Abandoned: A victim of Rotherham’s child abusers (photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The conservative philosopher Roger Scruton is not as well known for his works of fiction as he is for classics such as The Meaning of Conservatism (1980), Sexual Desire (1986), Green Conservatism (2012) and How to be a Conservative (2014). Perhaps The Disappeared, Scruton’s seventh work of fiction, will earn him the praise he deserves for his beautiful and dramatic prose.
This is a timely novel. It is also brave. Scruton will no doubt be accused of Islamophobia and racism by those that can only hear about multiculturalism as a force for good. As someone whose politics are firmly on the Left, I critique the failure of other leftists to admit that maintaining distinct cultures and allowing them to self-police is problematic, particularly for women and children. Topical issues form the spine of the story, which is set in an unnamed Yorkshire city: honour crimes within the Muslim community, tensions arising from conflicting cultures living in close proximity, and the sexual grooming and exploitation of girls and young women.
This novel took me back to a trial at Sheffield Crown Court in 2010. Eight men sat in the dock accused of rape and other sexual crimes against four girls, three aged 13 and one 16. Razwan Razaq, 30, his 24-year-old brother Umar, Muhammed Zafran Ramzan, 21, Adil Hussain, 20, and Mohsin Khan, 21, were sent to prison for between four-and-a-half and 11 years. Some of them will by now have been released. The girls were all white British and the crimes were committed in and around Rotherham, a fairly typical south Yorkshire town such as that in The Disappeared.
When I broke the Rotherham story, in this magazine, I was immediately written about on Islamophobia Watch, a website that describes its function as “Documenting Anti-Muslim Bigotry”. I remain on the list today, and have no doubt that Scruton may be joining me because of the issues he tackles in the novel. But as with The Disappeared, my Standpoint article was not in any way promoting bigotry towards Muslims. Rather, it was looking at the tensions between the white liberal cowards who dare not speak out against a religious doctrine and cultural view that places women and girls at the bottom of the heap.
The Disappeared is the story of Stephen Haycraft, a teacher at an Academy school whose love for Sharon Williams, a fiercely intelligent 16-year-old child, threatens to destroy them both. Sharon, raised by a dysfunctional mother on a sink estate, has a vulnerability which is seized upon by a number of abusive men. I met a number of girls who were so similar to Sharon’s character that I wonder if Scruton has met victims of grooming gangs as part of his research. The police officers and social workers also reminded me of those I encountered while researching my article on Rotherham.
The beautiful and charismatic Laura Markham is an ambitious investigator dealing with the complexities of rape and trafficking. Justin Fellowes, an eco-warrior, falls for Muhibbah Shahin, a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped forced marriage and is desperately seeking an independent life and identity. Stephen and Justin have one key thing in common: they are both hell-bent on protecting a vulnerable woman.