Sarah’s story and selective social justice

This week has been full of dramatic events (and no, I’m not referring to the pointless mini-dramas of my own life… those tend to be eye-roll worthy, but not blog-worthy).

A poor tourist in a caravan got swept off a cliff in Ireland, Brexit is only six months away (pause to cheer or sob uncontrollably), and Naz Shah, Labour’s shadow minister for equalities, said that pre-natal testing for gender is bad because it allows women to abort baby girls (but it’s apparently still ok to screen for Down’s syndrome).

Phew.

I could have written about Labour’s apparent confusion about the meaning of equality, but I’ve written several abortion-related posts on this blog so I’ll spare you the discomfort. If only to focus on something equally uncomfortable (you didn’t think I’d let you off lightly, did you?)

If you want an eloquent breakdown of the gender-testing saga though, this guy nails it.

Today’s topic is as unpleasant for me to write about as it will doubtless be for you to read. But our avoidance of things that don’t give us the warm fuzzies is precisely what I wish to address.

Earlier this week, I saw a few people had shared a recent article from the Daily Mail. A quick glance at the headline told me this was something to do with a woman in a forced marriage. But nothing prepared me for the horror of what I read.

The Mail article recounts the story of Sarah, a brave young woman who finally managed to escape a living hell. Baroness Caroline Cox, a true heroine when it comes to speaking for the oppressed, described it as the worst sex grooming case she had ever known.

Sarah was kidnapped at the age of 15 by a gang of Pakistani-British, Muslim men. She was forced to marry the gang leader, repeatedly raped, drugged and forced to have eight abortions. She was cut off from the outside world, threatened and beaten.

Sarah’s abuse lasted for 12 years before she eventually escaped.

12 years.

Read the article yourself, let it make you feel sick, and let the reality of this narrative sink in.

If you’re scratching your head wondering why a story like this hasn’t made top headlines everywhere, you’re not alone.

Have any of you ever read Trafficked, by a woman who lives under the alias Sophie Hayes? I read the book sometime last year whilst volunteering with The Sophie Hayes Foundation, an amazing organisation that helps survivors of trafficking to re-integrate into normal life.

The Mail’s article reminded me of Trafficked – change the location and the ethnicities of the perpetrators, and the stories are strikingly similar. Sophie Hayes was a young girl groomed by a man who abducted her, beat her and sold her for sex in Italy. She eventually managed to escape, her captivity lasting around a year. Both Sarah and Sophie became utterly dependent on their captors, fed lies of ‘love’. Both were threatened serious harm to their families if they ever tried to run or tell the police; both were let down by the authorities.

I remember how gruelling it was to read Trafficked. Reading about Sarah gave me a similar feeling of disgust in the pit of my stomach. The fact that such things occur anywhere is a tragedy of the deepest kind; that such things happen under our noses is deserving of impotent rage. This shouldn’t have happened.

Telford and Rotherham shouldn’t have happened. Anyone who has followed these news stories at all knows this already. Thankfully there has been a national acknowledgement of this, too.

What I’m going to say next shouldn’t detract from the seriousness of trafficking. As a whole, it’s an issue that deserves its own blog post, but not today.

Instead I want to make this point: Over time, I’ve been forced to draw an uncomfortable conclusion. We as a nation, and more crucially we the Church, can be selective about social justice.

Rotherham, Telford and Sarah’s story have this in common: The perpetrators were Muslim men of Pakistani origin. The victims were largely white, British, working-class girls.

It must be stressed that actions like the ones carried out against these girls are committed by a very small minority of Muslims, who justify their behaviour based on certain teachings found in the Qu’ran. I’m not suggesting in any way that we should respond with anger, aggression or hatred towards the Muslim community.

The social status of these girls, it has been speculated, may help to explain why the authorities did not come through for these girls – they weren’t taken seriously enough, not valued enough. That itself is deplorable.

And the religious background of the perpetrators? This is where it gets more uncomfortable still. There’s little doubt that some share of the blame falls on political correctness.

The term ‘Islamophobia’ is flung around like a boomerang these days, and there’s a cost. Women like Sarah have been failed at least partly because no-one wanted to be labelled Islamophobic.

Even the security of our cities has been put at risk, due to fear of Islamophobia. Remember when London mayor Sadiq Khan claimed that terrorist attacks are just ‘part and parcel of living in a major city?’

The national reluctance to name and tackle certain evils is shameful. The Telford scandal didn’t get nearly as much media coverage as it should have. The feminists, normally brash and vocal, tend to go into hiding when stories of oppression against women have a connection to Islam.

I don’t want to distract from the weight of Sarah’s story. But there’s a wider point here to be made: Not all injustices are addressed with the same gravitas. In my experience at least, human trafficking has been discussed in church, and rightly so. Islam and evils that are carried out in its name? Not so much.

Pointing the finger at a problem won’t make it disappear. But identifying, understanding and discussing hard issues is surely what spurs people into action.

As Christians, we have the power of prayer and intercession; the power to prophesy light into darkness.

I love the passionate prayer for our communities that I’ve seen in churches – if we could only extend that to some of these harder issues too!

We might as individuals be called to focus on specific issues, certainly. But as a collective, we can’t altogether blot out topics we don’t like.

We can’t decide which captives we want to set free. That is not the way of Christ.

A quote that has been attributed to Martin Luther (though probably wasn’t his) reads: “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

Let’s pray for conviction to hit us where we’ve bowed to anything other than Jesus as Lord; when we’ve bottled it, jumped on popular bandwagons or played it safe. Let’s ask to be broken for what breaks the heart of God, and then, in His strength, to act.

 

I wish I didn’t have to caveat everything I say but I will say this anyway – among other things I am suggesting that we need to be taking Islam more seriously. I am not suggesting a whole community be blamed for the evil actions of a small minority. Our war is NEVER against flesh and blood.

Anyway if you are interested in learning more about Islam as a belief system, atheist-saved-by-grace David Wood is a fount of knowledge and sarcastic eyebrows.

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