UK’s racist dog whistle politics vilifies British Pakistani Muslims

May 1, 2023
3 mins read

The issue of grooming gangs and the sexual exploitation of minors in the UK has been a discussion point for quite some time. There have been various reports and reviews to suggest that these actions are akin to types of behaviour that can be ethnically profiled. But there are also many reports and findings that suggest that this kind of presentation of outcomes concerning child exploitation gangs is deeply damaging and divisive and plays into the hands of far-right, authoritarian-minded people who are being urged to allow the racialisation of the other to take further hold.

This development has been seen by some as an approach taken by the UK government to take advantage of the gap left in society by the likes of the English Defence League (EDL), who have used the child grooming gangs topic to gain political capital in support of their views, which are essentially anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Islam. The EDL, particularly Tommy Robinson, will talk about Pakistani grooming gangs and get into quite a lot of trouble for it because of their absolute and desperate desire to prove a particular link between ethnoreligious ethnicities and sexual crimes against women, including minors.

Suella Braverman, the current Home Secretary, is assuming the mantle left behind by Tommy Robinson and the EDL, who no longer persist as they might have done a decade ago. Braverman was on television news, constantly reiterating the same argument that she has been making, which is that grooming gangs are a particular issue in Pakistani communities, such that it is a Pakistani problem, which is entirely false and patently aimed at gaining political capital among potential voters who have shifted to the right.

The more than one million Pakistani Muslim communities in the UK will experience the effects of this daily. In the 1970s, young Pakistani men were vulnerable to being beaten up by the National Front upon their return from factory work in the early hours of the morning as part of a sport known as ‘Paki bashing’. While British South Asians tended to come together under the broader Asian rubric until the late 1980s, these Pakistanis were already visible, with the view that this body of people was different from Indians or Bangladeshis beginning to take hold. Variations in experiences having to do with class, city, religion, identity, social mobility, marginalisation, or politicisation suggested that there were hierarchical differences between groups based on class norms and ethnic values.

In the 2000s, British Pakistanis were pilloried in a BBC sitcom modelled on the 1970s stereotype of the Pakistani man entitled ‘Citizen Khan’. It was tremendously successful, not least among British Asian audiences, but it soon died a death when it was realised that the ideas being paraded were cringeworthy and certainly on the fringes of racialisation. With attention being paid to Pakistanis over concerns around extremism during the so-called Trojan Horse plot in inner-city schools of Birmingham in the mid-2010s, for the last decade or so, this particular issue around the sexual exploitation of young English girls in the northern towns has continued to make headlines despite the very clear and obvious analysis that suggests that the problem is concentrated among white majority ethnic groups, who make up the vast bulk of the perpetrators and those who are ultimately sentenced to end in prison for their sexual exploitation of young women and minors.

There are incredibly worrying trends across the world regarding the ways in which Muslim minority populations are being ‘cancelled’. We can think about the Xingang province of China and how indigenous Muslims have been effectively eliminated to make way for the expanding Han Chinese Empire. There is also the Rohingya reality, in which extremist Buddhist monks violently drove Muslims out of Myanmar. We know of the incredibly sad and depressing reality facing Arab Palestinians in Israel and the Gaza Strip. We also know of the problematic realities of economic, educational, and social development facing Muslim minorities in Europe, which are in stark contrast to most Muslim minority experiences in the USA. This is because post-war European Muslims came to work in declining industrial sectors to do dirty and unwanted jobs. In the case of the USA, the immigration legislation only permitted the migration of highly skilled and highly educated Pakistanis, who are now very much part of the American middle-class today.

The Home Secretary is in a critical position to ensure that policy delivery meets the needs of society and that the UK government remains accountable to the public at large. In making divisive and polarising statements that are deeply inaccurate and potentially incredibly damaging to existing poor community relations, these actions can only be seen as deliberate and therefore cynically calculated to aim at gaining political ground, especially when there is a general election likely to be held in 2024 and the Conservative Party is desperate to remain in power at all costs. The cards look ominous, and they could well be out in reality, but before they do so, they will drag the country into the right wing of gutter politics as far as it will go.

An abridged Dutch language version of this story was published by de Kantdrawing on 13 April 2023.

Tahir Abbas

Tahir Abbas is Professor of Radicalisation Studies at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University in The Hague. He holds a PhD in Ethnic Relations from the University of Warwick (2001). His current research interests are the intersections of Islamophobia and radicalisation, gender and violence, inter-generational transmission of Islamism, and ethnic relations.

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