The massive sexual abuse case in Rotherham, England, has revealed again how awkward and self-defeating the Western response often is to matters that touch on religious identity. Although the independent inquiry led by Professor Alexis Jay is tersely graphic about the 1,400-plus girls, some as young as 11 years old, who were sexually assaulted over several years by organized gangs of mostly Pakistani men, it isn’t detailed about the male predators. The report strongly suggests that all of the rapists and sex traffickers were men who, if you asked them to self-identify, would probably describe themselves as Muslim. A Muslim identity in Europe has become similar to identity politics among Christians in Northern Ireland: It has next to nothing to do with worship and religious ritual and everything to do with the social and cultural milieu in which one is raised. The report shies away from talking much about “ethnicity” and “race”—the preferred words for alluding to the Muslim origins of the boys and men who were methodically raping, and often impregnating, overwhelmingly non-Muslim British girls. British and American press reports that refer to the male predators as “Asian” are also trying to avoid the issue of religion as the common denominator among these men, since surely no one meant to suggest that immigrants of Chinese, Lao, Japanese, Burmese, or Cambodian ancestry were involved in this organized crime. The inquiry and subsequent British press reporting reveal that local officials covered up this entire affair in part because they were concerned about being accused of racism.
Critics of using religion as a common denominator of these rapists and child molesters might argue that there is nothing in the Islamic faith that condones this behavior, and these rapists, if they were even practicing Muslims, were obviously failing to uphold the mores of nearly all Muslims in the United Kingdom, who are surely repulsed by what has happened in Rotherham. Some might say that Great Britain is chock full of non-Muslim rapists, pimps, and sex offenders, which is undoubtedly true. Grotesque sexual predation now seems to be common in the West—more common than in Islamic lands, where sex with minors who are not wives is a deadly risk since family structure, even among the poor, remains fairly solid and male honor is tightly bound to female virtue. Sexual predation of the type seen in Rotherham surely must have as much Western inspiration as Islamic.
This may all be true, but it is beside the point. It ought to be obvious—and it ought to be a major subject of conversation and heated debate—that there is a moral distemper within the Muslim communities of the West, as there is in the Muslim lands of the Greater Middle East. The most severe disorder—the jihadism of groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda and the creed of Wahhabism, based in Saudi Arabia but exported everywhere—afflicts a small percentage of Muslims, but those numbers are sufficiently frightening, especially in an age of technology and global travel. A less severe moral derangement, however, the kind that turns jihad-promoting, raging anti-Semitic legal scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi into popular icons, is much more common. These new moral codes, fed by the dark sides of both Western and Islamic civilizations, are a cancer that non-Muslim Westerners, Western Muslims, and Muslims in the Middle East are poorly combating. It’s not at all ridiculous to suggest that the mores loose in Rotherham, a midsize working-class town of 260,000, where taxi and limousine services run predominantly by South Asian Muslims targeted, gang-raped, prostituted, kidnapped, and trafficked overwhelmingly non-Muslim English girls, are part of the same ethical matrix that encourages young men to abandon Europe for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.