Religious people behaving badly (and far, far worse), one.

I begin with behaviour that is predictable, but merely somewhere between naughty and bad:

The Anglican and the Roman Catholic churches are still officially opposed to mitochondrial donation, even though the House of Commons voted convincingly in favour of it as a way of preventing incurable hereditary diseases, and even though most people in the medical and scientific communities say such donation is a remarkably beneficial procedure that will help thousands of people now and in the future.

However, now for the far more worrying confirmation that religious people sometimes behave unimaginably badly. It is because of such behaviour that I am not uploading any photos to leaven the content. The actions recorded below are so terrible that any images would detract from their horror:

News from the self-styled Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq reveals that human beings – sorry, men (accuracy is required in these post, as you know) – have descended to new levels of depravity. Not long after two Japanese captives were beheaded, a Jordanian pilot was set on fire inside a cage and his murder filmed for the world to see (the film is said to last about twenty minutes). A man alleged to be gay was strapped to a chair and thrown to the ground from the top of a six or seven storey building. The man somehow survived the fall but was stoned and beaten to death by a mob waiting below. An Islamic State document has been translated to reveal in quite shocking detail how girls and women should be treated (e.g. they should be denied access to education once they are aged about sixteen). One of the most worrying things the document says is that girls can be married when they are as young as nine. And just this week, a Channel Four News’ journalist interviewed a few Yazidi women who had somehow escaped from their Islamic State captors. The women shared dreadful stories about Yazidis being forcibly converted to Islam, Yazidi men being murdered, Yazidi women and girls being sold as slaves in markets and Yazidi women being forced into sexual slavery. Meanwhile, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child confirms that abducted Iraqi children are being sold into sexual slavery, and young people have been beheaded, crucified and buried alive. It is also said that “mentally challenged” children are used as suicide bombers.

The oppression and the atrocities in Islamic State are now so bestial that even Al-Qaeda has condemned some of the militants’ actions. I feel compelled to ask: how is it that people are capable of such cruelties against fellow human beings? And how is it that people are capable of the cruelties revealed this week of what happens to sheep inside a halal abattoir in Thirsk? And why is the common link between the abattoir in Thirsk and Islamic State the religion of Islam itself?

Sadly, this is not the limit to religious people behaving very badly. Just this week it has been announced that, as part of Operation Sanctuary in North-East England, twenty males aged between twenty-two and forty-one have been arrested for allegedly grooming and/or sexually exploiting children and young women. All the men would appear to be Muslim and most are of Pakistani origin. Some of the men have already appeared in court and been charged for their alleged crimes.

Northumbria Police, who are responsible for Operation Sanctuary and have undertaken enquiries with admirable patience, determination and respect for the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims on their patch, whether Pakistani in origin or not, issued the following statement last week:

A number of men will appear before Magistrates today charged with a range of offences as part of Operation Sanctuary, the investigation into crimes of a sexual nature against vulnerable women and girls. 
We are limited in what we can say as legal proceedings are now live and must avoid any statements that could breach legal restrictions and put prosecutions at risk.


Operation Sanctuary will not end. It is a wide-ranging investigation into many different crimes of a sexual nature against vulnerable women and girls. Today’s charges are just one element of this.


The welfare of victims is our priority and we have worked closely with other agencies to ensure they have the appropriate support in place.


We have had tremendous support from the public and businesses and need this to continue. We would urge people to be vigilant and, if something doesn’t look or feel right, we ask them to contact us.
 We encourage anyone who wants to report such crimes to the police to do so. People who report such crimes will be believed and they will be supported.


Some people or groups may try to use Operation Sanctuary to build resentment. Our community has a history of harmonious and tolerant relations. Anyone who is subject to hate crime should report it to the police and we will investigate.


By working together we can continue to ensure out towns and cities are safe places for women and girls to live in, to work in and to visit.

The above is a perfectly judged statement. But read what follows, a summary of a media briefing called by the police and so-called leaders of the local Pakistani Muslim community following the news about the most recent arrests and charges:

Yes, I attended the media briefing by the police. The Deputy Chief Constable was very clear about his intentions. When pressed to say whether a particular community is more prone than others to groom and sexually exploit girls and women, he would not point fingers, but he urged the (unnamed) community to take responsibility for the problems that exist within it and, if such responsibility is assumed, the police will help in any way they can. But when it came to hear from people within the community most responsible for such grooming and sexual exploitation, they shifted discussions to anywhere but where attention should have rested. Result? They wriggled out of committing to do anything.

My contact at the media briefing went on to say:

The community from which the offenders originate has to seize the initiative, then it can ask other communities for support and guidance. The police position is clear: grasp the nettle, take responsibility for something that is obviously yours to address, and we, the police, will help whenever help is needed.

Non-Muslim communities cannot help without Muslim leaders being at the forefront of solving this terrible problem themselves (ditto the problem of extremism among an alarming number of young Muslims). Some Muslim leaders kept on repeating the same mantra that we have to handle the problem collectively, and that other faith groups should be more involved in challenging such grooming and sexual exploitation. But anyone meddling in sensitive in-house Muslim affairs runs the risk of being condemned as Islamophobic! I do not consider that such evasive answers are going to help. 

I suppose the reality is that the self-styled leaders of the Muslim and/or Pakistani community do not represent their community, and they certainly have very little influence over the younger people in their community.

Hmmm: I fear my source of information is only too correct in his evaluation of the situation.

A final insight into these alarming developments. A good Sikh friend of mine who engages in lots of remarkable charitable endeavours is currently spearheading a project in which female victims of grooming and sexual exploitation in the Leeds and Bradford area have been brought to safe houses in the Newcastle area where they are slowly being helped to resume what might be called a normal life. As part of resuming a normal life, the young women are being prepared for their GCSE exams, which they have all failed or been unable to sit even once, and my friend is currently arranging for tuition in Newcastle settings where the young women feel safe and secure.

Of course, although there are many cases of religious women behaving badly (e.g. nuns in the Roman Catholic Church who, in the past, treated orphaned children and unmarried mothers in Ireland in ways that were abominable), religious people behaving badly is invariably a story of men behaving badly (and this is borne out by everything above, I fear). This is why every person who subscribes to religion should challenge patriarchy when they encounter it. I am confident that patriarchal attitudes underscore many, perhaps most, instances of religious people behaving badly. If I am incorrect, please put me right.

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