My wife will not let our 11-year-old daughter take the dog for a walk around the large field adjoining our house in case a paedophile jumps out of one of the hawthorn bushes with a bag of sweets or a beguiling promise of puppies. For every yellowhammer singing its insipid chorus, the missus thinks there’s at least one nonce crouched down in the undergrowth beneath, waiting, waiting. We live six miles from the nearest town and two from the nearest village. From the age of six I spent all of my holidays out, playing, and would not be heard of from dawn until dusk. Quite often I would walk a mile or so along reasonably busy roads to Darlington railway station and spend the day on the platforms watching the trains, until, by the age of eight, trains had lost much of their allure.
Such a thing today would be unthink-able, I suppose. Several years ago a report estimated that today’s children forfeited three years of freedom because of parental restrictions, contingent upon real, exaggerated or imagined threats to their wellbeing. It is perhaps one reason why kids today are so hideously fat: no exercise, they don’t get out. At least if a paedo tried to grab one of them they might lose a few pounds trying to run away.
We argue about the dog walk in the field thing, my wife and I. My happiest moments as an 11-year-old were out on afternoon-long walks, by myself or with the dog, and nobody ever tried to bugger me. Perhaps I was not attractive enough. Either way, I feel sorry for my daughter and the strictly limited independence she yearns for. And yet I do not know another middle-class parent who would take my side.
And then we also argued about the Manchester bombing, from similar perspectives. An awkward argument, I feel. And yet in this case my opposition was muted and truth be told I was in secret agreement with my wife. I was arguing, then, for the sake of arguing: an important thing to do in a marriage when there’s nothing much on TV. The point was this. Should children, in some cases very young children, really be at a pop music concert on a school night? In many cases unaccompanied and in some cases accompanied by someone only two or three years older? This is what the lefties, with their absolutist and Manichean view of the world, would call ‘victim-shaming’, I suppose. A vile and horrible thing to do, in the aftermath of such a tragedy. Those poor children died because of individual wickedness, end of story — there must be no caveats, because that would lend justification to the murderer.
The first part is largely true, of course. It was indeed the consequence of wickedness: the usual organised Islamic wickedness. And there are indeed no caveats as such. Simply the question: should they have been there? Was it appropriate? I countered, during this discussion, that this was class-based snobbery, and that my wife would have had little objection if the kids had been watching Daniel Barenboim playing Chopin’s ‘Nocturnes’. Instead of the godawful Ariana Grande. But that was part of her point, too. A woman singing about sex, and little else, to tweenies and sub-tweenies and adolescents. These observations, incidentally, do not remotely lessen the culpability of the murderer and the creed which drove him to murder. It was just: would you, as a parent, let your child do that?
And yet then again, I remember, at the age of 15, hitchhiking 50 miles to watch a Nils Lofgren concert and getting the milk train (just!) back to Middlesbrough. So I am not sure about this. I am in a quandary.
But then would you let your child, if she was, say, 13 or 14, out of the house all evening with no idea where she was? Hanging out, as it happens, at the local kebab take-away shop where those Asian men are ever so friendly and accommodating. Would you not worry a little what she was up to? Wouldn’t you lay down the law and insist she was back at eight or nine o’clock, and check where she went and what she did? Isn’t that what you’re meant to do, as a parent?
This is the other side of the ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ atrocities, and the one we should not mention. We are clear that the men are repulsive animals and guilty. We are clear that the creed played a part in enabling them to view white girls differently to Asian girls. We are clear, too, that the girls were let down by the political correctness and ineptitude of the social services and the police and even, to a lesser degree, the media (which was too reluctant to investigate for too long). But no questions should be asked of the parents?
When appalling things happen, a kind of comforting narrative is concocted from which there must be no divergence whatsoever, otherwise the howls of outrage, the moronic inferno, will be whipped up among the relentlessly active on social media sites. And the narrative is almost always wrong and conceals more than it reveals, to our great detriment further down the line. So, with Manchester, the attack was perpetrated by a deranged individual and had nothing to do with Islam, and everybody, Christian and Muslim, is united and we all stand together and share the same values.
This is clearly baloney, as Douglas Murray pointed out last week. It is a convenient idiocy in which we cloak ourselves. And we should ask the difficult questions: are you absolutely sure this was nothing to do with Islam? Are you absolutely sure that the people at Didsbury Mosque, where the murderer worshipped, share our values? And — should the kids have been there?
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