I can still see the horror that made me flee Pakistan – in the haunted eyes of girls raised HERE’: Nadira Naipaul exposes arranged marriages and honour killings in the UK
When I married V. S. Naipaul and moved to England in 1996, I thought I had left the horror behind.
Pakistan had drained my resolve, and I was tired of fighting a losing battle. To me, England, for all its ills, was the promised land.
Instead, I have found the horror I fled has followed me here. It is all around, eroding the very core of everything Britain believes in.
I see it everywhere. In the haunted eyes of young Pakistani girls, brought up in Britain, who know nothing but a Westernised life: young women who work happily behind beauty counters in our department stores, yet must return home to parents who refuse to emerge from their cultural ghettos.
And who expect their daughters to accept traditional arranged marriages to distant cousins brought up in rural Pakistan.
Desperate to integrate, these young girls change their names to sound more British. They are happy to have white boyfriends, to go clubbing. They certainly do not want forced marriages.
When I talk to them they are seething with anger that their parents – some semi-literate – insist upon entrenching themselves in Muslim ghettos, erecting cultural barriers and refusing to integrate, rejecting any semblance of a British way of life.
I see the same anger in young Muslim men who desperately want to join the mainstream, but cannot because deeply traditional parents expect strict adherence to traditional Islamic family life. It is easy to see how the clash between the generations can become corrosive, how at its most destructive extreme it can culminate in ‘honour killings’.
Take the recent case in Warrington of Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, who murdered their Westernised daughter Shafilea, 17, because she refused to accept a forced marriage.
Honour killing: Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife Farzana, 49, of Warrington, Cheshire, suffocated their 17-year-old daughter Shafilea with a plastic bag because she refused an arranged marriage
Inside the courtroom: Iftikhar Ahmed stood impassively as the verdicts were given while his spouse wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue
At a previous hearing: Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed were two traditionalist disciplinarians who had very fixed ideas about how their children, particularly their daughters, should behave.
For a decade, while in Pakistan, I wrote extensively about women enmeshed in the restrictions of Islamic law and traditions of honour. Witnessing the torture inflicted on women by husbands, fathers, brothers and even female relatives with the seeming sanction of Islam gradually transformed me into a borderline heretic. It took me years to realise how deeply ingrained these beliefs are. And how difficult it is to combat them.
- Shafilea Ahmed’s father had briefcase full of gold bars so he could flee justice at any moment
- Disabled Muslim woman’s forced marriage is not valid in Britain rules judge who says she does not have ability to consent
- Teenage boy saves himself from forced marriage by texting Indian authorities to report his family
The tales of two women affected me deeply. While living on my farm in rural Bahawalpur with my first husband, I met Rani, a young woman whose husband was one of my seasonal labourers. I employed her as a maid.
A few months later, we were visited by a minister in the government who was one of the biggest landowners in the area and an old friend of my husband. He arrived with an entourage demanding that I hand over Rani, her husband and her five-year-old son.
Rani had been a beautiful child. At the age of ten, her parents, tenants of the minister’s grandfather, ‘gave’ her to the old man. She was regularly sexually abused by the minister, his father and grandfather. The women of the house did not protest, provided the men were discreet.
But when Rani became pregnant they married her off to an old man who often beat her and her son.
A few years later Rani fell in love with a local boy and eloped with him and the child. Now the minister wanted her back.
What, I asked my husband, would happen if we handed her over? He told me they would strip her, tie her to a carriage wheel, flog her, then rape her. She would be defiled in public.
He insisted, however, that we must hand her over. Not to do so would offend an old family friend. If not chastised properly, it would encourage other women to question their lot.
My husband had been educated in England and was the scion of an old, respected family, yet he accepted such things. When he realised I wouldn’t give Rani up, the minister said his ‘face must be saved’. He insisted upon taking the boy. Rani wailed like a banshee. The heartrending sight and sound of her has never left me.
On another occasion, a young woman was doused in petrol and set alight by her father and brother in front of her terrified mother and sisters because she would not marry a man who had abducted her. The family considered her defiled. She had stayed overnight with this man. She must marry him or they would be shamed. When she tried to run away, they murdered her.
These are extreme examples, but stark reminders of the hold these beliefs have on entrenched communities – communities that have, for five decades, been relocating to Britain.
So why, then, have successive Governments refused to acknowledge the incestuous cultures that have evolved in these ghettos? Why does no one challenge the existence of the so-called ‘Islamic Parliaments’, with their retrogressive laws, that exist in cities such as Bradford and Leicester?
In these cities, teams of vigilantes terrorise Pakistani communities. They turn up unannounced to homes, insisting that Ramadan is respected and checking that everyone has come to prayers. They force shops to close, they check that the community is fasting, that women wear the veil.
Let me be clear. No Muslim woman should be forced to wear a veil. No woman wore it in the era of the Prophet. These Muslims may see themselves as community champions, but they are fanatics who make life a misery for young people who want to integrate.
It is time for liberal Muslims to speak out. The defenders of our precious multiculturalism must get real. My message to those who promote these entrenched ghetto ideas is this: go home if you want to practise your form of Islam. There is no place for it here.