Shazad Hussain was born and raised in Rotherham, and he argues that the endemic problem of sexual grooming in his town is due to a societal meltdown, along with a backward culture within many Pakistani families.
Speaking as someone from Rotherham and having grown up with some of the individuals who have been convicted of grooming offences back in 2010, I would never condone the disgustingly vile acts that were committed. There is nevertheless, an explanation for why such despicable crimes occurred.
It is not because of the popular right-wing narrative of “misogynistic Islam”, or because of “political correctness gone mad”. No, the explanation is far more to do with society and the lack of education, both at home and outside of it. Hence, it is not an issue of religion, but of society.
Rotherham since the first wave of Asian immigration has been a town with a white majority, and a sizeable Pakistani minority. There is little interaction between the two communities, with the Asian community in Rotherham tending to cluster together in areas within a three mile radius of the town centre. It is largely made up of people who are disenfranchised and have nowhere to go, with no prospects of bettering themselves, little to no suitable male role models, and a family unit which might as well not exist.
The fathers are more often than not, taxi drivers, shopkeepers or takeaway owners. The mothers are mainly from the first generation of immigrants from Azhad Kashmir (or Pakistan) and have no clue about the outside world, beside the little bubble of their home and community.
Culture and money tends to predominate over everything else, and unfortunately, being from a low socioeconomic backgrounds, promiscuity among the mainly white girls is common. The men who have taken advantage of the girls, have done so because of their attitudes that has been created as a result of these inequalities in society.
Behind closed doors
At home, while respect for elders and common manners are taught, the lack of interaction and understanding of other communities has meant that the stereotypes of these communities have been allowed to fester. Once boys reach a certain age, they are almost allowed to do as they wish. Hence they don’t see the girls as equals due to their own warped sense of superiority, and thus see them as commodities. This is something which the community in Rotherham needs to address more than anything else.
Yes, there are failures in society, but there can be no excuse for such toxic attitudes, and a “fear of the other” to persist beyond the first generations who came in the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile, the importance of education is paid nothing more than lip service. Kids are more likely to go into the family business than stake out a career of their own.
Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle which I don’t see improving. My family have lived in Rotherham since the early 1970s, and it has only gotten worse, with each generation seemingly worse than the last, due in large part to the insular nature of the community (with the aforementioned stereotypes parroted by the community being exacerbated). Also, the increasingly sexualised nature of society at large has created an environment where such horrific acts have taken place.
There is little to no scope for social mobility here. If you’re Asian, you are pretty much guaranteed to either be a taxi driver, takeaway worker, shopkeeper or a call centre telephonist. If you attend university, unfortunately the likelihood is that you’re merely delaying the inevitable of working in one of the aforementioned occupations. However, this is not to say that there is no hope. Some indeed, do progress and work their way up but the examples are simply too few and far between.
In conclusion, I cannot see the situation in towns such as Rotherham improving without some drastic changes. Islamically, the masaajid are nothing more than glorified prayer rooms run by the older generations, though some are thankfully starting to change in this aspect. In terms of wider societal interactions, there has been neglect and a culture of allowing Pakistanis being left to their own devices. The chickens have hatched from this culture of neglect, and it’s well and truly come home to roost.
Shazad is British Pakistani who was born and raised in Rotherham. He is currently completing his M.A. in Political Sciences at the University of Birmingham.