“What should we learn from the case of Shafilea Ahmed? At first glance, it might seem simple. A young girl is murdered by by her father because she refuses to submit her sexuality to his law.”
So begins a piece in today’s (print) Guardian by Jaqueline Rose, professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London. For a professor of English, Rose’s language is (to me, at least) remarkably opaque and the point(s) she is seeking to make almost impossible to discern. That first paragraph, is however, the only section of the article with which a reasonable person can simply and without reservation agree. But the words “at first glance” are a giveaway: Rose doesn’t really think the case is that clear-cut at all.
I take it that readers are familiar with what Rose calls “the case of Shafilea Ahmed”, but for anyone who isn’t, here’s a painfully detailed and accurate account of her tragic life and terrible death.
I also take it that readers (well, most readers anyway) will agree with me that while it’s clearly important to examine the social and cultural background to the murder, it would be an obscenity to attempt to use it to score points or to whip up hostility towards Asians and/or Muslims in general. I may be missing something, but I’m not aware of anyone (even the usual suspects of the right-wing press) doing that, despite Barbara Ellen’s strange, illogical and irrelevant defence of “liberal lefties” in the Observer this Sunday.
In the light of the undeniable fact that Shafilea’s death did not come out of the blue and that social services and police had plenty of warnings that something was badly wrong in the Ahmed household, the suggestion that misplaced cultural sensitivity and/or fear of the accusation of racism may have been factors in her death, cannot be dismissed. Sarah Khan, director of ‘Inspire‘, a Muslim women’s rights group, is clear on this:
“It has been suggested that south Asian women are more likely to suffer severe abuse, and over a longer period of time than white women. They also experience higher rates of suicide and self-harm. Ethnic minority women can face multiple barriers and injustices: racism in society, and misogyny within their homes and communities. And ‘community leaders’, through their denial and inactivity, can compound this victimisation and marginalisation.
“A lack of will by public bodies to address these issues compounds their suffering, increases their vulnerability and results in them being less likely to seek help. They feel they’ve been systematically ignored and forgotten by mainstream feminist organisations and the state itself. I’ve been asked: ‘Are we any less British because of our ethnicity, our colour or our faith?’ Unfortunately, in 21st-century Britain, this seems to be precisely the case.”
Let’s hope that these wise words carry the day, and that Shafilea’s death will lead to real action in support of all abused women in Britian – and not least British Pakistani women trapped in their homes and subjected to the cultural norms of Mirpuri villages.
What Asian women can most certainly do without is the evasive, insulting, pseudo-academic relativist waffle of Jacqueline Rose, who ends her Guardian piece with the following truly extraordinary passage, which I had to read several times before working out exactly what is being said:
“Recognising this complexity might also be a way of avoiding the most obvious cultural cliches that attach to the idea of ‘honour’ crimes. Repeatedly the prosecution insisted, with a certain relish, that this was a case of a Pakistani family refusing to accept the reality of modern life – one more migrant family failing to keep up with the times. Without question Shafilea wanted educational, sexual and professional freedom as a woman. Going to university allowed Alesha fully to recognise that life in her family was ‘wrong’. We can support those freedoms – and celebrate the justice Shafilea has now received – without using the case to stigmatise a minority community, or as proof that west is best. Rather than attribute a crime like this to backwardness, we would do better to see how deeply it is woven into the fabric of migration and modernity in which all of us are implicated.”
Frankly, words fail me. Fortunately, a Guardian/CIF reader has provided an appropriate response:
“No this will not do, the people who are implicated in this are the parents of Shafilea and the disgraceful hand wringing by the authorities which allowed her father to get away with murder for so long.
“To try and apportion any of the blame onto the rest of us is utterly perverse and flies in the face of any reasonable examination, blame the parents & blame the authorities but don’t dare try and put any of the blame on the ordinary citizen or indeed the huge majority of migrants who would have no truck with these so called honour killings or would tolerate members of the same family getting away with murder.”