Rumy Hasan's blog posts for November 2014

Tower Hamlets and the Dangers of Communal Politics‏



Last week, the accountancy firm PwC, in its audit of Tower Hamlets Council and its Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, catalogued very serious failings. The case sheds light on a troubling phenomenon: communal politics. We are well aware of the divisive, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland where voting on the basis of religious identity is the accepted norm and no mainstream party wishes to see it replicated in mainland Britain. However, with the embedding in of multiculturalism and its variant multifaithism, communal, sectarian politics are also becoming prevalent in many towns and cities with significant religious-ethnic minority communities. In other words, many candidates now seek votes from those of, and people vote on the basis of, their religion, ethnicity, and country of origin, rather than on political ideology.

This is precisely what has come to pass in Tower Hamlets. The bedrock of Mayor Lutfur Rahman's support comes from his fellow Muslim Bangladeshis who comprise about a third of the population of Tower Hamlets but about two-thirds of those who turned out to vote in the mayoral election were from his own Bangladeshi community, resulting in his victory. In accordance with the communal nature of his politics, all members of his cabinet have also been Bangladeshis. What he proceeded to do is a classic case of what Americans term 'pork barrel politics' where government funds are allocated to certain favoured sections of society in exchange for political support; which means that unfavoured groups lose out. It is a form of political corruption.

BBC Panorama's investigation (confirmed by the PwC audit) showed that council officers had proposed that Bangladeshi and Somali (likewise Sunni Muslim) groups receive £1.5m but its review of 362 grants approved by the mayor found that he increased funding to these groups by nearly two-and-a-half times - to £3.6m. The additional £2.1m came from the council's reserves in combination with a 25 per cent reduction in grants to other organisations; a clear instance of communal, pork barrel politics. It transpires that £3m was granted for 'faith heritage', mostly to mosques. Whereas the previous Labour administration funded religious groups for social services - itself problematic - Mr Rahman makes no such demands. A grave consequence of such communal politics is that non-religious groups that cater for all sections of the borough are starved of funds or crowded out. This is quite contrary to the goal of achieving 'One Tower Hamlets', Mayor Rahman's slogan.

Lutfur Rahman's is indeed an egregious case but the phenomenon of pork barrel politics afflicts the major parties also. The embrace of 'multiculturalism' launched a divisive dynamic, particularly in local communities, whereby many urban councils began to channel funds and resources to various ethnic, national and, more recently, faith communities in return for votes. A by-product of this is the accentuation of tensions between different communities who increasingly identify themselves in terms of faith. Indeed both the present and previous governments have recognised communal strains, and all are agreed on the importance of 'community cohesion' yet they have increasingly allocated funds to various 'faith communities'; a natural corollary given their belief that Britain is a multi-faith society. But, by so doing, they are adding to the problem of 'divisive community politics' highlighted by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, with respect to Tower Hamlets.

Given the rising proportion of religious-ethnic minorities, and the high levels of segregation along communal lines in neighbourhoods of many towns and cities, the results of many parliamentary seats are now determined by the communal vote. There is, then, naturally the temptation on the part of the major political parties to appeal to groups on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. But this would be a grave mistake as it would pull the country even more down the spiral of communal politics and against the goal of social cohesion.

The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where a number of schools have been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now arsing. But is this really surprising given the governments' stress of Britain being a multifaith society (with the imprimatur of a Minister for Faith and Communities) and its green light to more faith schools, and religious free schools? The very same Eric Pickles who is rightly concerned by divisive community politics in Tower Hamlets supports these deeply divisive and damaging schools and, moreover, continuously rails against secularism, the one principle that can forge together commonalities among disparate groups. As one Bangladeshi ex-Labour councillor Helal Rahman in the Panorama programme correctly stated, rather than uniting, faith divides people; especially so where identities based on faith trump all others.

This is a lesson that Mr Pickles and his government, as well as the opposition, needs to grasp with alacrity and start to work together to undo the harm that has already been done. Otherwise, we can expect communal, pork barrel politics to increasingly become the norm and so more of the likes of Luftur Rahman running councils and unwelcome Trojan Horses appearing in schools and elsewhere.

First published in Huffington Post on 17th November 2014

Political correctness and child sexual exploitation



The just published report on child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Greater Manchester by Ann Coffey MP follows a similar report by Prof Alexis Jay about the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, released in August.  It carries more accounts of teenage girls describing how they had been abused, and how the police had ignored their pleas for protection. Between January and September this year, Ms. Coffey's report reveals, Manchester police had compiled 9,789 reports on "missing children", of which 4,520 concerned "children looked after by the local authority". The 'grooming' of girls that leads to child sexual exploitation appears to be widespread as evidenced by cases in recent years in other towns and cities, for example, Derby, Oldham, Oxford, Telford, and Peterborough.

So why has there been such a monumental dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities?

The evidence shows three recurring themes: that the perpetrators are overwhelmingly men from a Pakistani Muslim background; that the victims are overwhelmingly vulnerable white girls (invariably under-16 years of age); and that the authorities had adopted the stance of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'. Even though thousands of girls have been identified as victims, this might still be the tip of the iceberg. Indeed Ms Coffey considers this appalling phenomenon to have become a 'social norm' in Greater Manchester.

A report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was submitted as far back as 2002 yet no action was taken. The 2014 Jay report states: 'Had this [2002 draft] report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice.'

Critics put this inaction by the various authorities down to 'political correctness', that is, the fear of the charge of racism. The former Labour MP for Rotherham Denis McShane admitted as much in an interview on BBC Radio in August 2014. He said: 'I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat…. Perhaps yes, as a true Guardian reader and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn't want to raise that [issue] too hard'. Mr. McShane's comments are a classic case of the 'political correctness' and self-censorship that may have led the authorities to criminal neglect. Now imagine if the perpetrators had been white men and the victims Pakistani Muslim girls. Make no mistake there would have been a vociferous outcry from across the political spectrum with the charge that these horrific crimes were a blatant manifestation of racism and Islamophobia.

So what explains this political correctness and the resultant gross dereliction of duty? I would argue that it has much to do with 'white liberal post-colonial guilt' that has long afflicted wide layers of the majority white-British society. It is political thinking from the 1970s and 1980s and stems from the fact that many non-white migrants were from former colonies and were often subjected to racism and discrimination. Accordingly, they needed solidarity and protection. This led to the evolution of a form of 'reverse racism', that is to say, an attitude of closing one's eyes to criminal acts and wrongdoings by ethnic minorities. In other words, non-whites are forever treated as perpetual victims. Silence or apologetics are offered in their support. And, for their part, ethnic minorities have become adept at playing this new version of the 'race card'. For instance, Islamic organisations such as Tell MAMA robustly argue that dwelling on Muslim involvement in phenomena such as child sexual exploitation, the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London, and the barbarism of Islamic State, is adding to 'Islamophobia' and racism, and aiding the far right. Though evidence for this is dubious at best, the message is clear: cast a blind eye as to what our people do, don't criticise, and 'don't rock the multicultural community boat'.

It is this reasoning that leads to the silence on the part of self-styled progressives and feminists with respect to other nefarious phenomena that are peculiar to some ethnic minorities. They include forced marriage, honour killings, the veiling of women, and (until recently) female genital mutilation. Indeed, when Ann Cryer, the former MP for Bradford and Keighley, began to raise the issue of forced marriage in British-Asian communities in 1999, she was denounced as a racist. But if there is widespread silence and self-censorship over such phenomena, then don't be surprised that they carry on. What we now have with the child sexual exploitation scandals is a case of the 'chickens coming home to roost'.

Britain's political parties, keen to maintain their support among the growing Asian Muslim communities have a history of accommodating the demands made by its 'leaders', and indeed of leaders of other ethnic minority communities. The blunt truth is that they do not wish risking the loss of this substantial vote bank. However, this is not an excuse for the dereliction of duty by the social workers and police. An important lesson is surely that if the horrors of Rotherham and Rochdale are not to recur, these institutions charged with protecting the vulnerable should be guided by the law and compassion, not wrongly understood "political correctness".

First published in 11th November

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