Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, September 27, 2008

By arrangement

In Britain it seems that whenever the topic of arranged marriages comes up in the press it's always as a stick with which to beat Muslims. Not surprisingly the intensely Islamophobic Daily Mail leads the pack on this one, as the following brief selection from Google will attest:

Muslim bride beaten and treated like a servant after arranged marriage
Missing schoolchildren feared forced into arranged marriages
Muslim 'inbreeding' causing surge in birth defects
A forced marriage? I'd rather kill myself

When I worked in India the first thing that struck me as odd about the newspapers was the role played by cricket. (You think football dominates our press? you have no idea. Three weeks after 9/11, with Afghanistan under cruise missile bombardment next door, the headlines in India were full of one story: Sachin Tendulkar, India's test match star, being accused of ball tampering. And this carried on for weeks, probably until the Indian parliament building was bombed.) The second was that chess matches appeared in the sports section. (How cool is that?) And the third came on my first weekend in India, when I encountered for the first time the newspapers' matrimonial supplements. Imagine the small ads section of a British local paper, with people advertising that they are looking for a lawnmower, or that they have a Ford Fiesta for sale. Well, in India the same techniques are applied to matrimony, with families putting their sons and daughters into the small ads. And while there are large numbers of Muslims in India, they are hugely outnumbered by the Hindu majority. In any case, perusal of the pages shows Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and I would imagine Christians. My point is that it's a cultural thing rather than a religious one, and pretty much universal across all classes.

Which is why it was heartening to read this article in the Guardian by Ziauddin Sardar, on his experience of an arranged marriage. It is sadly necessary to remind British readers, as he does, that "arranged marriages are not forced marriages". As the Daily Mail articles show, it is a distinction which lazy journalists and those with an anti-immigrant agenda are happy to blur. (As indeed is the Mail's favourite ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who when not pretending to be a refugee from war-torn Somalia claimed to have "fled" to the Netherlands from a "forced marriage". This story might have had more credibility had the supposed forced marriage been in, say, Pakistan rather than Canada. In fact she went to see a potential arranged marriage partner, didn't like him, and instead of going home went to the Netherlands with a fake ID and an invented refugee story.)

Still, even the Daily Mail can't ignore a Muslim woman in David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet, and Sayeeda Warsi is very clear on the distinction between forced marriages (which she campaigns against) and arranged marriages (like her own). See here. It isn't something you'll often hear me say about one of Cameron's crew, but she sounds all right, actually.


At 29 September, 2008 15:37, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Another topic that we see nothing of in our press. I guess it's because so many people move from India to Brittain and a lot fewer move to the US.


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