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Book review: Western Fringes

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When I read the blurb of Western Fringes – a Muslim man trying to find a Sikh woman who has run away from home to escape an arranged marriage – I admit that I was sceptical  at first. I thought, not another cliche that is often played out in Bollywood movies; they’ll probably end up marrying one another and showing love triumphs all.

Not quite.

A woman I follow on Twitter had recently received a copy of the book by the author, Amer Anwar, and when I expressed interest he also sent kindly sent me a copy, along with a masala chai teabag. I wanted to read it on holiday but unfortunately it arrived in the post just after I had left, so I had wait until I returned to read it.

Western Fringes is set in the bustling, diverse district of Southall – often described as ‘little India’ due to its large Sikh population.  It tells the story of Zaqir (Zak) Khan, an ex-con who works in a dead-end job at a builder’s yard.  One day his boss, the formidable Mr Brar, calls him into the office and orders him to find his runaway daughter Rita, or he’ll send him back to prison.  Mr Brar’s meathead sons Rajinder and Parminder are ordered to keep an eye on him but they have their own agenda in Zaq’s search for Rita and don’t make it easy for him.

This is Amer Anwar’s debut novel, which won the Crime Writer Association’s Debut Dagger award. I was entertained and engaged throughout the novel and found it very hard to put down. Although most of the characters are South Asian, they were  unique and far removed from the stereotypes.  Frankly, it is not the genre of book that I usually go for so I was unsure how I would respond do it. Nonetheless, I gave it a chance and I am glad I did.

The story also goes into the historic tensions that have existed between Muslims and Sikhs and how they have an impact even here in the UK. Being of Pakistani heritage I am aware of these issues but non Asian readers might find this aspect of the novel interesting.

What I loved most about the book was the hilarious banter between Zak and his best friend and partner in crime Jags; it is probably the best thing about the book. In fact, I think a sitcom could be made, centered around these two protagonists. Something for TV producers to consider – if it happens, you heard it here first.

The book is littered with some Punjabi phrases which I understood perfectly well, though I am sure non Punjabi speakers will get the gist. Punjabi curse words are so rough that they have the potential to raise the dead so don’t worry if you don’t understand – that may not be such a bad thing!

One of my criticisms is that I would have liked to have known more about Zak’s family and how his prison sentence affected their relationship with him. Furthermore,the other characters are described in detail, while no description is given of Zak – perhaps that was deliberate?

Nonetheless, I was surprised that this was a debut novel as it is written very well and does not read amateurish in any way. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to read a crime fiction novel with a bit of a twist.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

August 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm

The Morality of Faith Schools

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On Wednesday July 19 I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze to discuss the Al-Hijrah school controversy.

A long-running legal battle between Ofsted and the Islamic state school in Birmingham has reached the Court of Appeal. The principle at stake is whether segregating boys and girls – for all classes,breaks and trips – amounts to unlawful sex discrimination in a mixed-sex setting. Ofsted’s lawyers argue that it is “a kind of apartheid”, leaving girls “unprepared for life in modern Britain”.

The school maintains that gender segregation is one of its defining characteristics and that the policy is clear – parents can make an informed choice. The case is based on the Equality Act, which means the implications of the ruling will be far-reaching and will apply to all schools, not just state schools. 

The case attracted the attention of activists, including the Southhall Black Sisters and One Law for All. The various equality and feminist groups organised a protest outside the court at the start of the hearing, arguing that the case has become a “key battle between feminists and fundamentalists” and that “separate is not equal”.

Along with other activists I signed this letter in the Guardian  to express concerns about the dilution of gender rights and equality regarding minority and in this case Muslim girls’ and women’s rights.

You can listen back to the show here.

Written by Iram Ramzan

July 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

Walking the streets of Manchester, I find tolerance rather than hatred

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Originally published in The Sunday Times

At about 7am on Tuesday, I awake to several messages on my phone from friends asking me to text them as soon as I could. I wonder what I have done until I go online. Not Manchester, I think. Terrorist attacks happen everywhere else, but not here, not in my home city.

I spend the day on social media and watching the news. I feel sad and angry. How could anyone target children? But a part of me feels hope. Mancunians are coming together in their grief and solidarity while the world watches and gives support.

The usual suspects are wheeled out for television and radio interviews, hailed as “moderate community leaders”. Among them are commentators who have supported blasphemy laws in Pakistan and whose organisations have played host to extremist preachers.

If these are the moderates, I think, then we are well and truly up the creek without a paddle. Sometimes the media really are to blame. In an age of 24-hour news, there’s a need to fill airtime with commentary, even if it is from undesirable people.

Wednesday
I have a conversation with a Muslim friend; we start exchanging stories of our childhood going to the mosque to learn about the Koran and Islam. “Let’s face it, we all learnt that going to concerts is haram [forbidden] and listening to music is wrong,” he says.

He is right. I remember one of the mosque teachers told me and the other young girls that the famous Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was once exhumed and his tongue was found wrapped around his body.

This was a punishment from Allah, the teacher explained, because of the way he would sing about Allah; it was wrong. I felt scared, as any child would. And I felt confused because my family and everyone I knew listened to Khan.

But Sunni Muslims are taught that music is generally forbidden, only vocal music is permissible (halal) and instruments are haram. And these views are considered mainstream, not necessarily extreme.*

This is why I get frustrated when people simply blame British foreign policy for creating terrorists. What do teens at a concert have to do with British foreign policy? These people simply hate this “heathen” lifestyle.

They have bought into an ideology that hates anyone opposed to them. So why are we surprised when extremists act on their hate and contempt?

Think about it; if they were really angry about Muslims dying then why aren’t they “radicalised” by the slaughter caused by Isis, al-Qaeda and other jihadists? If they cared about Muslim lives, they would have taken up arms against the Taliban in Afghanistan for starving their own people, or against Isis for killing fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq, or Saudi Arabia for bombing Yemen.

Sometimes we are told that jihadists and extremists are disenfranchised. Give me a break. Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was not disenfranchised at all.

He was born and brought up here, given all the rights and privileges of every other British citizen. His family was given shelter in the UK after fleeing Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s regime in Libya. And this is how he repaid Britain?

Thursday
This afternoon I go out into Manchester city centre. Other than a few police officers in Market Street, which is where all the shops are, it seemed like any other day. Hundreds of people were in St Ann’s Square laying flowers in tribute to the victims.

Where’s the hate, I wondered? The vast majority of people in times such as these come together and offer support. Do not believe the loud voices shouting about “Islamophobia” and the backlash against Muslims.

British people, on the whole, are marvellous and tolerant. If a few dirty looks and the odd incident of someone being spat at (for which there is no excuse, by the way) constitutes a “backlash”, then British Muslims are overwhelmingly fortunate to live here.

I meet a friend, a student originally from Iraq. We sit in a cafe discussing the terrorist attack. He says blasts are pretty much normal in Iraq, but he’s surprised when it happens here.

He tells me about some of the foreign fighters who have gone over to join Isis in Iraq; the converts are the most vicious ones, he explains.

The local fighters often join Isis for money. But the foreign recruits, he says, will kill mercilessly and have bought into the vicious ideology of Isis completely.

Friday
Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech that links UK foreign policy to extremism. It seems we can’t win either way: both our action and inaction in
the Middle East are direct causes of terrorist attacks here in the West.

I wonder what foreign policy led to the Taliban massacring children in Pakistan Or the murder of Copts in Egypt. With Corbyn as leader, I am never voting Labour again.

My friend tells me she cried several times when she heard about the attack. On Tuesday she went into a cafe where the people there were slightly cold towards her. She wears a hijab; perhaps they blame all Muslims for all terrorism, and that hurts, she says. I suggest that perhaps they were subdued after the recent incident and were like that in general, rather than just because she is Muslim. I hope so, anyway.

All week we have heard journalists and presenters asking: why did this happen and how can we prevent it? After all this time we are still not having an honest conversation about the role ideology plays in recruiting potential terrorists.

The next attack will see this same debate and the same commentators recycle this debate again. Sometimes I wonder: why do we bother?

 

*NB: Just to elaborate on this point. I do not mean to imply that anyone taught music is haram will go on to kill someone for going to a concert. But I was trying to demonstrate the clash of values there are sometimes with British Muslims. The friend I had a conversation with also said he was taught that in the afterlife anyone who listened to music would have boiling lead poured down their ears. Sometimes people will feel guilty for doing things which are considered trivial but, Islamically, they are told is wrong.

Written by Iram Ramzan

May 31, 2017 at 7:21 am

Terror in Manchester

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Pic Credit: PA

This is a cross-post from Sedaa

 

A terrorist attack in my own city is the last thing I expected to wake up to on Tuesday morning. There were several messages on my phone from concerned friends and acquaintances urging me to contact them as soon as I could. I wondered what had happened, until I went online to read the news.

At least 22 people were killed and 59 injured after a terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena on the evening of Monday, May 22. Thousands of gig-goers were packed into the city centre venue to see American singer Ariana Grande when the explosion shook the arena.

Photos and videos were uploaded showing innocent young people fleeing the scene — scared, worried and confused. Some had been separated from their friends and parents. Some, unfortunately, did not make it out alive.

The youngest victim is thought to be eight-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos. The others confirmed dead are Georgina Bethany Callander and John Atksinson. One can’t imagine what their friends and families must be feeling at this difficult time.

Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian of Libyan descent, was confirmed as the man responsible for this atrocity, which has claimed the lives of many children. He died at the scene. I doubt there will be many people shedding tears over him. A 23-year-old has also been arrested in Manchester in connection with the attack.

“Evil losers” is how Donald Trump described the attackers behind the attack. And, surprisingly, I agree with the US President. Describing Abedi as a monster would be glamourising him; an evil loser seems much more suitable. I expect more information will come out about him soon; it is highly unlikely it was a ‘lone wolf’ attack, for these people are usually part of a wider network.

 

Victims and missing people from Manchester Arena attack

 

It was heartwarming to see Mancunians rallying round and offering their rooms to stranded people, bars/restaurants doling out hot drinks for the emergency services and taxi drivers taking children home for free. This is why I am proud to call Manchester my home; this is why I love this city so much. No matter what atrocity strikes, we often forget that people are, by and large, compassionate and will help others in their times of need. Thank you to everyone who messaged me to ask if I was safe.

While calls for unity and calm are appreciated, we should stop saying that this is the “new normal”.  If normal means regular terrorist attacks against innocent people, then we must not “go back to normal”.  As nice as they are, candlelight vigils and “Pray for….” messages are not going to solve the problem of extremism.

In due course, I expect the usual suspects will condemn the attack while simultaneously blaming western foreign policy and victim blaming. The attack was driven by a brutal ideology that abhors any enjoyment of life. For that is what these young people were doing — they were enjoying a music concert, living life to the full. Their pleasure had nothing to with global wars.

As Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid said previously:

“Modern-day jihadism breeds on two ideas, neither of whom is vocally refuted by us Muslims. First, that West is to blame for Muslim world’s volatility. Second, that Islam is a superlative doctrine, and ideologically self-sufficient to govern the world.”

Some people are more interested in scoring points or being so politically correct that we hear the same debate and the same outdated views being espoused by the usual suspects on both sides. Some on the right will not differentiate between ordinary Muslims and terrorists, choosing to attack mosques or women in hijabs as retaliation, while those on the left and even within Muslim communities will deny any role that ideology or religion has in such attacks.

There will be another terrorist attack, perhaps in a different city, prompting the same debate. Have we not had enough? It is one thing to read about attacks in far-away places but when it is in your own city it is different. It is much closer to home. I, for one, have had enough.

 

 

* In the meantime, police have urged those who are concerned about loved ones who were in the area to call the National Casualty Bureau on 0800 096 0095.  Anyone who was in the city centre between 8pm and 11pm on Monday night and has dashcam footage is being urged to submit it to the National Police Chiefs’ Council image appeal site.

Casey pulls no punches but will anything change?

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Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr
Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr

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.

Women like Qandeel Baloch must not die in vain

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Qandeel Baloch. Source: Facebook
Qandeel Baloch. Source: Facebook
 

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.

Qandeel’s brother Waseem, who has now been arrested.

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.

Qandeel tweet reactions

 

 

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.

Written by Iram Ramzan

July 25, 2016 at 11:58 am

Murdered by my father: A review

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Murdered by my father. Source: BBC

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.

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