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  Opinion   Oped  14 Apr 2018  If crime is rising, look at the roots

If crime is rising, look at the roots

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Apr 14, 2018, 5:57 am IST
Updated : Apr 14, 2018, 5:57 am IST

The conference broadened its core topic out as the definitions of “sexual”, of “abuse” and of “institution” allow.

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London (Photo: AFP)
 Sadiq Khan, mayor of London (Photo: AFP)

“I think I’ll announce my funeral
Just to see who stays away
And what excuse they’ve contrived
As exigencies that day

Life must go on with its demands
Remorse is just a waste
Bestowed on those who pass away
Even those whom we embraced

For those who dutifully come
There’ll be wine and bread
Though some of those will only come
To make sure I am dead.”
From The Big Big Bamboo, Bamboo by Bachchoo

London has in the last three months experienced more murders on the street than New York. Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, and Amber Rudd, UK home secretary, have called conferences and think tanks to discuss and “solve” the issue.

That’s political chatter. Is there a solution to the fact that a 17-year-old girl is killed in a drive-by shooting? Or that 20 teenagers have been killed in two months through stabbings on the capital’s streets?

If there is a “solution” it has to start with a hard look at who is doing what to whom and why.

Let me deviate, gentle reader, just for a moment to describe my experience and intervention at an event to which I was recently invited.

Sponsored by a national newspaper, the Telegraph (known popularly as the Torygraph because it has stayed for all its life in the blue section of the ideological spectrum, never venturing to step even gingerly towards red opinion), the conference was about the sexual abuse of women being ingrained in institutional structures and traditions.

When I was asked to chair one of the sessions I couldn’t see why, and said so. I told the people who’d invited me that a woman should be chairing this panel and that I didn’t feel qualified. I politely refused, but was called on the phone the day before the conference and told the organisers had ignored my refusal and put my name down on the publicity blurb and would I please not let the friends who’d asked me down? I went.

The conference broadened its core topic out as the definitions of “sexual”, of “abuse” and of “institution” allow.

The three women speakers whose session I was chairing were very articulate in their expansive broadening of the meaning of these terms. One of them spoke of having been subject as an infant to female genital mutilation. Another spoke of being beaten and battered by her partners. The third talked about the broader definitions of unacceptable sexual behaviour and, predictably, of rape being an assertion of power balances rather than an attempt to get bodily gratification.

You may have concluded, gentle reader, that the large and uniformly female audience for this event was in complete and complementary agreement with everything that was said from the platform.

In an attempt to be more challenging, I said the term “institution” should of course not be restricted to Hollywood, to the BBC, to NGO relief organisations in Haiti or to any office or corporate hierarchy. It could and should apply to the institution of caste in India, which has legitimised rape as the right of some higher caste men.

There are, I went on, cultural institutions that allow and connive at abuse. My first example was the speaker sitting to my left who was subjected to female genital mutilation not because she was born a woman or a Muslim, but because she came from a particular part of North Africa. The observation was not popular in the hall.

My second example was the cases in the past years in the English cities of Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, Bradford and Telford, where gangs of men from the immigrant communities of Mirpur (Pakistan) had been convicted of grooming young, white girls. The girls were almost always those without the protection of families and lived in “care homes” under the uncaring aegis of the state. The groomers lured them into drugs and sex and then traded them amongst the gang and others. I said these group-crimes clearly had common features and sub-cultural origins.

My platform and some of the audience disagreed. We were all human beings and criminals were criminals, of whatever colour, religion or cultural background, was the burden of their protest. I agreed. I wasn’t denying that there were rapists and predators who were Christian and white.

I was, I thought constructively, pointing to the obvious. Unless one looked at the sub-cultural roots and mentalities behind these crimes — and with the cases I had mentioned there was as clear a pattern as planets going around the sun — there could be no depth of understanding and no solution. Yes, crime was crime and once detected should be punished. Prevention would be socially more desirable.

The audience didn’t seem to agree. I didn’t ask for a show of hands. I never object to being disagreed with but hate losing.

So, back to the knife-and-gun crime that has claimed the life of scores of young people in London and other cities in the past few years. The victims and the perpetrators are almost all black. Very many of the killings are the result of gang rivalry, a fight for drug territories in some cases, but in others, foolishly and tragically, the exercise of injured egos. There may not be an absolute uniformity to the backgrounds and family circumstances of the victims and murderers, but there is such a uniformity in the sub-cultures they espouse.

It’s now being said by some commentators, including the home secretary that a form of gangster-rap music called Drill, with lyrics glorifying rivalry, revenge and murder goes some way to encourage killings on the streets.

I’ve watched Drill videos and disagree. Art, however vile, reflects reality, it doesn’t create it. Lots of killing in Shakespeare’s plays but the audiences of the Royal Shakespeare Company are not notorious for stabbings and drive-by shootings. The home secretary should instead examine the socio-economic causes of ghetto gangs and territorial disputes among the dispossessed. Drill is but the froth on that Sargasso Sea.

Tags: sadiq khan, amber rudd