Gina Khan is a very brave woman. Born in Birmingham 38 years ago to Pakistani parents, she has run away from an arranged marriage, dressed herself in jeans and dared to speak out against the increasing radicalisation of her community…The trouble is, says Khan, that many of the Pakistanis who have come to Birmingham are all too easily swayed. “Most of them are ignorant, uneducated, illiterate people from rural areas. It is very easy for them to be brainwashed, very easy. These are people who have been taught from the beginning that our religion is everything, it is the right way. You are going to Hell simply because you were not born a Muslim.” Khan is far too independent-minded to accept these beliefs wholesale…”I had too much rubbish fed in me that I would be too Westernised. I was told to keep my distance from you because I am a Muslim. It is still really hard to explain to you how you are conditioned. From a young age those thoughts are put in your head: ‘I am a Muslim. I do not mix with those people’. I would honestly say that we are more racist and more prejudiced than the English.”
Being conditioned is one thing, and being independent-minded is another. The difference is crucial. Some conditioning is of course useful. (Don’t hit. Don’t touch that, it will burn/cut you. Look both ways. Don’t bite. Say please. Don’t push.) But it should be minimal, and it should be good in itself. Some independent-mindedness is of course harmful. (I will hit. I will take what I want and the hell with everyone else. I will push, I will not say please.) But if it is coupled with decent minimal conditioning (or teaching, if you prefer), it is mostly preferable to the alternative, especially when the alternative is really bad conditioning, such as ‘keep your distance from those people because you are a Muslim’.
What has been done to her — and so many other Muslim women — is what incenses Khan most, and has emboldened her tospeak out. Muslim society, she says, is based on male domination and the oppression of women. The mosques are run entirely by men, the Sharia councils are run by men, the “voice” of the Muslim community is always male. And it is women who suffer as a result.
Well exactly. That’s why the long love affair with the MCB was so mystifying.
Khan herself was pressurised into marriage at the age of 16 by her father, against her mother’s wishes. “I was manipulated by my dad’s side of the family into a teen marriage – you know, you are a passport for someone from Pakistan. My mum wanted me to study and make something of my life because she knew what this country had to offer.” Khan married and became pregnant, but after her baby died she says that she suffered terrible postnatal depression and left the marriage. Her family disowned her, as did the Muslim community…She is full of praise for the instruments of the British state: social services, the police, job centres. If she were prime minister, she says, the first thing she would do is ban teen marriages. “They are still being pulled out of the local girls school here and taken back home, aged 16 or 17, not allowed to get an education.”
Creepily, yet not surprisingly, that exactly echoes what happened to girls at Goldenbridge. They were pulled out of school to do domestic chores, and not allowed to get an education. I sense a pattern here…
[A]lthough polygamy is illegal in Britain, it is still, says, Khan, being practised with a Muslim seal of approval. The “marriages”, after all, are being sanctioned in the mosques. “My mum would turn in her grave if she knew Sharia was here. This is England, how can this be happening, how in this country? People in Pakistan are fighting for it not to happen there.”Khan is also vociferous on the subject of the veil, which is not, she says, a religious requirement: “It’s a 7th-century garment that should not be in this country.”
Read it all. It’s hard to extract bits, because it’s all good. Don’t miss it. Go, Gina Khan.