MixTogether, writing at Harry’s Place, is arguing that the government and NGOs aren’t doing enough to condemn communities where ‘honour’-based violence (HBV) is prevalent, and that simply introducing more initiatives and laws won’t solve the problems:
“This is a welcome initiative, but it gets no closer to tackling the real root of the problem. It is just the latest round in the bizarre game of charades the government is playing with regard to â€˜honourâ€™ crimes…
Why do Nazir Afzal and other senior figures not have the courage to say publicly to the known problem communities that their behaviour in these matters is wrong, and does not accord with the letter or the spirit of British law? Rather than attempt to educate and improve the lives of young people in these communities, this government prefers to wait until matters have got so bad that they cross into criminality and then prosecute families, as if we need further strain on the criminal justice system.
The NGOs who work most closely with victims of â€˜honourâ€™ crimes are also part of the problem. The funding they receive is based on their caseload, which means they have little incentive to try and fight the root causes of these crimes. Over the last decade they have done a fantastic job of telling the government, the police and senior judges what they are doing wrong in relation to â€˜honourâ€™ crimes, but you will seldom hear them castigating the communities where these problems actually originate.”
I agree with aspects of his critique. I certainly don’t think that new laws and more initiatives are the solution to any problem (though they can play a part), especially one as deep rooted as this. There also have been alarming incidences of cultural relativism (i.e. when immoral actions are excused by reference to culture) when dealing with HBV, most notoriously in the Banaz Mahmood case. I know MixTogether to be a principled campaigner against such abuses, and consider him a friend.
Yet I feel he is too harsh on some. People like Nazir Afzal have long campaigned against the scourge of HBV, and have been more then willing to criticise particular communities, such as when he said:
“It’s [HBV] about people clinging to outdated customs to give them identity. There is no religious justification for this. There is nothing in any Koranic texts or any south Asian religion that justifies or excuses this type of crime.
“They will use religion, they will use culture, they will use ‘this is the way things happen back home’, they will use a number of excuses but ultimately it comes down to simple male power.”
NGOs are in a difficult position as well. While many do condemn such practices in said communities, they need to avoid isolating themselves from the ‘community’, as it would stop them from helping those most in need. As Shaminder Ubhi, the director of a woman’s refuge, pointed out:
“What we find is perhaps interventions from people outside of the community are not that well received because sometimes it can be seen as intrusive… I think it is easier for us to go into the communities and speak to them as a local Asian woman’s group.”
(Quoted in J. Brandon and S. Hafez, Crimes of the Community, p. 126)
The most important thing is to condemn practises within certain communities, without it turning into a blanket condemnation of the communities. One of the problems with HBV is that it is a community problem, that is to say it happens in part because of the belief that the perpetrators need to ‘maintain face’ and ‘cleanse’ the family ‘honour’. This doesn’t really apply to any other crime in the same way.
I do think that the younger members of these communities represent the best chance of progress. While some still believe that their female relatives shouldn’t be dating/marrying the ‘wrong’ sort of men, no British Asian in their twenties or thirties that I know (with one exception) is as conservative as their parents in these matters. People do get more conservative as they age, but I really do believe that attitudes of the younger generation, or at least the ones born in this country, are becoming more liberal.
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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence