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.

UPDATE:

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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No economy is an island: why Britain's finances now depend on Europe

Weak growth in Europe turned Britain into a safety deposit box, but that may soon change.

If you believe Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, the Brexit vote has plunged Britain into chaos. The UK, he concluded a few days after the referendum, “has collapsed politically, ­monetarily, constitutionally and economically”. In terms of politics or the constitution, he may well be correct. But monetarily and economically, this view is wrong (or at least incomplete) in one crucial respect. It fails to see that no country’s economic fate is determined unilaterally. What happens next elsewhere – and in the eurozone especially – will be just as important as what happens in the UK.

Money and people have flowed to Britain from continental Europe over the past half-decade. The most cursory glance at the employment roster of any hospital in the country, or at a graph of London house prices, will show you that. The tabloids love lurid stories about Russian oligarchs and Chinese princelings waging bidding wars for Knightsbridge penthouses. Yet the truth is that Spaniards, Italians and Greeks have almost certainly been a much larger and more influential constituency.

This reminds us of something important about the UK’s post-financial-crisis boom and its status as a location for investment and a safe haven for savings – and, in particular, about London’s coronation as the first city of Europe. It is not Britain’s uniquely sound economic policy framework or its stellar growth rate that has sucked in Europe’s best and brightest and hoovered up a lot of European capital. In the UK, relative to economic history, recent growth has been quite weak. Rather, Britain’s post-crisis attractions have owed much to the way that the eurozone has been stuck in a near-depression.

In international finance, everything is relative. So although it is true that one of the crucial factors determining our economic future will be whether the next government can safeguard the UK’s reputation as a sound place to live, to litigate and to invest, another is what the competition will have to offer. And, given the eurozone’s lacklustre performance over the past few years, it is possible – perhaps inevitable – that the competition is about to get a lot tougher.

That may sound like a brave statement, given the consensus that the Brexit vote has pitched the EU into an existential crisis. It is true that the three most important eurozone countries face a succession of tough trials over the next 18 months. The first and most dangerous is the Italian constitutional referendum, to be held no later than 6 November.
The details of the issue at stake – whether to concentrate more power in Italy’s lower house of parliament – are, in a sense, not that important. Given the rising popularity of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the vote will, in effect, be on a motion of no confidence in the government.

Unfortunately, confidence is not running high. Italy’s performance since the crisis has been dismal, with GDP still roughly 8 per cent lower than at its peak. A tentative recovery began in 2015, only for the bad debts heaped up since 2008 to overwhelm the country’s banks again this year. The government has tried to intervene but Brussels has nixed the idea. It is hardly the ideal backdrop to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum campaign; in such circumstances, there is much potential for a protest vote. The Five Star Movement, an unknown quantity in terms of national government, appears well positioned to carry the popular vote in a subsequent general election.

The next important staging post for the eurozone will be the French presidential election in spring. Marine Le Pen, the anti-EU and anti-euro leader of the Front ­National, is a close second in the polls. The Brexit vote has given her party’s platform some credibility: what previously seemed to be little more than the fantasy of cranks has become a reality across the Channel.

Finally, there are the German federal ­elections in September or October 2017. German politics has so far proved more hostile to anti-euro parties – understandably, for the country that has benefited most from the single currency. Nevertheless, even in Germany, the Eurosceptic ­Alternative für Deutschland party is notching up double digits in opinion polls. Only a definitive pro-euro mandate will secure the eurozone’s future.

It all adds up to a year and a half of living dangerously for the eurozone. Renzi may lose his referendum; Le Pen may triumph in France; even in Germany, support for the euro may ebb. If so, the drama of Brexit will come to look like small beer. The UK may retain its attractiveness as a safety deposit box for southern Europe. But the gravitational pull of a eurozone in crisis will be a far more powerful and negative force.

Yet those whose fortunes have waxed with the UK economy over the past half-decade should also think carefully about other possibilities. What if Italy does devise a way to cure its banks and Renzi wins his vote? What if Le Pen, like her father before her, falls at the final hurdle? What if Germany’s adaptable electoral system once again proves capable of accommodating and co-opting the more extreme views from the ends of the spectrum?

Then the wheel of fortune may turn. The UK will be past the peak of its housing and business cycles; the eurozone will at last be on the up. Eurozone investors who snapped up UK property in 2011 will revisit the valuation of real estate across the continent and ask themselves why they shouldn’t sell their flat in London and buy two in Rome instead. The tide of capital will reverse – and the tide of people, too.

The UK faces a changed environment after the Brexit vote yet it is how the cards fall in the eurozone, not in the UK, which will probably make the biggest difference. However things turn out, it is likely to be the end of Britain’s post-crisis economic model. That might be no bad thing. 

Macroeconomist, bond trader and author of Money

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt