Former British home secretary Jack Straw caused a storm of controversy in Britain last week when he said there was a ‘specific problem’ in Britain of ‘Pakistani heritage men’ targetting young white girls for sexual abuse and rape because they see them as ‘easy meat’.
Not surprisingly the word racism immediately flashed up in big red lights. However, and this is perhaps a little surprising, the word was used on both sides of the argument. But first a couple of facts.
Jack Straw’s comments came after the conviction of two men, Mohammad Liaqat and Abid Saddique, for a series of rapes and sexual abuse of young girls in the Derby area of Britain, some of these girls were as young as 12. The two men are British Muslims of Pakistani origin. The girls were white.
There is something referred to as street grooming. Essentially this involves men with criminal intent finding young girls out on the street at night, befriending them, giving them gifts and building up their trust, then plying them with alcohol or drugs or both and raping them, sexually abusing them or even pimping them to other men as prostitutes. This is what Mohammad Liaqat and Abid Saddique did. What is more of the last 65 convictions for grooming, 53 have been men of Pakistani heritage. The vast majority of the victims have been white.
Jack Straw made his comments on an edition of the BBC programme newsnight. His argument goes something like this: Young men of Pakistani heritage find that they have no outlet in their own community for their sexual urges and so turn to white vulnerable women who they see as easy targets. He spoke of these men ‘fizzing and popping with testosterone’, of women of their own heritage being ‘off limits’ and used the now infamous phrase ‘easy meat’.
My main problem with Straw’s argument is not so much the racial stereotyping, though I am of course uneasy with that, as the extrapolation of normal behaviour to criminal behaviour. The issue here is not one of how do men with normal sexual urges deal with those urges in a cross-cultural context but of understanding why this particular sexual crime seems to be more prevalent among men of Pakistani heritage than white men and whether this crime has a racial element. Possibly it does not. The key word concerning the victims of grooming is ‘vulnerable’, Straw refers to ‘White girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care’. Criminals look for easy targets. These men chose those girls not so much for their skin colour as their vulnerability.
Paralell to this is the argument that some Muslim men of Pakistani origin, albeit a small minority of them, think that white women, or simply women from other communities, have lesser morals than women from their own community and so are not worthy of their respect. Consequently they behave badly towards women and often see them as sexual objects, or to use Jack Straw’s phrase again, as ‘easy meat’.
It is not OK for Muslim men to rape white girls. It is not OK for Muslim men to sexually abuse white girls. There is not an attitude or a way of thinking or an edict within the Muslim community, be it of Pakistani origin or otherwise, that tells men that this would be acceptable behaviour. This needs to be made clear to those who are too quick to reach conclusions regarding a whole community based on the abhorrent behaviour of a gang of criminals.
But do the attitudes of Muslim men to non-Muslim women leave something to be desired? And here let’s throw the question wide open and go well beyond British Muslim men of Pakistani heritage. Is there a double standard? Do Muslim men behave differently towards non-Muslim women? How does someone who thinks a woman must cover her body in order to protect her honour look upon a woman from a different culture who wears a bikini? Do they indeed think of them as ‘easy meat’? And if they do, what are the consequences of that kind of thinking?
Jack Straw’s comments worry me because they encourage a view of Pakistani heritage men as sexual predators, even though that was clearly not his intent. Street grooming is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with and I am not sure that assigning it a cultural and religious dimension is helpful.
What is helpful is challenging harmful attitudes towards women. Thinking of women as ‘meat’, be it easy meat or otherwise, is offensive, degrading to us women and simply unacceptable. This attitude is neither uncommon nor confined to men of any particular religious affiliation or cultural background. So perhaps today is a good day to remind your sons, your brothers, your colleagues, your husbands that a woman deserves respect not because of a cloth she wears on her head, nor because of a ring she wears on her finger, nor because of the religious faith she proffers in her heart, but simply because she is a woman. – Khaleej Times