So Shafilea Ahmed’s parents and killers have now been handed a minimum jail-term of 25 years. Although I’m glad to see awareness being raised about honour-based violence and forced marriage in national news coverage, I’m also deeply angered by the systematic failures that allowed Shafilea’s murder to happen in the name of ‘cultural sensitivity’ and fear of being branded racist.
Sunny Hundal writes in The Times newspaper today that:
“Shafilea’s murder wasn’t a one-off. It is estimated that, on average, one girl is murdered every month over ‘family honour’ in modern Britain.”
“We on the left of politics became complicit in a conspiracy to leave forced marriages largely unchallenged. Caught between attacks from the right on multi-culturalism and fears that speaking out would be racist, we became paralysed into inaction and now find ourselves living with an endemic of systematic abuse and violence against British Asian women, to which our response ranges from ineffectual to marginal”
“Parents who force their daughters into marriages don’t just do it to protect family traditions; they do it because they want to remain separate from British culture and live in their own cocoons. To them, mixing with Western cultures is synonymous with losing ‘family honour’.”
The whole awful story is just the last in a growing series of accounts of what are essentially human rights abuses being allowed the space to flourish in Britain because of our inability to strike the right balance between integration and multiculturalism. Honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation are all criminal cultural practices that have been allowed entry into this country, and all leave their victims abandoned to their fate as authorities scratch their heads wondering how to carry out their investigations without offending the suspected culprits! I’m shocked at the failure of schools, social workers and the wider authorities in spotting the clues that Shafilea really was at risk of serious abuse from her parents, as opposed to just being a very unhappy teenager, as I can only assume they must have thought when they decided that the best course of action was to ask the parents to come in and discuss their daughter’s fears with them.
Lessons had better be learned – the breath-taking duplicitousness displayed by Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed in manipulating the authorities is rife. I’m devastated at the thought of what this young woman had to go through despite her brave attempts to escape. If you need any help in understanding just how deeply this fucked up ‘code of honour’ has been embedded into the infrastructure of British Asian communities throughout the country, I suggest you read Daughters of Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana, a UK-based charity that supports victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence.
Finally, my thoughts go out to Shafilea’s sister Alesha. You did a brave thing; braver than the wider world knows given how you’re about to live your life from now on. May you work through the many losses you’ve had to bear and find peace as you so rightly deserve.