This is a cross-post from Sedaa
A much-awaited report which contains no big surprises received reactions that were entirely predictable.
From segregation and misogyny, to the child grooming gangs and Sharia councils, Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report pulls no punches.
Towns and cities with high Muslim populations, such as Oldham, Rochdale, Blackburn and Bradford are mentioned as places of concern.
Some of them are areas with large numbers of people who came from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, particularly the rural region of Mirpur. They came to the former mill-towns which now suffer from industrial decline and high levels of deprivation.
Parents still ship their children ‘back home’ to get married, creating ghettos and a “first generation in every generation problem”.
Immigration itself is not a bad thing. The problem is when large numbers of immigrants arrive into areas where there are already large numbers of people from the same background. There is less of an incentive to integrate and learn English if most people in your neighbourhood are going to be from the same village in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Last week’s Policy Exchange survey “Unsettled Belonging” showed Muslims overwhelmingly identify with Britain. And there is a hope that Muslims will become more liberal and secular. But if Muslims choose to live in areas with a high Muslim population, those who are more liberal or non religious will find it difficult to express their views openly, for fear of being attacked. Islamists benefit from this type of environment, as they can say they are trying to cater for the growing Muslim population – remember the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham.
Of course, some have suggested that “white people need to integrate too”. The report says:
“In recent decades, it appears that in some respects, rather than becoming more of a classless society, sections of white working class Britain have become more isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the white British population.”
White British boys are falling behind students from other ethnic backgrounds, which will no doubt only help foster the narrative that no one cares about the white population. It partly explain why we have seen Britain voting to leave the European Union and the rise of parties such as UKIP.
In Oldham, two schools with one dominant ethnic group were merged to form one large school. The majority white Counthill School and majority Pakistani Breezehill School became the Waterhead Academy. Though the school is not doing so well academically it is helping bridge the divide among two communities.
If this model can be replicated then this can help community cohesion, as secondary schools tend to be places where young people from different backgrounds will mix. But there is no point in the Government talking about the need to end segregation if it is continuing to approve the creation of faith schools.
The report also finds – again, to no one’s surprise – that Muslims tend to marry spouses from abroad, particularly Pakistan.
But even if those people marry their fellow Brits, it is more likely to be someone from their “own community” – that is to say, someone who is either related to them or has links to the same village/town in their parents’ country of origin. So communities are hardly becoming more diverse.
Dame Louise also mentions Sharia ‘courts’ and the fact that many Muslim women are in unregistered marriages, which leaves them vulnerable. Critics of the report claim Muslim women are unfairly targeted in the review. Let’s admit it. Muslim women do face more barriers – mostly from their own communities.
When Muslim women themselves are saying that they are restricted by their own spouses or families, then why is it all being dismissed as being ‘Islamophobic’? When Muslim – and south Asian women in general – used to speak out against forced marriages, or African women were speaking out against female genital mutilation, were they also being racist and ‘Islamophobic’?
An important part of the review, which has been missed by most, is the reference to Prevent, which was introduced following the July 7, 2005 attacks on London as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST.
Dame Louise talks about the anti-Prevent lobby who “appear to have an agenda to turn British Muslims against Britain”. The report states:
“These individuals and organisations claim to be advocating on behalf of Muslims and protecting them from discrimination. We repeatedly invited people we met who belonged to these groups, or who held similarly critical views, to suggest alternative approaches. We got nothing in return.”
Well that’s a surprise…
The report tackles the myths behind some of the stories which were very critical of Prevent.
Dame Louise writes about the infamous “terrorist house” case, in which Lancashire Police were reported to have interviewed a pupil referred to Prevent, after he had simply misspelled “terraced house” as “terrorist house” in a class exercise.
In fact, the pupil had also written that “I hate it when my uncle hits me”. The teacher quite appropriately and acting in the best interests of the child, raised a concern. A social worker and neighbourhood police officer then visited the family and concluded that no further action was required. No referral to Prevent was ever made. No Prevent officers were involved and Lancashire Police rightly maintain that they and the school acted responsibly and proportionately.
In an earlier case in May 2015, the parents of a 14 year-old boy started legal action after their son was questioned following a French lesson in which he had been talking about “eco-terrorists”. After the lesson, he was reported to have been taken out of class and asked whether he was affiliated with ISIS. His parents sought a Judicial Review, saying he had been discriminated against because of his Muslim background.
The truth is that the pupil was never referred to Prevent or Child Safeguarding (nor removed from the class), and there was no police involvement. A concern about the boy was correctly raised by a teacher to the school’s Designated Child Protection Officer, who spoke to the pupil in an interview two days later which included asking whether he had “heard of Isis”. The Judicial Review was thrown out of court as totally without merit.
Yet the latter is still used as an excuse to bash Prevent and the boy’s mother, Ifhat Smith, still tells this story to anyone who will listen, despite her dubious links.
It is important that we discuss the issues mentioned in the report and the problems with segregation and mass immigration, rather than denouncing it all as ‘racist’. Indeed, some Muslim commentators have come out with the usual accusations of racism and Islamophobia; they are only interested in being defensive rather than actually coming up with any solutions.
No wonder we are having the same debate today as we were ten years ago. We’ve had similar reports in the past and I have no doubt we will have more in the future, saying the same things. There is little point in recommending what should happen now because it will only fall on deaf ears. Until there is a real political will to actually do something then nothing will change. In the meantime, I await the next report.
Originally published for Sedaa on July 18, 2016
Yet another woman’s life has prematurely been taken in an ‘honour killing’.
Pakistani internet sensation Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her brother on Friday night while at her family home in Multan, Punjab.
After going on the run, her brother Waseem was later arrested. In his confession video, he expressed no regret. “I am proud of what I did. I drugged her first, then I killed her,” said Waseem.”She was bringing dishonor to our family.”
Qandeel’s posts were considered to be controversial in Pakistan. She rose to fame due to the sassy, and increasingly political, videos she posted on Facebook.
Her brother Waseem claims that having his friends share her pictures and video clips was “too much” for him and killing his sister was a better alternative than killing himself.
Both adored and reviled, Qandeel, who was buried on Sunday, referred to herself as a “modern day feminist” and had nearly 750,000 followers on Facebook.
Funny how the media is now fawning over her, the same media that provided outrage porn for its Pakistani citizens, inviting them to get worked up over her ‘lewd’ and ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.
It has brought out all the hypocrites. Mourning the loss of a woman they had probably thought of as a whore or disgrace to her family hours before her murder.
“They could have disowned her”, wrote one person under an article about her death. But even that is a problem. Don’t murder a women, for goodness sake. Just disown her and ostracise her for life. Much better, eh?
As for those telling me not to call it an ‘honour killing’. Yes I know there is no honour in killing. But this type of murder is carried out in the name of honour.
On the list of 145 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report, Pakistan is second to last with regards to gender disparity. According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, violence against women is rampant, with as many as 212 women being killed in the name of ‘honour’ in the first five months of 2016.
When I heard the news I wept all day long, because I am all too familiar with this concept of ‘honour’ that robbed Qandeel of her life.
Just read some of the comments on this piece. There’s no justification for murder, they start by saying. BUT. There’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?
I remember worrying for her safety after hearing the news that she had posted a video with Mufti Abdul Qavi in a hotel room. I wondered, how is this woman still alive in Pakistan doing what she does?
Where is that mufti now? He claimed that Qandeel’s death is a sobering lesson for those who mock clerics. Yet it is perfectly fine for these clerics to meet women alone in a hotel room and offer to marry them. Qandeel also claimed that he tried to hug and kiss her. Police have announced that Mufti Qavi would be included in her murder investigation. But I don’t see any women rounding up to kill him in the name of honour.
Whatever you think of Qandeel, at least she didn’t pretend to be someone she was not. Our societies have raised us to be liars and hypocrites. We can’t do what we want openly so we do it secretly. The worst culprits are religious men such as Mufti Qavi.
Pakistani men (and indeed men from many societies around the world) constantly police women’s minds and bodies. They are terrified of what might happen if women start thinking for themselves and behaving how they want to.
For Qandeel was not just murdered by her brother. She was murdered by them all; her society and nation.
And unfortunately there are women who propagate these beliefs and practices, defending Qandeel’s murder.
This woman clearly does not realise the irony of her words. She is against honour killings but against ‘bey-ghairat’ (shameless), yet ghairat (shame) is the name in which this type of brutality occurs. Shaming Qandeel’s lifestyle choices are exactly what led to her murder.
They say she deserved it because she was provocative. But let us not forget that women can be killed for things that we would deem almost trivial here in the West — going out at night with friends, having a boyfriend, marrying someone whom you love, wearing what you want.
We are constantly watched, monitored and regulated. If we step out of the line we pay the price.
We can’t dress a certain way because it’s ‘disrespectful’ or ‘unIslamic’.
We can’t go out late because that’s not what ‘good girls’ do. We’re not like those gori (white) women who have no honour. We have to say where we’re going, with whom, why we’re going out and what time we’ll return.
Our male counterparts get to do whatever the hell they want with barely any repercussions. When was the last time you heard of a man being killed by his sister, mother or wife in the name of honour?
And this problem is not just restricted to the east. Even here in the west, though we are free in theory the reality is different.
Very few people understand just what it’s like to live a life where, every time you step out of the house, you are worried that someone, somewhere, will see you. And they will, believe me. Your family has eyes and ears everywhere.
Even women who seem free on the surface are suffering. They might have careers and they could even be financially well off, but they’re controlled in other ways.
I’m sick of this. Yet we accept it or tolerate it quietly because, well, that’s what women have to do. For how much longer? For how long must we continue to suffer mentally, emotionally and physically, simply because we’re women and it’s seen as ok?
How do you stand your ground when the odds are stacked against you. You’re standing up to your parents, extended family, the ‘community’ and wider society. Then there’s us. On our own.
We have one life and it’s being wasted away. Be good, they tell us, and we’ll get our reward in the afterlife. A clever way of ensuring we stay in line because, let’s face it, crossing your family is one thing but crossing the Almighty? No thanks. So we continue to suffer in silence.
It’s always women like Qandeel who apparently are a disgrace to their families or their country, but never the men who leer at them or murder them.
We’re labelled whores, goris, beghairat (shameless), coconuts. A man is not a whore — he’s just a man, exercising his rights.
“Men can go out and have shit on their faces but still sit at the dinner table,” one Pakistani woman told me. “But you’re a girl, it’s different.”
Our family honour rests on our bodies; it is a terrible burden to bear.
Despite reports that she was scared for her life, Qandeel wrote that she was a fighter.
“I will bounce back,” she said, adding that she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society.”
Sadly she did not and paid with her life. But all over social media, people are speaking up, condemning this murder.
I implore everyone out there, both men and women, please don’t let Qandeel Baloch die in vain.
Because one day the ‘honour brigade’ might come for you too. And there will be no one left to speak up.
Originally published for Sedaa on April 4, 2016
“Someone’s always watching. Trust me.”
These are the words uttered by college student Salma in the BBC 3 drama Murdered By My Father, as she warns her boyfriend to stay away before someone finds out that they are dating.
We have all been there, have we not ladies? Most of us, from South Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds, where the notions of honour and shame are so important, have always been — and always will be — on our guards whenever we leave the house. Because no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, is always bound to catch you out and report you to your parents. Even when you least expect it. Even when what you are doing is entirely innocent it does not matter. Once word gets out it can blemish a reputation you must keep clean. Women will sometimes pay for this transgression with their lives.
Written by Vinay Patel, Murdered By My Father is a harrowing drama based on testimonials from survivors of ‘honour’ abuse. It tells the story of Salma (played fantastically by Kiran Sonia Sarwar), a young woman who lives on an estate with her widower father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar) and younger brother Hassan (Reiss Jeram).
Like many girls of her age, Salma has a boyfriend, Imi (Mawaan Rizwan), except she has to keep it all a secret from her family and the wider community or else there will be hell to pay. Unfortunately for Salma, she is already promised to someone in marriage — the bland and unremarkable Haroon (Salman Akhtar). It is a painful reminder that her life is not hers, but simply on lease until the time comes for her family members, her community, to reclaim what was never hers. We belong to our fathers, brothers, husbands and the wider community. We are not individuals.
There is a scene in which Shahzad sees his daughter’s pink bra in the bathroom, a symbol that she is no longer a girl, but a woman, a sexual being who is a potential threat to his honour — that bullshit word that is a noose around most women’s necks.
“You carry all of us,” Shahzad explains to his daughter. “I get scared because when they look at you, they see me. You fail, I fail. When you’re safe, I’m safe. When you get married then I can die happy.” This type of emotional blackmail is often deployed as a tactic to ensure females toe the line. Shahzad is not portrayed as a monster, but a man who is trying to do right by both his family and the community. But the latter always wins in the end. It is important that we see this side of Shahzad first to show that these people can switch from loving parents to monsters who will take their children’s lives.
We see Salma and Imi meeting up secretly throughout the drama, savouring their moments of happiness because you know — as we all know painfully too well — that they can be snatched away from you in next to no time. On the day of her engagement, Salma is seen by her fiancé, kissing her boyfriend goodbye. The family and guests are allowed to enjoy their food, unaware of the storm that is about to be unleashed upon them.
And, inevitably, Salma is shamed and dishonoured. The ‘shame’ is also on Shahzad. He has no honour left because he failed to keep his “slag” of a daughter in check. “Take care of your filth!” Haroon spits at the man who will no longer be his father-in-law.
Salma’s younger brother is caught in the middle, wanting to do right by both his father and his big sister, the same sister who doubled as a mother-figure. Younger siblings are routinely put in the cruel position of spying on their siblings, to make sure they’re not up to no good.
Shahzad locks his daughter in a room and we see him fingering a blade, an ominous sign of what will happen. Salma manages to escape to her boyfriend’s house and they make plans to run away together, but she bravely decides to go back home the day after, to make mends, to apologise to her dad. She has nothing to actually apologise for — her only ‘crime’ was to have fallen in love, for wanting to live a life on her own terms and not dictated to by centuries-old honour codes.
Don’t go back, you plead to her. But you remember the title of the drama and you almost wish it weren’t a prediction. Poor Hassan is sent to the shop by his father to buy some sweets, not realising it’s the last time he will see his loving big sister alive.
She naively assumes it will all be okay if she apologises. After all, isn’t that what parents are supposed to do — forgive their children when they make a mistake? But not this time. There will be no forgiveness.
“I did everything for you,” Shahzad shouts at her. “I never asked for anything in return — only that you listen to me in one thing.”
She replies: “You asked me for loads. You just don’t know that you’re doing it.”
In the end it’s not the blade, but her father’s own hands that take away her life. The hands that had once fed her, clothed her, and even embraced her, are the very hands that take away the life he helped create. Shahzad then tries to take his own life, perhaps repulsed by his actions or, more likely, unable to face the community again after ‘losing face’ over this ‘shame’.
What I loved about Salma’s character is that she continued to fight until the very end. She could easily have been portrayed as meek and submissive, and given in to her father’s demands by marrying someone whom she did not love — just for the sake of her ‘honour’. Others will not have had that choice.
I am not ashamed to admit that it made me cry for hours afterwards. I wept for the many, many girls and women whose lives are taken for the sake of ‘honour’. I wept for the girls who were forced to choose between their family or controlling their own destiny. I wept for those girls who could no longer fight back and submitted to the family pressure.
And I wept because I knew that Salma could easily have been me.
Murdered by My Father is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
Originally published for Sedaa on April 16, 2016
This was the week when British Muslims became experts in research methodology.
Trevor Phillips, who led the Equality and Human Rights Commission, presented the Channel 4 show What British Muslims Really Think on Wednesday night, which was based on an ICM survey — and it has created quite a debate.
The ICM surveyed 1,000 Muslims face-to-face and found that:
- One in 25 Muslims (four per cent) said they felt at least some sympathy with people who took part in suicide bombings, while a similar proportion said they had some sympathy with “people who commit terrorist actions as a form of political protest”.
- A quarter – 25 per cent – said they could understand why British school girls could be attracted to become “jihadi brides” overseas.
- Less than half (47 per cent) agreed that Muslims should do more to tackle the causes of extremism in the Muslim community.
- 52 per cent believed homosexuality should not be legal in Britain, 39 per cent agreed “wives should always obey their husbands”, and 31 per cent said it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife.
- 78% said the media had no right publish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
Rather than addressing the important issues raised from this poll, the usual suspects — including left-wing commentators — are either downplaying the worrying responses or dismissing this entirely as ‘Islamophobic’. We don’t like it when our dirty laundry is aired in public. There are either absolutely no problems, or if there are, it’s everyone else’s fault but ours.
This poll didn’t really tell us anything new. It is a fact that British Muslims, on the whole, do tend to be more conservative. As writer and lecturer Kenan Malik points out:
“This is not the first poll to have shown the social conservatism of British Muslims. Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, for instance, conducted a series of surveys with YouGov on religion, politics and social and personal morality, the results of which were published in 2013. I wrote briefly about the findings at the time. The poll showed that religious believers were more liberal on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and assisted dying than usually recognized in public debates. The key exception, however, were Muslims, whom the poll found to be more socially conservative than most other religious groups.”
When asked ‘How strongly do you feel you belong to Britain?’, 86% of Muslims did compared to 83% of the general population. A higher proportion of the general population (17%) felt little attachment to Britain as compared to Muslims (11%).
A large proportion of Muslims believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Thirty-eight per cent thought ‘Jewish people have too much power in Britain’, 39% that they have too much power over the media, and 44% that they have too much power in the business world. But when asked about what they thought of Jews personally, the responses were more positive. Again, this was not a surprise. I have come across far too many Muslims who believe that Jews control the media and are running the world — oh, and the Holocaust did not happen by the way.
Questions have been raised about the methodology of this research (we’re all experts now). It was suggested that, as the survey was done in deprived areas where the population was at least 20% Muslim, it was skewed towards more conservative Muslims. However, the fact is that half of British Muslims do live in areas where there is a large Muslim population. The Muslim Council of Britain’s own research shows that Muslims are more likely to live in deprived areas. So this shows that the research is keeping in line with reality. Anthony Wells, from YouGov, believes this poll on British Muslims is the “best I’ve seen for several years”.
Admittedly, some of the questions were phrased oddly. And Trevor Phillips describing Muslims as a “nation within a nation” will probably alienate those who would be more inclined to agree with him.
Those who have said that this survey is ‘skewed’ have shot themselves in the foot. They have basically just admitted that there are problems when there are large numbers of Muslims living in one area, leading to problems with integration. And if these Muslims surveyed were “more conservative” than Muslims living in areas with fewer Muslims, then why are those people still happy to quote the high percentage of Muslims who identify with Britain? You can’t have it both ways.
When the stats tell us something we don’t like then it’s the usual case of: the sample size isn’t representative, it’s skewed, they’re demonising Muslims again, etc. If this poll is ‘skewed’ then why don’t we dismiss the high figure of Muslims who identify with Britain? Besides, where is the evidence to show that those who live in areas where there are fewer Muslims will naturally have more progressive views?
Roshan Salih, editor of 5 Pillars, attacked the ‘Islamophobic’ survey. His video message is confusing. On the one hand, stating that more than 50% of Muslims want homosexuality banned is “Islamophobic” (of course) but then says this is not surprising because Muslims are conservative and these are “normative Islamic views” anyway. In 2013, over 500 British imams signed a joint letter to The Sunday Telegraph opposing gay marriage, accusing the Government of attacking “the cornerstone of family life”. We are told constantly that certain views are “normative Islamic values”, such as opposing homosexuality and gay marriage, or wanting an Islamic state and a caliphate. But don’t point this out or you are a bigot.
Maya Goodfellow, from Media Diversified, insists that British Muslims are not a homogenous group entirely separate from wider society. But that’s just it. People like Goodfellow do treat Muslims as homogenous. Liberal and ex Muslims are often attacked as ‘native informants’ or ‘not representative’ of mainstream Muslims, as though we should all conform to a certain set of values because we are of Muslim heritage.
Speaking of liberal Muslims, what has frustrated me more than anything is some of the liberal Muslims who have also attacked Trevor Phillips and the survey: we weren’t represented, it’s stereotyping Muslims, they cry. But they were represented. They were the ones who answered in favour of abortion, or homosexuality in the poll.
These are the same people who are constantly mocked, insulted and threatened by the more conservative and extreme elements within Muslims communities. They of all people should know better; they know how bad the situation is for more liberal or reform-minded Muslims. Yet even they have joined the bandwagon and either downplayed or dismissed the survey. If you are on the liberal end of the scale, why get so defensive when someone talks about those who are not so liberal? Yes, yes, so 50% of Muslims have intolerant views towards gay people, but at least they feel British!
There are certainly progressive voices from Muslim communities now speaking out. But, as Trevor Phillips has pointed out, they are not as influential as one would hope. There are far more conservative and reactionary people who are doing their best to silence the progressive voices.
The views of Muslims today are more polarised than the previous generation — but I do believe that the next generation will be even more progressive and enlightened. Another survey conducted in ten years’ time may look very different.
Shaista Gohir is pulling no punches. The chair of the charity Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) UK is continuing to deal blows to the Labour party, accusing it of covering up misogyny and intimidation of Muslim women from the men in their own communnities.
Gohir has been gathering evidence from Muslim women across the country in order to get the party to address the allegations and make some serious changes.
But more revealing is the allegation made by a former Labour councillor, who claims that abuse is being covered up within the Labour party. The Muslim woman told Newsnight that Pakistani councillors on the council where she served are regularly protecting men who may be exploiting white girls, simply because they are important business allies.
Zahara – not her real name – claims that the police presented councillors with a sexually explicit video as they ruled on whether to shut down a club where these alleged offences were taking place.
She said: “The decision ultimately should have been to close the establishment down because of inappropriate behaviours going on of a sexual nature between young white girls and Asian males that was being shown on the video.
“I was clearly told to stop questioning by a hand gesture and nudge by senior male councillors that were Asian who were sitting next to me… I was told: ‘Do you know who it is? It’s a very prominent Asian businessman that supports us’.”
This woman claims that, on this occasion and many others, she was deselected because she refused to do as these powerful councillors of Pakistani heritage demanded. When she arrived at the selection meeting, it was full of Asian people she had never seen before. “They’re in the pocket of influential male councillors,” she added.
This, in my opinion, is the angle on which Newsnight should have led. Instead, it was almost buried within the report. It is almost as though allegations of covering up CSE were an afterthought of this report.
It seems evident to me that Labour is doing anything to keep the ‘minority’ vote, at the expense of leaving those groups effectively to be ruled by ‘their’ men.
From about 2:50 in the Newsnight video, Oldham councillor Arooj Shah is seen leafleting in her neighbourhood, along with fellow councillor Shadab Qumer. Councillor Shah is doing the talking yet the Muslim man they visit only shakes hands, and speaks directly, only with the male councillor, instead of Councillor Shah.
She told the BBC: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”
Councillor Shah also said that she has received disgusting letters where her head has been attached to images of Page 3 models, in an effort to silence and intimidate her.
MWN has been heard from many Muslim women across the country on the “blocking” of vocal, independent Muslim women by male members of the Labour Party who are of Pakistani heritage – or ‘biraderi’ (clan) politics. The charity has called for an inquiry by party leader Jeremy Corbyn into the “systematic misogyny” within Labour. If this is happening in the Labour party then I wonder – is this also happening in other parties?
Unfortunately this is no surprise to many women of Muslim heritage. We are all aware of the fact that most of the hostility faced is by those from within our own communities. We receive support when we toe a certain line, but as soon as we go beyond that we are quickly silenced.
Well done to the brave women who are continuing to speak out against the misogyny and campaigns of harassment they have faced. It takes a lot of courage to speak out.
Originally published for The Sunday Times on 22/11/15
As you can imagine, there was a lot I had to say on this subject. There are certain parts of this article that I felt needed elaboration, so I have inserted an asterisk at the end of the relevant sentence and expanded below the main article.
IT seems baffling: why would any young woman from a free and liberal society choose the barbaric death cult that is Isis? Yet some women in Britain are actively recruiting for a group that orders women to cover themselves from head to toe and takes non-Muslim women as sexual slaves. To call these women “brainwashed” absolves them of any responsibility for their actions.
Some have suggested these women have vulnerabilities that are being exploited. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Or do they?
There is no single pathway to becoming an extremist or terrorist, and women are just as susceptible to this toxic Islamist ideology as their male counterparts.
Some Muslim women are marginalised and disenfranchised. But my parents’ and grandparents’ generation were racially abused quite publicly and had fewer opportunities than we do today. Why did they not blow themselves up on buses or trains?
If anything, women face more pressure and oppression within their own families and communities than from the state.
For some there is the chance to be fighters and slay infidels themselves. A study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found evidence that these women “revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation”.
For other young women – and some are very young – there is a jihadist Mills & Boon element to it, as a friend of mine put it.
Kalsoom Bashir, co-director of the anti-extremist group Inspire and a former Prevent officer in Bristol, told me that after Yusra Hussein fled Bristol to join Isis in Syria last year, a teacher claimed some schoolgirls were more excited by Yusra’s marriage to a jihadist fighter than anything else.
“They seemed to think it was exciting and romantic,” Bashir explained. “One teacher told me that she was concerned some girls might think going to Syria was a form of redemption. A few had come out of relationships with boys who had used them badly. They felt dirty and that they had been bad Muslims, as sex outside marriage is considered a sin.”
This is not a surprise. From a young age Muslims are taught that too much interaction with the opposite sex is haram (impermissible). In many of the Islamic societies in British universities, the “brothers” and “sisters” are kept apart. No wonder these young women are tantalised by the prospect of marrying a young, attractive fighter.
Much has been said about Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the “party girl” suicide bomber who blew herself up in Paris last week*. She had a sad childhood, we are told. She never really practised her religion and had boyfriends, her friends and neighbours said.
Yet this is typical behaviour from terrorists. Women such as Aitboulahcen believe they will get their rewards in the hereafter.**
Condemnation alone is not enough when this poisonous ideology is not being tackled and it is ideology that is the root cause.
People from my generation have been taught to divorce Islam from culture; told that our south Asian heritage was oppressing us whereas Islam would liberate us and deliver all our God-given rights.***
This alone does not create terrorists but it certainly contributes to a victim narrative that prevents Muslims from tackling this ideology and instead blames western foreign policy for the creation of Isis.
There is widespread distrust of the government’s Prevent strategy, with university student unions actively pledging to work against it.
Speakers with extremist views are regularly invited to universities to whip up hysteria and spread false information. This must stop or we will continue to see more women, and men, going to Syria.
* Of course it has now emerged that she was not a suicide bomber at all.
**By this I mean that many Muslims – and those of other religions – are nominal Muslims. It is rare that you will find a Muslim who will practise everything that is expected of him and him and her, for example praying five times a day, because we’re all hypocrites. Therefore it is no surprise that jihadis have dabbled in drugs and alcohol or committed various “sins” before “repenting” in the hope that they will be forgiven in the afterlife. If anything this demonstrates the powerful role that ideology plays in recruiting would-be jihadis or so-called jihadi brides.
***This may require a separate article/blog but I shall explain as briefly as I can here. What I mean by this is what we are constantly told to avoid mixing culture and religion. Culture, we are told, is what has oppressed us. People ‘confuse’ culture for Islam, therefore we need to follow ‘true’ Islam. This led to some good things – inter-race marriages being one – but this meant that it is difficult for young people to identify with their parents’ culture, or Britain, and Islam is put before everything – that being a very austere, black and white form of Islam that leaves no space for colour. When you consistently hear that Islam will liberate us, that the Caliphate is what we need, it is no wonder we have ISIS.
RIP Glen. I wish we could have spent more time together before you died. You will not be forgotten
Just learned that blogger Glen Carrigan of Homo scientificus passed away this week. He wrote about “Psychology, humanism, health, and society” and you may have caught him on The Big Question(photo above from his blog post on) and various podcasts.
Whilst he may not be with us, the humanist ideals he espoused will live on. I just wanted to share something from a blog post he did following the General Election this year.
My heart goes out to all those that knew him.
“Remember, we can engage in democracy all year round, and perhaps we should actively do so. Having an idea, meeting people, making new friends and creating a plan is how it all starts. I recently heard a friend when asked “what can we do?” about a particular topic answer: “Get up from your armchair and actually do something.” This was at a conference concerned…
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