Now please don’t think I’m having a cheap shot at Muslims in this column – especially as it’s the fasting month.
Honestly, I’m not. But I am going to make an unapologetic attack against the ignorant, backward element of Pakistan’s Mirpuri community – who use their Islamic religion as a justification for their social beliefs.
And it’s happening right here in areas like the Black Country and Small Heath.
Readers following this paper’s blog posts will know that I was moved recently to write about the tragedy of a Hindu friend of mine who’s been seeing a Muslim girl from Dudley for the last six years.
As I understand, they’re deeply in love with one another.
Yet her family won’t even talk to him. The idea of her marrying him – despite the fact that he’s a decent guy with a respectable family, background and a career (not to mention his declarations of love) – is so abhorrent to them that they’ve forced her to have an arranged marriage to a Muslim man who’s unknown to her as he is to them. And such is the filial Mirpuri pressure applied on her that she’s given into it. Ultimately it was either him or the family.
And, surprise, surprise, the family won.
So a couple of weeks ago I was trying to console this poor man who’s been robbed of everything because this woman was (and, evidently, still is) the world to him.
Well, so much for love, I thought. How utterly vile, primitive and insular Mirpuri community is. What a hypocritical culture it embodies!
I mean, since when did Allah – or any God, for that matter – stand in the way of love?
And how bizarre and perverted that a family should jeopardise their daughter’s happiness – her love – all for the sake of communal respectability or a false, ridiculous idea of Islam.
But that, I’m afraid, is the true reality of arranged marriages in Britain.
I’m not exaggerating but I firmly believe that they are a breach of human rights and yet, the authorities in this country (like social services and the police) will turn a blind eye in the fear that they might be perceived as being culturally insensitive if they interfere with what are clearly outdated customs and traditions.
Yet interfere and intervene they must because, I would argue, that most Muslim girls who marry at the behest of their families are prisoners of their own culture – not to mention a false concept of Islam.
But then this applies equally to other Asian communities.
Last year, for instance, BBC’s Asian Network asked Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, men and women, between 16-34 whether they thought an ‘honour’ killing could be justified.
Shockingly, ten per cent of the people interviewed said yes - if the girl tried to marry against the wishes of her family.
And on BBC Radio 4 this summer, women’s campaigner, Jasvinder Sanghera, recounted horrific tales of Asian women as young as 13 seeking protection from their own parents and older brothers, trying to enforce ‘arranged’ marriages upon them by whatever necessary.
According to Sanghera some girls and young women have been beaten, sedated, unlawfully removed from school/college, sent abroad and kept illegally under lock and key in the form of house arrests.
But it got me thinking – I wonder how many unhappy, gold-clad Asian brides there might be getting married in the near future, feeling a mere compulsion to please (or appease) their families by forsaking love, choice and liberty?
If my friend’s tragedy is anything to go by, there might be more than you can imagine. And as cynical as I am, on this occasion, I can’t help feeling that acute pang of sadness for him and his girlfriend.
Essentially there’s no doubt that so many young Asian women (and to some extent men) are victims of arranged marriages. My message to law enforcement agencies is – let’s be vigilant.
Or better still, let’s ban arranged marriages altogether – make them unlawful – especially when the prospective husband is from abroad who, in reality, is ostensibly nothing more than a complete stranger. To me, an arranged marriage – no matter how respectable it might appear – is nothing more than an economic contract of convenience. Simple as that.
So I’d like to ask, just exactly what are the authorities doing to protect the vulnerable women and teenage girls from these communities?