Jack Straw’s claims that some Pakistani sex-groomers see white girls as ‘easy meat’ has sparked a furious local and national debate.
Community leaders and councillors from all parties attacked him for talking of a ‘specific problem’ involving Pakistanis after two men, who subjected a series of vulnerable girls to rapes and sexual assaults, were given indefinite jail terms.
But others like Ann Cryer, the former Labour MP for Keighley, West Yorkshire, said Mr Straw should be commended for highlighting a problem Muslim MPs were ‘not prepared to confront’.
And over 1,000 Lancashire Telegraph readers have given the Blackburn MP overwhelming support in our online poll.
Fellow Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the home affairs select committee, insisted the Derby case was not symbolic of any ‘cultural problem’.
He said: “I have a lot of Pakistanis in my constituency, so does Jack Straw. I don’t think this is a ‘cultural problem’.”
However former MP Mrs Cryer praised Mr Straw and said: “The vast majority of young Asian men are fine, but there’s a minority who do not behave properly towards white women and sweeping it under the carpet will only make matters worse.
“If these Asian men behaved in the same way to young Muslim girls they’d end up in very hot water in their community.
"That’s why they turn to young white girls.”
Mrs Cryer, who campaigns for women’s rights, said the leaders of their community should be telling them ‘this is no way for young Muslims to behave’.
Lancashire Muslims, a group representing professional and business people, issued a statement condemning the actions of gangs of abusers and said they should be brought before courts and victims should be supported.
“Rather than asking Mr Straw to apologise we ask for all politicians to tackle the wider issues and the breakdown of moral responsibility across society,” they added.
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “If Jack Straw, when he was Home Secretary, checked the prisons I am sure there were probably more members of the indigenous community in prison, who had been grooming girls, than other communities.
"I would not condemn one particular community. It is a horrific crime regardless of who is involved.”
Coun Shah Hussain, who represents Burnley’s predominately Asian Daneshouse and Stoneyholme ward, said: “It is unfortunate that Jack has come out and labelled an entire community in this way.
"It is an issue in the community, and to say it is not would be wrong.
"But saying it is just men of Pakistani heritage is victimising that community.”
Coun Hussain, an experienced youth worker, said he was aware of young Asian women also being groomed by older men and of similar cases in Burnley and Padiham involving white men.
Salim Mulla, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, admitted there was a problem in the town which was taken ‘very seriously'.
He said: “We have done a lot of work in the Muslim community.
"However, the problem does still exist and it is down to the high level of deprivation in this town and a failure in the system resulting in these young men turning to gang culture and committing crime.
“We will not brush this under the carpet but it is not right to just blame one section of the community because exploitation and grooming is taking place across the wider community.”
Blackburn with Darwen council leader Kate Hollern also attacked her Labour colleague.
She said: “It is absolutely wrong to say that it is a cultural issue because it is a criminal issue.
"Jack is wrong to single out Pakistani men because young girls are being abused by men from all sections of the community and we need to work together to stamp it out.
“I totally disagree with the comments about Pakistani men seeing white girls as ‘easy meat’ and it is not right to label them in this way.
"Those who commit these crimes are scum and should be brought to justice.”
Arshid Mahmood, Corporation Park councillor, said he would be seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Straw to discuss the comments.
He said: “It is a minority of Pakistani men that exploit young vulnerable women.
"I am disappointed he has highlighted it as a problem within one community because this is not a cultural problem.”
Mohammed Shafique, director of national Muslim youth group the Ramadhan Foundation said he raised concerns about the problem two years ago.
He said: “It is a sad reality that there are Pakistan en – 53 convictions in the past few years – who have been going around grooming white teenagers aged under 16.
"It is time for communities across the UK to stand up against this.”
However, he added: “It is not a race issue or a Muslim issue. It is about criminality.
"Some of these men see white girls as having not as high a moral standing as their own. That is abhorrent and a form of racism.
“These gangs that operate are criminals. There’s nothing in their culture, there’s nothing in their religion to suggest that this sort of thing is ingrained.
“And for Jack Straw, a former home secretary, to suggest that this somehow is ingrained within young Pakistani men, I think is quite dangerous.”