CO033 Tarek Fatah on Liberal Islam

Tarek Fatah was born in Pakistan, he lives in Canadian now where he is a writer, broadcaster, activist, and writes a weekly column for the Toronto Sun. In our conversation, he mentioned some Muslims naming their children after Timur.


There’s a video that you should see.

It’s a drama made by the BBC, the British national broadcaster. I’m not sure how or when it will be shown outside the UK, but there are loads of clips online, I’ve even seen that on YouTube there are the whole of the three hour-long episodes, I’m not sure how legal that is, or how long they will stay up, but I’m sure you can find it on some service or other.

Another challenge, if you’re not from the UK, you might find some of the accents a bit of a challenge, so maybe try with subtitles; the reason for that is that it’s set in the northern English town of Rochdale.

Rochdale is a town close to Manchester, it’s got a population of about 100,000, and about a quarter of its population is of Asian origin, although measuring that is a bit tricky, it depends on whether you count just the town or the wider metro area, since Asians tend to live more centrally in the town.

And Rochdale is poor. And that is central to the video you should see. The video is a drama, it’s in three hour-long episodes, it’s called Three Girls, and the title characters are three young teenagers from Rochdale. They represent, according to the British government enquiry, more than 1,400 girls – I’m going to pause for you to take that number in, more than 1,400 girls who were sexually abused by men who chatted them up, gave them fast food, alcohol, sometimes drugs, and gained influence over them – what is called grooming. And having gained influence, they sexually abused the girls, raped them, and in some cases rented them out to be raped by other men.

This went on for years, and as well as the abuse on the girls, the drama looks at how the authorities reacted to what was going on. Most, but not all of the girls, came from quite poor backgrounds, some of them had chaotic lives, were alienated from their parents, in other words they didn’t have a strong adult presence protecting them.

The drama follows one community health worker who repeatedly reported the child abuse and rapes to the police, but they took little effective action, and the scandal, since exposed in a government report, was that two attitudes let this go on for years, although many men have now been convicted in relation to the case.

The first is that all of the perpetrators were Muslim men from a Pakistani or Afghan background and all the victims that we know of were white.

The second is that the girls didn’t look like middle class, well-spoken A-students. Some of them drank, had sex, stayed out late.

The combination of these two factors, it seems, paralyzed the authorities. They were so afraid of being seen to be racist, that they were walking on eggshells any time they dealt with ethnic minorities. They were anxious to find any other explanation than the obvious one, that hundreds of girls were being abused and raped. And there was one explanation that suited them. Many of the girls were not perfect candidates to be seen as blameless victims by a jury.

One scene in the film shows a police officer referring to the girls as underage prostitutes. The health worker replies that there is no such thing as an underage prostitute, she says that they are abuse victims.

There are two things to take away from this. The first is that victims are not always perfect. In this case, I would guess, the abusers targeted them for that exact reason. But they are still victims, and they still deserve justice. Justice is not justice if it’s not justice for all.

The second is that being against racism can’t mean being against reality. Some crimes are prosecuted in a racist way, there is no doubt about it. White and Black Americans use and sell marijuana in much the same proportions, but blacks are vastly more likely to be arrested for it.

But where crimes do follow a racial pattern there is nothing wrong with talking about that, and nothing wrong with acting on it.

And the third point is that some racial or cultural or religious practices – whatever you want to call it – are just disgusting and should be simply rejected. I don’t think you can get away from the fact that aspects of Islam are misogynistic, and that is connected with the abuse of women and girls, and that can be seen in many Islamic countries, and in the pattern of crimes that are committed by some immigrants from those countries.

Anyone who thinks that respecting diversity should mean not prosecuting those crimes to the full should take a long look at themselves.


One last thing, it’s notable that the prosecutor who overturned the original decision not to prosecute these rapists was a guy called Nazir Afzal, a first generation Pakistani immigrant, and I take two things away from that. First that not all Pakistani men are bad, and secondly, that there is no excuse for the ones who are.

Anyway go and look it up and watch the drama, it’s called Three girls.