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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Despite being ignored, young people will decide the EU referendum

While Brexiteers yearn for a return to economic stability and freedom from terror, millennials were born too late to ever really experience these things.

You may not realise, but if we are still in the European Union on the morning of June 24, you’ll have young people to thank for it.

An analysis of YouGov polling data from April by The Times showed, unsurprisingly, that as people get older, they’re more likely to vote Leave. The data reveals that the age at which voters are split down the middle about Europe is 43, whereas by the time that people hit 60, nearly two thirds of them will support leaving the EU. Contrasted against this, if you’re below the age of 25, more than 70 per cent of you are going to vote Remain.

And yet, young people don’t vote. That truism is written into every fibre of British politics, from policy decisions to election results. In the grand scheme of things, young people can be hit with higher tuition fees, denied access to the living wage, find it impossible to find somewhere to live and experience among the highest unemployment rates for a generation, and it doesn’t matter, because they don’t matter.

Because they don’t vote. 

And yet, in what must surely rank as an incredible cosmic irony, being thwarted by young people voting is exactly what might happen to the Leave campaign in a few weeks’ time. Because in order for the maths to add up, where the majority of age groups are pro-Brexit yet the polls have the two camps neck and neck, young people must really, really want to stay.

So the solution for Leave should be clear: if they could convince even another five per cent of dithering sub-30 year-olds to vote against Europe, then they’d have it in the bag. Except as a result of the automatic assumption that young people’s opinions don’t matter, neither campaign, and especially not Leave, are making any effort to court them at all.

George Osborne fell prey to this recently when he argued that leaving Europe could lower house prices, reflexively thinking that everyone in the country is a massive fan of prices just where they are. Luckily for him, even the promise of an affordable place to live wasn’t enough to tempt young Remainers across the aisle.

The Brexit campaign is even more guilty.

From the day to day coverage, it seems like the Leave campaign has focused on fears of economic devastation, lack of national sovereignty, increased national security threats, as well as a paranoid fear of immigration that borders on the xenophobic (Don’t get me wrong, there might be positive arguments, but between Boris Johnson drawing comparisons with Hitler, Michael Gove predicting that millions of people will relocate here and warnings that our membership is akin to flushing billions of pounds down the toilet, I must have missed them). The problem is that, as most people could tell you, these arguments simply aren’t very persuasive to young people.

If you were born in the 1950s, then you grew up in the wake of the Second World War, in an almost exclusively white country that didn’t really have security problems. Yes, there were The Troubles. But in terms of sheer scale, more people were killed in November’s Paris attacks than in England during the entirety of the 30 year conflict.

If you were born in 1990, on the other hand, then the World Trade Centre would have been brought down when you were 11 years old. The 7/7 bombings took place a few months before you turned 16. As you were leaving school the Great Recession curb-stomped your aspirations and held your career in a stranglehold when you graduated from university.

While most Brexiteers look at a return to economic stability and freedom from fear of terrorism as some sort of regression to the mean, millennials (as they’re called) were born too late to ever really experience these things. Rather than seeing them as a beautiful idyll to which we can come back if people only wished hard enough, financial instability and wariness of terror are such facts of life for them that promising an alternative seems like fanciful thinking. More obviously however, if Leave is trying to appeal to the most multicultural and diverse generation that this country has ever seen, and a quarter of which aren’t white, arguing that Obama doesn’t like Britain because of his Kenyan heritage is hardly the way to go.

Ultimately, this is a campaign in which it was very possible for Leave to win over the young.

Make genuine arguments about how we can, and should, do it alone. Argue that the country that won the Battle of Britain doesn’t need to be a part of the EU, and when the other side complain about the economic penalties, turn around and say that they’re fear-mongering. Instead of that, we have a public discussion bogged in pretending the main reason people want to leave is because of the cash we supposedly send over there each week, or that we would have a better quality of banana if only we cast off our European shackles.

Which might well be fun to watch, but it’s not like a teenager is going to put a poster of that on their wall, are they?