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Muhibba is a free-thinker, bright and ambitious. Sharon is pale and sad-looking with threadbare clothes and few opportunities. Stephen is worried that Sharon may be vulnerable to abuse. Problems with the social services’ response to Sharon’s chaotic home life, or rather lack of it, are raised by the school’s head teacher when he asks Stephen to try to gather information from the girl about her circumstances: “We have to provide the information we can gather. So that when the girl has been gang-raped, sold into slavery and finally done to death somewhere in Saudi Arabia, social workers can say they did what they could, and in any case they are overworked and underfunded and it is all the government’s fault.”

The police force investigating these  crimes feels that its options have been significantly curtailed by the fallout from the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder. “Ever since the Macpherson report, which issued a general accusation of ‘institutionalised racism’ against the British police,” says the narrator, “they have been confidentially advised to steer clear of all involvement with the immigrant communities.”

The Kassab family, from Basra in Iraq, believe in kindness and integration, and are a welcome contrast to some of the dogmatic sectarian characters whose views pose a threat to democracy and freedom.

Abdul, the father of one of Stephen’s students,  dreams that religious scholars should come together and teach reconciliation, showing love and respect for his new country: “In a society that has offered us protection . . . we commit a terrible offence by hiding our faces when others so openly expose themselves to judgement. The headscarf, yes, but not the veil.”

The book is not without its faults. It takes some work to get to grips with how the characters interact. I regularly had to check back to when a person was first introduced, to remind myself of their place in the scheme of things. The narrative is at times confusing or just too complex. But the author describes the clash of cultures, in this case of mainly Afghan migrants living in Britain, rather brilliantly.

The Disappeared is a nuanced but bleak portrayal of multiculturalism. Scruton does not seek to manipulate the reader but tries to portray much of what is not being said in the current climate of self-censorship: “This thing we’ve been living through,” says Iona Ferguson, the long-suffering social worker, “it’s not about people trafficking, immigration, community relations; it’s not about racism, multiculturalism . . . it’s not about forced marriage, honour killing or the enslavement of women. It is about that girl and how to give her back her life.”

All his characters are flawed and complex, but Scruton attaches equal significance to his Muslim and non-Muslim characters; none is simply good or bad. The Polish immigrant Janusz, for example, is superbly multi-dimensional. Police are shown to be grappling with their own consciences, caught between a fear of being branded racist and a genuine desire, in some cases, to catch the villains and rescue the girls from hell. 

Like my Standpoint article, this novel issues a stark warning about the racist, patronising cultural relativism that allowed these perpetrators to act for so long with impunity.

In Arguments for Conservatism Scruton wrote: “The very reasoning which sets out to destroy the ideas of objective truth and absolute value imposes political correctness as absolutely binding, and cultural relativism as objectively true.” The Disappeared explores, through its intricate plot and compelling characters, the damage this reasoning can do to Western civilisation.
 

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