In my last post, I discussed the revelations from Rotherham, England. In a town of some 250,000 people, at least 1,400 school-age girls have been “groomed” for prostitution by organized gangs. Grooming begins with seduction by “lover boys” and ends in abduction, trafficking, and confinement. It is this final stage that apparently explains why some 500 girls were missing from the 15 to 19 age group at the last census.
Two more points. All of the girls are white, and all of the groomers are Pakistani, except for a few Afghans and Roma.
Even before the latest revelations, and even in antiracist circles, there was a growing (though reluctant) awareness that this social problem is disproportionately “Asian,” a term that increasingly means Muslim South Asian. The cause, however, seems elusive:
[...] this disparity begs further exploration and, if possible, explanation. Admittedly, this is not an easy job. Complex social issues can rarely be explained in terms of a single factor and moving from correlation to causality is particularly challenging. Nonetheless, in CSE [child sexual exploitation], as with other crimes, observed relationships between race and offending may well be mediated by social, structural or situational factors. Asians, like whites or blacks, do not commit CSE offences because they are Asian, white or black. This lazy, circular logic, verging on quasi-geneticism, would label every Asian adult equally a groomer-in-waiting and fails to address the immediate precipitates of CSE, such as ready access to children and low levels of formal or informal surveillance to constrain deviant behaviour. (Cockbain, 2013)
But if we wish to understand constraints on deviancy, one key variable may be ethnicity, particularly if an ethnic boundary separates the victim from the victimizer. It is precisely within this underdetermined space that such constraints are most likely to break down.
The limits to shame
In most of the world’s cultures, deviant behavior is kept in check by shaming. A wrongdoing is witnessed by other people, who spread the word to others. The wrongdoers feel shame, knowing that their reputation is now tarnished. In cases of severe wrongdoing, they may have to leave their community.
As a means to keep deviancy in check, shaming has three limitations:
- It cannot control behavior that is not witnessed by anyone other than the wrongdoers themselves.
- It cannot control behavior that is aimed at someone outside one’s community.
- Because shame is socially mediated, it is less effective in modern Western societies, where people generally interact as anonymous individuals.
A minority of world cultures supplement shame with another means of behavior control. These cultures, essentially those of Western Europe, rely much more on internal mental mechanisms—guilt and affective empathy—to enforce social rules that have the perceived backing of moral authority. You feel guilt when you break a rule or even merely think about breaking it. No witnesses are necessary, other than the imaginary one inside your mind (Benedict, (1946 ). Similarly, no one tells you to feel empathy when you see another person unjustly suffering. Refusal to act on these feelings can lead to anguish, depression and, ultimately, suicidal ideation (Jadhav, 1996;O’Connor et al.,2007). Guilt and empathy are thus more effective than shame as means to control behavior.
The capacity to feel guilt and empathy varies from one individual to another, the heritability being moderate to high (Chakrabarti and Baron-Cohen, 2013; Daviset al., 1994). There has thus been a potential for gene-culture co-evolution, i.e., guilt cultures may have selected for individuals with a higher capacity for guilt and empathy. Even if the behavioral differences between guilt cultures and shame cultures are entirely softwired, the consequences are nonetheless real.
From shame culture to guilt culture
Immigration is not just a movement from one place to another. It is also a movement from one culture to another. In Britain in general, it has largely involved people coming to a guilt culture from various shame cultures in South Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
In South Asia, be it Hindu India or Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh, shaming provides a woman with no protection from unwanted sexual advances once she ventures beyond her own neighborhood:
The prime danger is from male strangers who are seen as liable to take advantage of an unescorted woman. Such strangers, as a category, are presumed to be sexually predatory and always ready to pounce. Some young men (and some not so young) reinforce that notion in town streets and in buses through the common practice known in Indian English as “eve-teasing.” In the anonymity of the streets, some men who would spring fiercely to the defense of the women of their own families, leer, hoot, pinch, and make sexually pointed remarks at passing women whom they do not know and who do not know them [...]. However, they rarely act that way in their own mohalla, neighbourhood. (Mandelbaum, 1993, pp. 9-10)
In a shame culture, a wrongdoing is not shameful if the witnesses are from outside one’s “moral community.” Often, there is no clear boundary between outside and inside; the moral community simply fades away as one goes farther away from the people one knows. The boundary is much more clear-cut if it coincides with a difference in religion. When Moroccan and Turkish “lover boys” were interviewed in Amsterdam, it was found that their identity as Muslims strongly influenced how they perceived their victims:
One pimp told us that it was not only easier to get Dutch girls into prostitution, but that they were worth less than other girls and therefore deserved to end up as prostitutes. ‘Culturally and religiously, a Dutch girl is little more than a pig to a loverboy. She’s nothing, she’s of no value. When that’s what you’re thinking, you can completely block out your emotions.’ As mentioned, most loverboys were reluctant to manipulate the daughters of immigrants into prostitution, especially when it came to girls leading a pious life. ‘We are obligated to treat Moroccan girls as we would treat our own sisters; we can’t treat them as rags. You can’t just make a Moroccan girl work for you. (…) Listen, when a Moroccan girl wants to do it, that’s different. But if she goes to school and wears a headscarf, it’s just not right’. (Van San and Bovenkerk,2013)
Muslim girls were not avoided, however, solely out of loyalty to Islam.
They [lover boys] had a lot more trouble with the daughters of immigrants, ‘because those families have respect for each other.’ In their view, this was not the case with Dutch girls: ‘Dutch girls really are the easiest. (…) Nowadays, there are girls of thirteen or fourteen years old who have already lost their virginity. They go to clubs and discos and stay away from home for a whole weekend. They want to go out, they want new clothes, but they don’t have the money. When a loverboy comes along and the girl spots him and he seems like a nice boy, things happen… Meeting a loverboy is like hitting the jackpot, you know what I mean?’ (Van San and Bovenkerk, 2013)
The lover boy, an adaptation to female mate scarcity?
Keep in mind that Muslims are not the only group to be overrepresented in this social niche. Among the lover boys interviewed by Van San and Bovenkerk (2013), half were Muslims (Moroccans, Turks) and half were from the Dutch West Indies. In the British OCCE study on child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, around 24% of the suspects were neither white nor Asian, being probably blacks of Caribbean or African origin (Cockbain, 2013).
Thus, in addition to the difference of religion, and the resulting moral boundary between victim and victimizer, there seems to be another factor in the genesis of lover boys. This factor is nonreligious and would apply not only to the Muslim world but also to sub-Saharan Africa and its diaspora. In both culture areas, many young men are inevitably shut out of the marriage market because of excess female mortality and high polygyny rates (5-10% in the Muslim world and 20-40% in sub-Saharan Africa) (D’Souza and Chen, 1980; Fuse and Crenshaw, 2006; Goody, 1973, pp. 175-190; Pebley and Mbugua, 1989). There may have therefore been selection for young men who can exploit sexual opportunities, if and when they arise, via specific personality traits.
Alvergne et al. (2009, 2010a, 2010b) explored the relationship between male personality and sexual competition in the high-polygyny environment of Senegal. There was no correlation among Senegalese men between mating success and most personality traits, i.e., neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness. There was a strong correlation, however, with extraversion, defined as “pro-social behavior which reflects sociability, assertiveness, activity, dominance and positive emotions.” Men with above-medium extraversion were 40% more likely to have more than one wife than those with below-medium extraversion, after controlling for age. Furthermore, this personality trait correlated with higher testosterone levels. It thus seems to be part of the male toolkit for mating success in a high-polygyny environment.
From antiracism to anti-Islamism
It’s one thing to look for answers. In this, anthropology can offer some insights. It’s quite another to translate the explanation into applicable solutions. To go from one to the other may involve surmounting mental and political obstacles.
First, most Britons have been living in denial. Few wish to believe, at least openly, that organized gangs are preying on school-age girls. Fewer wish to believe that the gangs are overwhelmingly non-white and largely Muslim. And even fewer wish to believe the extent of the problem: perhaps one in ten of Rotherham’s white families, if not more. It all sounds like vicious propaganda that only ugly hate-filled people could believe.
Yet it’s true. So what comes next? Many disillusioned antiracists will likely end up seeing Islam, and not racism, as the problem. The solution will therefore be to secularize Muslim culture and replace it with an assimilated, Westernized version, like modern Christianity.
Politically, anti-Islamism is attractive. It has the merit of framing the problem in ideological and not racial terms. It is also likely to win over much of the political elite, particularly those who have backed previous military interventions in the Muslim world and would like to see more.
But will it work? Let’s assume anti-Islamists are not sidetracked into cheerleading a new round of foreign interventions “to get to the root of the problem.” Let’s also assume the focus is on assimilating Muslims living in Britain. Unfortunately, not only will this approach fail to solve the problem, it will actually make things worse.
In a Western context, assimilation does not mean giving up the restraints of one culture and taking on those of another. It means the first but not the second. Immigrants leave an environment where behavior is restrained mainly by external controls (shaming, family discipline, community surveillance) and they enter one where behavior is restrained mainly by internal controls (guilt, empathy). To the extent that assimilation happens, external social controls will weaken and may even disappear, but they will not be replaced by internal mental controls. There is no known way to give people a greater capacity for guilt and empathy than what they already have. No such psychotherapy exists. This is true even if we assume that population differences in these two traits are due solely to cultural conditioning, and not to inborn tendencies.
Assimilation is already making things worse by dissolving traditional restraints on behavior and leaving nothing in their place. Keep in mind that grooming is largely absent from the 1st generation of Britain’s Pakistani community. It’s much more present among young men of the 2nd and 3rd generations. They are very much into contemporary Western culture and are freely borrowing those elements that appeal to them the most:
Taj refers to ‘. . . the growing popularity of the “gangsta” fashion affected by local youths as they adopt the clothing and elements of the attitudes of disenchanted urban American youth gangs’ (1996, p.4). Khan describes ‘This new youth Pakistani “street culture” [as] male dominated and highly macho’ (1997, p.18), linking drug dependency among young Pakistani men with their involvement in violent crime, including prostitution. (Macey, 1999)
Accusations of “racism” likewise reflect an insider’s view of Western society and its weak points:
When I asked about racial harassment by the police, the women reacted with amusement. One of them said: ‘Well, they would, wouldn’t they? After all, they know it’s these lads who’re doing the dealing’. Another stated that ‘the lads’ had planned to accuse the police of racism because they had found this an effective weapon against authority in the past. In sum, while it seems unlikely that the Bradford police force contains no racists in its ranks, to ‘explain’ Pakistani male violence solely, or even mainly, as a reaction to police racism might well be over-simplified. (Macey, 1999)
The result is an unstable hybrid culture that is as foreign to 1st generation immigrants as it is to native Britons:
These young men have constructed an ethnic and religious identity which goes beyond hybridity in containing a high level of contradiction — a contradiction which is highly functional in its facilitation of dual standards, hypocrisy and legitimation, which are used as resources to maintain power over women. These aspects of male behaviour and their control function are clearly recognized, and resented, by young Pakistani women. One example quoted to me is the men’s involvement in ‘discos, drink, drugs and white women’, while simultaneously putting pressure (to the point of harassment and threatened violence) on Pakistani women to stay at home and behave as ‘good’ Muslim women. (Macey,1999)
Yes, the whole issue is a messy ball of wax. The worst part is the reluctance not just to discuss it but even to think it through, the result being that the proposed solutions have only a vague connection to the actual problem, which is neither “racism” nor “Islamism.”
What then is the problem? It’s the mass migration of certain communities from an environment where behavior is subject to certain checks and balances to one where these are virtually absent.
Why do you think Pakistani parents want their daughters to wear headscarves or at least dress modestly? Are they being slaves to hidebound custom? Or is it because they come from a society where many single men are, in fact, sexual predators?
And that’s just one aspect of a much larger problem. Humans have adapted to local circumstances in many different ways, and these adaptations involve mental traits with moderate to high heritability. Things like time orientation, monotony avoidance, anger threshold, strength and nature of the sexual bond, and so forth. Such differences keep us from becoming interchangeable units in a global community. Each human and each community is a product of adaptations to specific circumstances, and what works in one set of circumstances may not work so well in another.
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