What lies behind conservative Islam's veil of secrecy?
It's amazing what you learn from the Guardian. For instance, I didn't know that Islam allowed gay marriage. But, in a list of religious groups opposed to gay marriage in the States, it wasn't mentioned. All the white western faiths were - Baptist, Catholic, evangelical, Protestant etc. - were. Admittedly, the list made no claim to being exhaustive. But, still, when it comes to religions who 'don't like the gays,' Islam is a big one to miss - especially considering that numerically smaller religions, such as Presbyterianism, did make the grade. Isn't it about time we dropped the unwritten rule that no-one can portray Islam as anything other than sweetness and light, and started examining it for what it is - an ideology? And a repressive one at that?
The article in the Guardian came out on the same day as statistics showing a marked rise in the number of 'honour-related' violence in the UK. The government didn't publish these statistics - they were obtained from most UK police forces, using the Freedom of Information Act, by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (which, for anyone waiting to slap the 'racist' label on me, is ran by Iranian and Kurdish women). There were almost three thousand reported attacks in 2010 - an increase on 47% in 2009. One a day, in the West Midlands alone. In Northumbria, the number trebled. And this is likely, as Diana Nammi, IKWRO's director, says the 'tip of the iceberg' - the most likely to be affected, and the least likely to report it, are the women and girls in inner-city ghettoes, with little understanding of English and an ultraconservative upbringing. Some police constabularies refused to divulge this information - or were incapable of doing so - due to the reluctance of 'communities' to talk.
Other commentators tentatively point out that it's not a 'race issue.' No-one's saying it is. It's a cultural one. Conservative (predominantly Bangladeshi and Pakistani) Islam being that culture. Compare how many instances of it there are in the 'white community' as opposed to the 'South Asian' one and the correlation becomes obvious. But it does affect everyone, as this makes quite clear (well worth a read - even includes quotes from Jack Straw). So what is our government, or the police, doing about it?
So far, they have no national strategy - that's precisely what IKWRO is calling on them to introduce. As for the police, 'we have reviewed every force with a questionnaire and the 2008 strategy has been completed,' said Mak Chishty, North Area Commander in the Metropolitan Police. 'We're now in consultation on a new strategy. All frontline staff have received awareness training and every force has a champion on honour-based abuse. I'm confident that any victim who comes to us will receive the help they need.' Trouble is, 'awareness training' doesn't make a blind bit of difference: being 'aware' of the problem just means that you know it exists and implies have some level of understanding about it. Awareness needs to be applied before it can actually help you solve it.
Furthermore, there is precious little information on how the police intends to reach out to victims: their overall strategy seems to be to wait for the abused to come to them. But that's unrealistic: such a feat on the part of a victim, especially a young one, would be incredibly difficult. As Diana Nammi points out, the abusers are often hailed as heroes, and the victim is often forbidden to leave the house. In addition to this, many are monolingual and have poor command of English: others may be from an ultraconservative upbringing and believe that the abuse inflicted upon them is just what a Muslim woman is subjected to.
What could the government do? It doesn't help that many of these women have entered the country on spousal visas, which makes it incredibly difficult to receive legal aid. As many of them are unemployed or financially dependent on their husbands or male family members, this money is not a luxury: they need it to be able to fight their case. Surely it would not break the bank if some of the legal aid money spent on convicted paedophiles and murderers was instead used to help abused women escape violent and possibly murderous relationships? In the longer term, it could enforce the knowledge of English and literacy in ghettoised communities - thereby affording all who live within recourse to the protection of the law and the safety of wider society if they need it, and exposing fundamentalist Islam to mainstream society. All forms of extremism react negatively to a healthy dose of normality.
In the meantime, until enough people tell the government to pull its finger out, the most that anyone can do is lend a helping hand. Charity, after all, begins at home: we should never rely on the state to sort out all the ills of the world. Here's IKWRO's website, if you're interested, with advice on how you can help out and get involved, as well as further information about the charity and its work.