How to solve a problem like marginalisation? Easy. More marginalisation.
The journalist Cristina Odone wrote a Telegraph blog post last week in which she briefly outlined her possible solution to “honour” killings.
This was in response to the gruesome killing of Shafilea Ahmed by her parents Iftikhar and Farzana, who have now been convicted of her murder. Shafilea’s parents disapproved of their daughter’s western lifestyle – namely, having the temerity to make her own decisions. They felt she was bringing shame on the family by turning her back on her culture (or more accurately, her parents’ culture) and so they did what any reasonable psychopathic parents dosed up to the eyeballs on neat religion would do: they violently terminated their daughter’s life.
Shafilea’s death was caused by her parents holding on to their brutal culture whilst attempting to isolate their daughter from what they considered to be harm and what rational human beings consider to be freedom. They wished to place their own brutal culture above their own daughter’s instinctive human quest for freedom, and beyond the evil clutches of the one thing with a proven track record of delivering that freedom: secular liberal democracy.
You might think the solution to preventing tragedies like this in the future might include, say, more integration of girls and families from these backgrounds, in order to minimize the probability of harmful traditions manifesting themselves in such heartbreaking fashion. You might think preventing isolation would be key.
Odone’s solution? More Muslim faith schools:
“Once a Muslim girl hits puberty, the most conservative parents will pluck her out of school where she risks contamination from western peers, and if she is lucky they continue her lessons at home. If she is unlucky, they send her back to Pakistan, in an arranged marriage usually to a much older man. I see this as a very strong argument in favour of more Muslim faith schools: only when they feel their daughters are in a safe Muslim school will parents allow them to continue their education past puberty.”
The logic goes something like this: if Shafilea’s parents were confident she was being shielded from harmful things like individual liberty and autonomous decision-making, and if they were reassured their own glorious culture would be preserved, there would have been no need for murder. Rather than challenging these cultures, Odone seems intent on reinforcing in perpetuity some of the foundations upon which they are built.
Odone’s solution is pure madness. It would provide an even more suffocating environment for poor girls like Shafilea because of the added legitimacy a Muslim faith school would bestow: the state would be sanctioning this. The state would be telling girls like Shafilea:
“You are different. You need special education. You need segregation. You need protection from freedom. Freedom and girls like you DON’T MIX.”
Would Odone want her own daughter to attend a Muslim faith school? Would she want other western girls to attend a Muslim faith school? I very much doubt it. So what makes her conclude that total Islamic immersion, in the home and in the school, is in these girls’ best interests? Are girls from Muslim backgrounds not entitled – as girls from all backgrounds are – to a bare minimum of seven hours a day, five days a week, of religiously-neutral education? Don’t they deserve that from the state? Doesn’t the state have a duty to provide that?
Odone’s solution represents segregation on the grounds of religion or culture, which in practical terms really just means segregation on the grounds of skin colour. How honourable. It also reinforces the idea of homogeneity: all Muslims are the same. This is something I dealt with in my previous post, which focused on the revolutionary idea that Muslims are individual human beings with the right to be treated as such. I was very pleased the post was well received by some prominent female Muslim activists.
Unfortunately, this idea of individuality is seemingly alien to Odone. For example, when she says “Muslim” faith schools does she mean Shia ones, or Sunni ones, or Salafi ones, or Ahmadiyya ones? Who cares. A Muslim is a Muslim is a Muslim, after all. Just give them a few school buildings, stick a pretty crescent moon above the door, throw in a few Korans, prayer mats and mullahs, and be done with it.
Ultimately, Shafilea was unable to discard the toxic cultural baggage she found herself chained to, and she paid with her life. I shudder to think how much harder it would be for other girls to free themselves if Odone’s solution were implemented.
And what do I find most unpleasant about Odone’s solution? There is an unintentional whiff of blaming the victim about it: poor Shafilea, if only she had attended a madrassa like a good Muslim girl then maybe she would still be alive today.
Girls in Shafilea’s position deserve much better than this.
They deserve the same as everyone else.