Rotherham child sex abuse scandal – Multiculturalism isn’t the problem, the interpretation of it is.

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August 29, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

rotherham abuse multiculturalism

It seems that the main culprit in the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal has been named as multiculturalism. Some have take the opportunity to argue that given multiculturalism was the cause of why the systematic grooming and abuse of 1400 young girls was ignored and stifled from 1997 to 2013. Therefore multiculturalism must be a “bad” thing and should be discontinued. I would like to argue that there is nothing wrong with multiculturalism, but rather with the interpretation of it by those people who could have saved the girls from their ordeal. We should be celebrating multiculturalism in this country, because it is what can make us special. We should not be using it to shy away from exposing crime.

Multiculturalism can be defined in many ways – It could be said to be where a society made up of a diverse range of cultures and identities, and one that emphasises the need for a continuous process of mutual engagement and learning about each other with respect, understanding and tolerance. It can mean that being British doesn’t have to be a single culture but rather integration within Britain can be the co-existence of communities and unimpeded movement between them, rather than assimilation. Some argue that people can have their own cultural beliefs and they happily coexist – BUT there is a common thread of Britishness or whatever you want to call it to hold society together. The main point is that it is about valuing diversity.

Looked at in those ways, multiculturalism can seem extremely positive, and I for one, having experienced working in a school in which 70 different first languages were spoken, and where an “international evening” where music, dance and food from around the world are shared is held every year, have seen where it can have extremely positive interpretations. The experience of being educated every day among so many different cultures, none of which were stifled, led to an ethnic cohesiveness that every child from that school has carried onto their future lives.

However, others have interpreted multiculturalism in a rather more defensive and negative way, and this is where we have a problem. On Tuesday, an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham commissioned by Rotherham Borough Council and presented by Professor Alexis Jay (which you can read by clicking here – sit down when you do so, it is very harrowing), found that while the majority of perpetrators were known to be Asian or of Pakistani heritage, several council staff described themselves as being nervous about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others, the report noted, “remembered clear direction from their managers” not to make such identification. One Home Office researcher, attempting to raise concerns with senior police officers in 2002 over the level of abuse, was told not to do so again, and was subsequently suspended and sidelined (p92 of the report).

The Times reports today that the former Rotherham MP Denis MacShane spoke candidly of his own failure to do more and shed some light on why the local party did not act. He blamed a “culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural unity boat” for the failure of numerous agencies and individuals to act. A former MP can sometimes say a lot more than those still in post. MacShane said: “I should have burrowed into this. Perhaps, yes, as a true Guardian reader and a liberal leftie, I suppose, I didn’t want to raise that too hard.”

It’s also worth remembering that Rotherham Council, back in 2012, removed three Eastern European children from their foster parents because the couple, who had been on the approved list for fostering for seven years, were members of UKIP. Apparently, the party’s ideological mistrust of multiculturalism meant that the couple would not be able to “meet the children’s cultural and ethnic needs” and that was that. It’s worth clicking on this link and listening to the council’s strategic director of children and young people’s services, Joyce Thacker’s explanation for this.

What these two issues indicate is that Rotherham Council, who are dominated completely by Labour, had interpreted multiculturalism in way that was dangerous, NOT that multiculturalism itself is a problem. I am not making a party political point here, because these interpretations of multiculturalism could have been made by any particular politician given the highly politically charged atmosphere around multiculturalism and diversity over the past two decades. I AM arguing that if an interpretation of an ideology (and multiculturalism is an ideology) can lead to the unfettered grooming and gang-raping of 1400 young girls, then we need to be very clear on the limits of the ideology and clear on guidance for how it should be interpreted.

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