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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How Jeremy Corbyn plans to use the leadership race to bring the rebels back into line

With victory regarded as near-certain in the Corbyn camp, thought is turning to how to bring the rebels to heel after victory. 

Jeremy Corbyn has kicked off his campaign for the Labour leadership with what is being seen as a coded threat to deselect his dissident MPs unless they fall into line. Jeremy Corbyn’s aides, meanwhile, have insisted that he is simply reiterating the current state of affairs.

The reality is, without rule changes, boundary changes are an imperfect tool with which to remake the parliamentary Labour party to be more Corbyn-friendly.

Why?

There are two angles to this which need unpicking – the first, which is boring but essential to understanding the Labour party, is how the party’s selection processes actually work, particularly around boundary changes.

“Deselection” is a term that is frequently bandied about when the Labour party is discussed but poorly understood. What no longer exists is “mandatory reselection”, when an MP has to go through a full selection process. MPs can still be deselected if they fail to secure a majority of votes in their trigger ballot.

That word “votes”, as so often in the Labour party, is somewhat misleading. Each constituent “branch” of a local party has one vote. The membership branches of a local Labour party get one vote each which is decided by a ballot with a simple “Yes/No” option on whether to keep the sitting MP or trigger a full selection. But so does the local branch of any affiliate organisation, be that the Fabian Society, BAME Labour or a trade union. The votes of trade union branches – and often, in practice, most affiliated societies – are decided by a local official, not by a full ballot of local members.

That means, in practice, the sitting MP can lose the support of their members and keep their position provided they can keep their local trade union officials on side, and vice versa. (My expectation, however, is we will see a number of MPs facing full selections in the coming years, regardless of who emerges as leader in September.)

A “full” selection process only comes about if an MP is unable to win their trigger ballot. (That’s why Corbyn’s use of the word “full” and his description of a process which the sitting MP is one of a number of candidates has spooked the rebels).

But what about when there are boundary changes?

In the case of boundary changes, the MP remains the sitting MP provided their new constituency comprises at least 40 per cent of the old.

This is where things can get tricky. Let’s say for example you start with four seats, all Labour-held, two safe and two marginal. (Let’s call this place “the Wirral”. It’s just a name.)

Let’s imagine you are a Corbyn sympathiser who wants to get rid of one of the MPs on the Wirral. (Let’s call her “Angela Eagle”. It’s just a name.)

The boundaries are redrawn – one seat vanishes, leaving two safe Labour seats – and a third safe Conservative seat. At this point the game of musical chairs starts, with one person certain to end up without a seat and a fourth set to end up de facto unemployed.

But here’s the problem – one of the four MPs has lost their claim, as there is no remaining seat which contains more than 39 per cent of their old seat. (Except perhaps the safe Conservative seat, but let’s assume they find this an unappetising prospect.) But all of the remaining three MPs have a 40 per cent claim on the two safe Labour seats (let’s call these two seats “Wallasey” and “Birkenhead”. They’re just names.)

So this presents you with a golden opportunity to get rid of your opponents, right? There’s just one fly in the ointment: the other sitting MPs are Frank Field and Margaret Greenwood, only one of whom (Greenwood) is a particular friend of Labour’s current leader.  This pattern is fairly similar through the country – Corbyn’s opponents tend to be neighbours, and vice versa. (It’s perfectly possible, for instance, that boundary changes will create one Islington constituency, resulting in a face-off between Emily Thornberry and Corbyn himself.)

Of course, he could change the rules. However, by my reckoning, even if, as looks likely, all six of the positions elected by ordinary members on Labour’s NEC go to the candidates of the Grassroots Alliance, there still won’t be a majority on the ruling exec to bring about wholesale changes to how Labour selects its MPs.

What feels more likely is, as one senior ally of Corbyn’s reflected at the start of a coup is that Corbyn’s re-election campaign run on a “package to democratise the party further and put members back in control – the stuff MPs’ worst nightmares are made of”, before using that as leverage to bring back the bulk of the soft left and the “make it work” caucus on the right of the party into the tent. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.