The government may criminalize forced marriages, hundreds of which take place annually among Muslims. By James Brandon In a drafty railway station cafe in England’s Midlands, Ayesha, a young Muslim girl whose family is from Pakistan, is trying not to cry as she talks about her wedding day. “When I was young I always expected to have an arranged marriage,” she says. “But I also thought that I’d get a chance to know the man first.” Instead, at 17, her family forced her to marry a man she had never met. When Ayesha, not her real name, tried to have the marriage annulled, she was disowned by her family, and forced to flee her hometown of Birmingham. Although every year hundreds of Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu women in Britain, according to figures from the government and aid agencies, are forced into marriage to fulfill traditional ideas of family honor or parental prestige, Britain’s government has so far been reluctant to interfere in the private lives of immigrants. But now, following the London subway and bus bombings on July 7, the government is proposing new laws that would specifically criminalize forcing others into marriage. And calls for the ban have grown as Britain attempts to integrate its insular Muslim communities into the mainstream in an effort to temper extremism. “In Britain we are proud of our cultural diversity,” said Baroness Scotland, a Home Office minister who started talks on the proposal earlier this month. “But even a sensitive appreciation of cultural differences cannot allow abuse to go unchallenged.” Shaminder Ubhi, director of the Ashiana Project, one of several London refuges for Asian and Middle Eastern women fleeing domestic violence, says that about 300 women looking for help come to them every year. “And around 60 percent say that forced marriage is one of the issues they are escaping from.” But some say that new legislation specifically targeting minorities will only increase feelings of persecution, and that the worst cases of forced marriages can be dealt with under existing laws against rape and kidnap. “There is already enough legislation. We prefer to say it’s a cultural and not a religious thing and to abolish the practice that way,” says Reefat Drabu, of the controversial Muslim Council of Britain’s Social and Family Affairs Committee. “The media use the issue to demonize the Muslim community. And the problem is diminishing anyway.” But in Derby, a city where Britain’s growing racial divide is most apparent, the problem is far from diminishing. “The cases sound barbaric but they happen every single day,” says Jasvinder Sanghera, who runs Karma Nirvana, a shelter in Derby for Asian women fleeing forced marriages and abusive husbands. “One day last week I dealt with 12 cases. We need a complete change of mind-set,” says Ms. Sanghera. “This is a human rights issue. It needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves.” One key problem is that while many South Asian immigrants permit their sons to absorb Western influences, they often cannot accept that their young women brought up in Britain have adopted Western ideas of female independence. “We’re born here. We’re bound to be influenced by Western ideals,” says Sanghera, who herself ran away from home after her Sikh family tried to force her into a marriage with a stranger. “I just wanted to have a love marriage that people like you can take for granted,” she says. The challenges of reconciling their increasingly Western ambitions with their private loyalty to their family and their cultural traditions are too much for many young women. “Younger Asian women in the UK in the 16 to 24 age group have a suicide rate two to three times the national average,” says Sanghera. “Girls in schools at this moment are sitting there fearing that they’re about to be sent to India or Pakistan to be married off.” But while the practice of forced marriage initially came from older generations keen to preserve their traditions, many young British-born Asians perpetuate the practice as a way to differentiate themselves from mainstream British society, which many deem corrupt and immoral. “We are seeing an increasing number of 16 year olds fleeing forced marriages,” says Sanghera, “The myth is that when the older generation die this problem will go. But young people are reinventing these attitudes.” The growing isolation of minority communities, particularly in the north of England, means that even with the new law, Sanghera’s ambition to stamp out the problem may take years to fulfill, especially as many community leaders deny that the problem exists. “Some schools say not to bring our leaflets into schools because it will upset the Asian community,” she says. “But our human rights organizations shouldn’t worry about upsetting people. These arguments slow us down. “Asian community leaders say leave us alone, you’re stereotyping us. I wish faith groups did work with us because they hold a lot of power,” says Sanghera. “These communities are not above the law. If they choose to live [here] they must sign up to helping people live free of fear and violence.” But even if the new law does prevent forced marriages, it will do little for those who have already fled their homes to escape. “I’ve not seen my family for eight years,” says Ayesha. “I’m so disappointed – they are supposed to be the closest things to me – they’re not supposed to hurt you.”
By ANWIL DAWAR in London RELIGIOUS hate crimes have soared by almost 600 per cent in London since the July 7 bombings, it was revealed yesterday. Scotland Yard figures show 269 crimes, motivated by religious hatred, have been reported since the suicide attacks. That compared with only 40 in the same 3 1/2 week period last year. The figures include minor assaults, abuse in the street and by email and criminal damage to property, including mosques. In the three days after the bomb attacks, there were 68 such crimes in the capital compared to none in the same period 12 months ago. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur said most of the incidents were minor, but had a great “emotional impact” on communities. “It can lead to these communities retreating and not engaging at a time when we want their engagement and support,” he said. Police officers have stepped up patrols and are working with community groups to reassure Muslims. It is not thought the incidents are part of a concerted campaign. Finsbury Park mosque, which has made a break from its associations with such radical clerics as Abu Hamza, has received more than 30 threatening phone calls in a fortnight. The first place of worship to be attacked after the bombings was a Sikh temple in Erith, south east London. Jagtar Singh of the Sikh Federation said: “We have had numerous reports of race-hate crimes targeting Sikh taxi drivers, bus drivers and even tube workers who interact with the public in providing essential services.” Police, in general, have been praised by Muslim groups for their attempts to stop any racist backlash and protect Asian communities following the bombings. Officers are having to deal with the difficult task of defeating terrorism while, at the same time, facing accusations young Muslims are being targeted in stop-and search operations. Home Office Minister Hazel Blears has said Muslims would not be discriminated against by police in the battle against terrorism. She insisted officers’ actions would be “intelligence led”. British police yesterday released another man who was detained in connection with the failed July 21 bomb attacks on London’s transit system. A police spokesman said officers were continuing to question 16 suspects. Of the 37 people detained over the attempt to set off bombs on three subway trains and a double-decker bus, 21 no longer were being held. British authorities say those still in custody include three of the failed bombers. They are trying to extradite the fourth suspected attacker, Hamdi Issac, from Italy, but his lawyer said Italian investigations could delay any extradition to Britain.
By Kristin E. Holmes PHILADELPHIA — The veil shrouding spouse abuse in Muslim families is being torn away by some mosque leaders — putting them at the forefront of efforts by American Muslims to stem domestic violence. The Philadelphia clergy council — known as the Majlis Ash’Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley — has adopted a tough policy of public shunning of Muslims who abuse their spouses or abandon their families. Under the initiative, adopted in May, offenders will go on a list circulated among area Muslims. They will be banned from future marriages in communities that adhere to the policy. Fellow Muslims will be discouraged from patronizing any businesses they own. “We need to take a public stand,” said Imam Isa Abdul-Mateen, secretary of the Majlis Ash’Shura, an association of 30 imams. “We want people to know that this will not be tolerated.” In coming months, the council will address issues such as the criteria for putting names on the list and safeguards to protect spouses who step forward. Domestic violence appears no more prevalent in Muslim communities than elsewhere, but Islamic advocacy groups and others have tried to push the problem into the open. With the new policy, Philadelphia leaps over other Muslim communities that are just starting to confront the issue, said Maha Alkhateeb, project manager of the Peaceful Families Project, a Virginia-based nonprofit that addresses domestic violence among Muslims. A striking aspect of the initiative is that it was started not by female advocates but by the male leadership, said Amina Wadud, author of “Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text From a Woman’s Perspective.” “This is setting a new precedent, globally.” The Rev. Marie Fortune of the FaithTrust Institute in Seattle, a leading domestic-violence policy center, said she knew of no other religious community in the country that had “so specific and rigorous” a policy. Within Muslim families, domestic violence remains largely a taboo subject, Alkhateeb said. Some Muslims deny its existence in a faith in which men are supposed to be protectors of women and children. Some immigrant families are too focused on building a better life to deal with the issue. Activists also cite a widespread reluctance to air problems and expose fellow Muslims to public scandal. As a consequence, there is little data on the extent of the problem. One study, done in 2000, surveyed 500 Arab women in Dearborn, Mich., and found that 18 percent to 20 percent said they had suffered spouse abuse, a rate similar to that in the general population. Approximately 98 percent of the sample was Muslim, said Anahid Kulwicki, a professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., who did the study. There are signs that Muslims are awakening to the problem. A group of imams signed a pledge to fight domestic violence at a recent Peaceful Families conference in Washington. A turning point in Philadelphia may have come in 2001 when a city police officer killed his wife and then himself. Both were Muslims, and the incident shook the Muslim community, said Taalibah Kariem-White, of Germantown, a domestic-violence expert who lectures nationally on the issue. The policy applies to both men and women. Though there are few female batterers, Mateen envisions the sanctions applying to women who make or threaten false claims to police or vindictively deny a man visitation with his children.
LONDON – The British government is planning to set up special intelligence units to monitor Muslims nationwide to better detect extremists and thwart eventual attacks, a newspaper reported. The Muslim Contact Units, staffed by London’s Metropolitan Police Special Branch officers, will be established in areas including Yorkshire, northwest England and parts of the Midlands, the Guardian reported. “Deep knowledge of Muslim communities is rare in the service,” a senior police officer with knowledge of the scheme told the Guardian. “If you are going to understand who is extreme and who is dangerous, which are different (ideas), you have to understand the community,” the officer was quoted as saying “Unless you know the subject well and what they are saying, often in Arabic or Urdu, and what the context is, you are not going to get a feel for it,” the source said. He stressed that the squads would be open about their work. “It is not about spying.” The police and Home Office said a Muslim Contact Unit operating in London has already helped thwart extremist attempts to recruit young British Muslims to violent jihad, by working with Islamic communities, the Guardian said. The establishment of the special units is one of the first concrete counter-terrorist measure to emerge after the July 7 London bombings on three subway trains and one bus that claimed the lives of 56 people. Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday met moderate British Muslim leaders and agreed on a taskforce to produce measures to tackle extremism. The units will not only gather intelligence on extremist activity but also help protect Muslim communities from abuse and attacks, the Guardian said. Any leads on extremists can be passed to the security services or acted upon by police. Plans to expand the Muslim Contact Units are expected to get final approval and funding soon from ministers, it added.
By John Biemer Tribune staff reporter No one would mistake a gathering of DuPage County Republicans for the United Nations, but the party took a significant step last week toward shaking its image as a party dominated by “old white-haired men” when Moin Moon Khan and Esin Busche were elected township trustees. Party officials say as far as they can tell, Khan, an Indian-born longtime Chicago-area activist who works as a computer network administrator, and Busche, a Turkish-born chemist, are the first Muslim Republicans elected to public office anywhere in the state–and a symbol of the party’s new outreach effort in a rapidly diversifying county. “This is a small office, and for me it may be a very small individual achievement,” said Khan. “However, I think it’s a giant milestone for the minority communities in general and the Muslim American community in particular.” Rasheed Ahmed, coordinator of the Illinois Muslim Political Coordinating Council, also called their elections “an important milestone,” but noted that there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Illinois–and an estimated 6 million to 8 million across the United States. “It’s only natural,” he said. “I’m not surprised. One could say perhaps that it’s even late.” Khan, who lives in Lombard, won a York Township trustee seat last week with 12.6 percent of the vote. He finished last out of the four Republicans elected trustee, beating out Bob Wagner, who came closest of four Democratic trustee candidates with 11.8 percent of the vote. Busche, who lives in Naperville, was elected Naperville Township trustee last week with 17.9 percent of the vote–also last among four Republicans elected to that office, but five points ahead of the closest Democrat. Republicans won every one of the 72 township offices on the DuPage ballot in last week’s municipal election, so having the support of such a well-entrenched political organization didn’t hurt. Both Khan and Busche served as GOP committeemen for a handful of years before making their runs. Muslims don’t tend to naturally gravitate to either party, Ahmed said, because there are parts of both the Democratic and Republican positions that appeal to them. But Khan pledged as a candidate to reach out to a variety of immigrants that he says make up a sizable chunk of the tax base in his district, although they are underrepresented in government. That message resonated beyond the Muslim community–but so did Khan’s decades of work for such organizations as the DuPage Minority Caucus, the Asian American Institute and the Council of Islamic Organizations in Illinois. “I’ve seen him as a person who’s concerned with the welfare of people and such,” said Shanker Pillai, president of the Hindu Chinmaya Mission in Hinsdale. “And in this time of religious and social animosities developing, he’s stood beyond those barriers.” Asian populations in DuPage County have skyrocketed in recent years–growing by 80 percent from 1990 to 2000. As of 2000, Asians made up 7.9 percent of the suburban county, according to the U.S. Census, almost as much as the even faster growing Hispanic community–another group wooed by both political parties. DuPage Democratic Party Chairwoman Gayl Ferraro said her party also has tried to tap into the intensifying political activity of Asian immigrants in recent years. She points to Chodri Khokhar, chair of the Bloomingdale Township Democrats–a Muslim Pakistani immigrant. “We always welcome everybody into our party; we’re very diverse,” Ferraro said. “I’m kind of colorblind when it comes to all that stuff.” Republican officials concede that the GOP did not do a great job in the past of reaching out to new communities. But Paul Hinds, chairman of the York Township Republican Party, said the time has come for the party to better reflect the constituency. “We get pegged too much as 70-year-old white-haired men. That’s a stereotype we always have to work against,” he said. “That’s not what we are.” Still, there were risks involved. Khan acknowledges that Hinds may have displeased some party loyalists when he pushed Khan to run for the post. And party leaders questioned how voters would receive the candidates–noting that their vote counts did lag behind other Republican office-seekers. “I’m not going to kid anyone,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), chairman of the DuPage County GOP. “I was worried that someone named Moon Khan would lose to someone named Susan O’Brien or Robert Wagner. But if Barack Obama could win, Moon Khan should clearly win, and he did.” “I know my name was quite different from other people,” Busche said in agreement. “But I tried to introduce myself to people in my community. I guess people, once they get to know you, the name doesn’t play any part.”
By Pola Manzila Uddin For much of my adult life I have dressed modestly, in shalwar kameez and sometimes saris. Only when visiting places of worship or in the presence of elders did I ever feel obliged to cover my head. However, earlier this year, I wore a scarf on Umrah, a mini pilgrimage, and it somehow felt natural to keep on wearing it when I got home. For me, this was simply an expression of a deepening knowledge of my faith and of my self. The first time I walked into the House of Lords with it on, I could feel the surprise. Some of my Labour friends were wonderful about it. But for others, shock soon gave way to suspicion, and the questioning began. Why was I doing it? When would I stop? Was my scarf a sign of my support of the French schoolgirls who’d been banned from wearing the hijab? And even, had I become a “fundamentalist”? And this from people who had known me, and my politics, for years. It was as if they thought that one piece of silk cloth over the hair changed one’s personality. Since that first day, this little piece of cloth has even coloured how some people receive my work. When I launched a report into faith schools earlier this month, it was suggested that I had an “obsession”, and was demanding more Muslim schools. Even some people who knew that I had sent my own four children to a Church of England school interpreted a simple call for parity as an expression of my new “extremism”. I am disappointed that, after so many years of political activism, so little seems to have changed. But this is not simply a personal disappointment. No one can have failed to notice what the recent election results confirmed – that Labour has lost the confidence of the minority communities, especially Muslims. Take my part of east London: the Respect candidate, coming from nothing to securing nearly 20,000 votes in boroughs where Labour should have walked home. As a party activist for three decades, I am frustrated that the government has come to be seen as complacent. And as a Muslim I am dismayed that there is no strategy to address this loss of support. Everyone has a story about why they feel let down, especially in areas where Muslim communities have settled over decades. Too often one still finds an all-white hierarchy in the town hall presiding over ghettos. Muslims feel powerless to change their communities – communities in which male unemployment is unacceptably high, schools are failing their children, and where inequalities in housing and health persist. And we have to acknowledge the impact of the “war on terror” – the huge increase in the number of Muslims now being subjected to stop and search adds to the feeling that the whole community is being criminalised. For over 50 years the Muslims of this country went about their business, obedient to the core. Our parents’ generation worked, ate, slept, they tolerated being spat at and being told to “go back”. When my generation, their children, grew up, we spoke English, ate fish and chips and became defiant when told to “go back”. That is why so many of us became politically active in the late 70s and early 80s. The Labour party was our natural home. We fought shoulder to shoulder, challenging the fascists on our streets. Our generation believed that we had a stake in Britain; we believed respect and understanding was just around the corner. Labour raised huge expectations when it professed to understand and value the Muslim community. But after September 11 everything changed. Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has all but destroyed that partnership. The government does nothing to protect us from the onslaught of verbal and physical attacks we face every time there is another bomb explosion, or a further threat of terror attacks. There is a sense of vulnerability, that every savage act carried out elsewhere leads to repression of every one of us on the streets of Britain. It is in this atmosphere that new questions are asked about us, as though we had not been born or grown up here. Muslims are being challenged to prove that they are more British than anyone else. How women wear their clothes, the way men cut their beards and even the company we keep are all now up for debate. Just imagine these questions being asked not in a place of courtesy and kindness, and by your friends, but with real hostility. When one is not understood or respected, how can one begin to explain such complex and often personal choices? I am dismayed by the daily justifications demanded of us just so that some of us can be called “moderates”. Is this what we mean by integration? My 18-year-old son voted for the first time this year, and I know the talk among his friends was anything but Labour. By his age we were demonstrating against the far right; his peers are protesting against Labour – stop and search, anti-terror legislation, and the war in Iraq. We have to prove to them that they are valued by society and that their survival in the mainstream matters to us all. If we don’t, we may lose them to those vile preachers outside mosques and marketplaces. It is in this atmosphere that Shabina Begum’s fight to wear the jilbab to school came to court this week. The judge ruled that the school’s refusal to let Begum wear the full-length gown did not breach her right to education and religion. I wish this case had never come to court – not least because, once it had done so, no other ruling was possible. I admire the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of local pupils, 80% of whom are Muslim. The uniform policy was only implemented after consultation, and I would defend the school’s right to apply it. However, the school was wrong to cite health and safety concerns. This gives credence to the spurious, yet increasingly commonplace argument that Muslim girls are hampered by their clothes (and thus, by implication, by their communities and by their religion). This is absurd. In court it became clear that the school’s real concern was that Begum’s jilbab would create a hierarchy of piety among the pupils. I have seen for myself that where the majority of Muslim schoolgirls wear scarves there is peer pressure to comply. But the question we should be asking is, why is it that some of our young people are vulnerable to pressure to identify themselves as more Muslim than others? On my pilgrimage, I was struck by what is said as you enter Mecca (I paraphrase): “You are forbidden from covering your face.” And yet there were thousands who did. The fact that more young British Muslim women are choosing to wear scarves is not a phenomenon imported from aboard – what we have is what we have created. And in some respects we should welcome these developments, because they show that the Muslim community is returning to political activism, and trying to reclaim the agenda. For the major political parties this should be a time for reflection, because the clear message is that no vote is to be taken for granted. Labour must work out who it should be talking to within the community. Fine, talk to the imams, but also recognise that the vast majority will never see one except on religious occasions. Meanwhile there are professional men and women in every sphere who are denied a voice. Let’s give them a one. I have banged my head against this brick wall with colleague after colleague, with every institution and every figurehead. There have been too many reports – Swann, Macpherson, Parekh – and too much talk. I believe a new generation of Muslims is ready to represent the community at every level of government. We are in public view, just waiting to be called.
Muslims made to feel like an enemy within by Islamophobic attitudes, report concludes By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent Hardening prejudice against Islam is creating a disaffected underclass of young Muslim “time-bombs” likely to explode into violence, the Government was warned yesterday. The forecast of race riots followed a major investigation into “Islamophobia”, which concluded that British Muslims felt outsiders in their own country after the 11 September terrorist atrocities. A series of senior figures in the Muslim community told the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia think-tank of the aggression and hostility they regularly encountered. The commission concluded that some communities perceived themselves as ghettoised, leaving them vulnerable to the influence of extremists. It demanded urgent action to tackle discrimination against Muslims and criticised race relations organisations for acting too slowly on the problem.
Even the most religiously traditional Muslims believe they should participate in American politics, according to a newly released study of one of the largest Muslim communities in the nation. The survey of Detroit-area Muslims is the latest to show that the isolationism that once pervaded the immigrant Muslim community is dissipating. Muslims ranked protecting their civil rights as a top public policy issue, according to the study.
There is a political debate within Britain’s Muslim youth – and it is getting louder in the wake of continued scrutiny of their communities and faith. It is taking many forms and the outcome is uncertain. What is clear is that it is not just about how their world changed following the September 11 attacks – it’s about what it is to be British and Muslim, and disaffection with their place in society.