By Majed Iqbal- Rochdale has been under the spotlight in the last weeks after a report issued in the Times Newspaper highlighted cases of grooming of girls for sex and the subsequent imprisonment of young men from Rochdale.
The case of Grooming hit the national news when thirteen men were charged in relation to Operation Retriever, which Derbyshire Police set up, and 11 stood trial charged with offences relating to 26 alleged victims. Out of the original 13, a total of nine were convicted of sexual offences.
Jack Straw, the former Home secretary and MP for Blackburn led a high profile media campaign on the cases where he said “There is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men … who target vulnerable young white girls”. Since these comments were echoed, cases around Rochdale have been resurrected to champion Straw’s theory that a “cultural” problem exists in Pakistani Communities which allows such crimes to take place.
In response to these allegations, an event titled “Jack Straw on Grooming- Who is to Blame?” was held on Sunday in the heart of the Rochdale community to critique this narrative and raise questions on why these comments have been made.
The Forum event came also in the backdrop of nine Asian men from Rochdale who were sent behind bars for abuse, drugging, abduction and forcing a girl to have sex for money last year which has left the Pakistani community dumbfounded in their responses as Jack Straw raised the temperature with his comments in the national media.
“These issues are part of a wider societal problem where liberal values allow people to experiment with their lives. In the past year we have heard of paedophiles operating in nurseries, government reports on over-sexualisation of girls in high street clothing stores, rising teenage pregnancy rates and Home office figures of over 900 women being raped each week across Britain” highlighted Mazhar Khan, one of the speakers from the Islamic Group Hizb ut-Tahrir
Another similar case in Rochdale happened in May 2008. A teenage girl was raped four times by an Asian gang who took pictures of the abuse on their mobile phones. This national debate by a senior politician has therefore sparked off a sensitive topic.
Rochdale resident Mohammed Waseem said “I came along to find out how I could respond to people like Jack Straw when they accuse the Muslim community as being a problem. The speakers made me realise that the problem isn’t with the Pakistani / Muslim community but with society as a whole”.
Miss Thompson, a young admin worker at a local Learning centre, felt that there was some introspection required on this issue.
“Most teenage lads look at girls as ‘she’s easy’. This is not specific to race alone. I find it appalling to see shops selling clothing items which become the subject for lads to view women in a derogatory way. I find some girls have a lack of respect for themselves which makes them into these ‘easy targets’.
Kasim Javed a University Student after the event said “There is clear evidence now to show that comments from mainstream politicians are fuelling the fires for the likes of EDL to use these cases for their own agendas”
Mohammed Saqib, a law student highlighted his objections. “If Mr Straw’s comments contained an element of truth, then what is making ‘Pakistani men’ do these actions? Societal influences which permeate British Society today cannot be left out from this discourse”.
The grooming cases in Rochdale have raised discussions about values and the role of society in influencing them. Questions have also been raised on social values that different communities live by.
Miss Doyle who works as a Morris dancing helper at a local centre in Rochdale said “Young girls nowadays are testing the boundaries with their appearance and their social attitudes. If parents and Schools are not playing their roles in teaching decent values then young girls and guys instead are getting their messages from mainstream media which promotes sexual experimentation. And this is concerning”
Mr Bromiley, a veteran Rochdale based ambulance driver said “I am aware of certain white Taxi companies taking Asian guys, sometimes with Asian girls and sometimes with white girls, to a local hotel and returning two to three hours later in separate ordered taxi’s. I find it hypocritical that these young men are putting aside their religious doctrines and behaving in such a way with women.”
Speaking at the Rochdale event, Taji Mustafa, media spokesperson of Hizb ut-Tahrir objected to the claims that Islam had anything to do with the issue as various newspapers had began claiming. “Islam promotes respect for women regardless of their race, religion and ethnicity. In Islam, you are not allowed to drink, take drugs, engage in pre-marital sex or even have a girlfriend. So how can Islam be blamed for these heinous crimes?”
Questions were raised by the speakers as to why there was no ban on Prostitution and Pornography where women are being subjected to the desires of male sexual predators?
The debates on this discussion continue.