both part of the War Studies Department at King’s College, London. The New Statesman remains of the left, and for the left, but is much more open-minded and sceptical nowadays.”

Cowley’s award-winning editorship has seen the New Statesman, which was founded as a “weekly review of politics and literature”, recapture its reputation for fine writing  and adopt a more plural, sceptical and unpredictable political position. In recent years the magazine has been a platform for a new generation of gifted journalists such as Helen Lewis, Laurie Penny, Rafael Behr, Mehdi Hasan and George Eaton.

The team has been strengthened by the arrival of Stephen Bush as editor of the Westminster-focused Staggers blog; Anoosh Chakelian, formerly of Total Politics magazine; and Tim Wigmore, formerly of the Daily Telegraph.

Arts editor Kate Mossman’s much-praised online interview with Terence Trent D’Arby alone attracted nearly 3 million page views in October – many of which were from the US. Recent online political scoops include the release of private polls that first showed Jeremy Corbyn was ahead in the Labour leadership race (Stephen Bush was first to call the contest for Corbyn),  the launch of the new group Labour Together, Frank Field’s call for Labour MPs to run as independents if deselected, and shadow cabinet member Michael Dugher’s attack on the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum.

The magazine’s celebrated contributors include John Gray, Rowan Williams, Andrew Marr, Suzanne Moore, Clive James, Tom Holland, Professor Brendan Simms, Chris Patten, John Bew, Germaine Greer, Shiraz Maher, Robert Webb, Jeanette Winterson, William Boyd, John Simpson, Robert Skidelsky, Nick Pearce, Simon Heffer, Jeremy Bowen, David Reynolds, Ali Smith, Ian Leslie and the former British ambassador John Jenkins. They join a team of regular columnists and critics, who include Will Self, Tracey Thorn, Laurie Penny, Kevin Maguire, Helen Lewis, Owen Jones, Peter Wilby, Jim Murphy, Ed Smith, Nicholas Lezard, Rachel Cooke, Craig Raine and Leo Robson. Grayson Perry, Russell Brand, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are the most recent in a series of high-profile guest editors of the New Statesman magazine.

Read this week's Independent interview with Jason Cowley.

Notes to Editors

The New Statesman was founded on 12 April 1913 by the social reformers and economists Beatrice and Sidney Webb, with financial support from George Bernard Shaw and other members of the Fabian Society. From defying fascism and championing decolonisation under the long-standing editor Kingsley Martin to campaigning for nuclear disarmament, women's and LGBT rights, and constitutional reform, the magazine has been a voice for progressive transformation.

Throughout its history, the New Statesman has remained committed to publishing the best writers and journalists. The roll call of great political and cultural writers who have contributed to the magazine includes H. G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Paul Johnson, Julian Barnes, Virginia Woolf and Christopher Hitchens.

Previous guest editors of the New Statesman include the internationally renowned artist and free speech advocate Ai Weiwei, whose 2012 issue won an Amnesty International UK award for human rights journalism; Jemima Khan, now a contributing editor to the magazine; the artist Grayson Perry; the comedian Russell Brand; the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, whose 2011 issue caused a rift between Lambeth Palace and Downing Street; Richard Dawkins; and the former Labour leadership contender David Miliband. was redesigned by Sam Hall, Chris Boyle and Zoltan Hack, led for editorial by NS web editor Caroline Crampton, with input from NS design editor Erica Weathers. and were launched in 2014 by Progressive Media, the New Statesman's parent company, as part of New Statesman Media., edited by Jonn Elledge, explores the business of cities., edited by Harry Lambert, was dedicated to polling and analysis for the general election.

Jason Cowley is a journalist, magazine editor and writer. He became the editor of the New Statesman in October 2008. Before that, he was the editor of Granta magazine, a senior editor and writer on the Observer, and a staff writer on the Times. In 2009 and 2011, he was named editor of the year in the Newspaper and Current Affairs Magazines category at the British Society of Magazine Editors Awards. In January 2013, he was shortlisted for the European Press Prize's Editing Award. The awards committee said: "Cowley has succeeded in revitalising the New Statesman and re-establishing its position as an influential political and cultural weekly. He has given the New Statesman an edge and a relevance to current affairs it hasn't had for years." He is the author most recently of a memoir, The Last Game (2009). His extended interview with the Chancellor, George Osborne, appeared in September 2015.

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