Maajid Nawaz, self-styled Islamic ‘reformer’ and founder of the Quilliam Foundation recently tweeted:
[…] Yet more ‘grooming gang’ (racially aggravated gang rape) convictions. Once again, all convicted are of my own heritage: British Pakistani Muslim. And there are more to come. Enough with the denial. Name it. Shame it. Protect the children.
This tweet is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am a Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage, mother, founding member and co-chair of Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation (FACES). For the last three years I have been actively working with Muslim and Christian colleagues to raise awareness and understanding about child sexual exploitation (CSE), in order to equip us all to better prevent, recognise and respond to it. Maajid Nawaz’s language here is unacceptable. It’s damaging. It’s dangerous. And we cannot stay silent.
For some context, Maajid Nawaz’s organisation, a ‘counter extremism’ think tank, with some controversial – and some have argued, extremist connections – published a report last year entitled “Group Based Child Sexual Exploitation – Dissecting Grooming Gangs”. The report’s authors, Haris Rafiq (who is also the CEO of Quilliam) and Muna Adil, note a disproportionate representation of individuals of ‘(South) Asian’ heritage in “Group Based CSE” and conclude that this suggests ‘the background of these men has influenced their actions’.
The report was received with some fanfare by certain sections of the media, and our Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, was so convinced by the strength of the arguments contained in it that he decided to order research in to the ‘problem’, vowing to deal with the ‘Asian paedophiles’. It is also worth noting that Quilliam’s old friend, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far right activist and founder of the English Defence League, also known by his pseudonym ‘Tommy Robinson’, has referenced this report as informing his horribly racist rhetoric. Earlier this year, Yaxley-Lennon chose to film people during a criminal trial where reporting restrictions were in place, and thus potentially jeopardising the outcome. He is currently embroiled in criminal proceedings for the same.
Others however, were not so convinced. The report was roundly criticised and dismissed by a number of CSE experts, most notably and persuasively by Dr Ella Cockbain. I won’t go through all the arguments again, you can read her mega-thread on Twitter here. Essentially though, Cockbain surmises that this report, written by two people who have zero experience or expertise in this area, is rooted in bad science and is fundamentally flawed. In short, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. After much dilly dallying, and under persistent pressure from online activists (shout out to @Newera and @reg_left-media) and survivors of abuse (including @Realheadcase1, @telford_gurl, @MsCaitSpencer, @hollyarcher_cse and others – I am in awe of your courage and generosity), Quilliam finally released a statement. This did little to respond to the substance of the criticism beyond what Richard Wortley (another leading expert on CSE) describes as an ‘outrageous smear’ and ‘ad hominems’.
Maajid Nawaaz himself has personally responded by branding critics of the reports as ‘racists’. This is a man who argues that there is a causal link between the ethnicity of the perpetrators and CSE. Whilst doing so, Nawaz and his colleagues cynically align themselves to their brown-ness to deflect legitimate criticism of their work and then, draw themselves away to protect themselves from the negative consequences of their words. This internalisation of racism is, in itself, systemic oppression and injustice. But this is perhaps a discussion for another day.
By falsely framing the discourse on CSE entirely around South Asian men (a problematic descriptor in itself) as perpetrators, ‘white girls’ as ‘victims’ and concentrating the totality of the discussion on the context in which it occurs, entirely on ‘grooming gangs’, the Quilliam Foundation – like “Tommy Robinson” – do nothing to ‘protect the children’. In fact, quite the opposite. The narrative that the Quilliam Foundation’s report propagates has real and devastating consequences. Last year I met with a survivor of CSE, from Rochdale. She is South Asian. She is Muslim. She told me of her pain at being ‘white-washed’, out of sight and out of mind. When speaking at the FACES annual conference earlier this year, Sara Rowbotham, the Rochdale whistle-blower, spoke of the many boys that had also been abused, and ignored, and who remain largely invisible.
For those really interested in learning more about CSE, take a look at some of the research carried out by The University of Bedfordshire’s International Centre, which includes work by FACES member, Dr Lucie Shuker.
Maajid, let me finish by doing exactly as you say: ‘Name it. Shame it. Protect the children’: You, and your colleagues at Quilliam are making our children – ALL of them –vulnerable, and you are creating an environment where some perpetrators are not held to account. Really, shame on you.
Rehana Faisal, co-chair FACES