After the conviction of Mehmet Goren for the murder of his fifteen year old daughter because she had fallen in love with the wrong man, numerous columnists and campaigners have delivered broadsides against â€˜misplaced cultural sensitivitiesâ€™ and â€˜multiculturalismâ€™ (MixTogether has a roundup of initial responses here). Jaswinder Sanghera, founder of the charity Karma Nirvana, argued that:
Up until last month, 86 forced marriage protection orders have been issued, yet not one of them was in Bradford, Leicester or Tower Hamlets. Is this because forced marriage is not a problem in those areas, all of which have some of the largest Asian populations in Britain? Or is it because authorities there are failing to use the powers for fear of creating offence? I am afraid it is the latter.
Poorna Shetty meanwhile highlighted two cases where the police had failed to take women who contacted them seriously: both would end up dead.
There is still much to criticise the state for the way in which it deals with ‘honour’-based violence (HBV). Too little money gets to specialist charities (and even less will in the future), while the Forced Marriage Unit is understaffed and underfunded. Some state employees, whether politicians or officials, have been downright hostile in the past towards efforts to combat HBV. Jaswinder Sanghera recalls councillors and school officials in Derby (where she is based) criticising her and refusing to put up posters that told pupils about organisations which they could turn to if they felt under threat. Some victims of HBV have discovered in the past that the state does not take them seriously; one girl who feared that her parents would kill her was eventually re-housed, but only in the street next to theirs. Suspects fleeing oversees have often found safe havens in areas like Kurdistan.
Yet is there still a cultural relativism pervading the state to the extent that Jaswinder Sanghera can claim that:
The shame is not just that it is happening on such a large scale, but that it is so often covered up for fear of upsetting cultural sensibilities. Serious crimes are being treated as a matter for diversity officers rather than for the police and the courts.
I’m not so sure. Take the police for instance. They have probably done more than any organisation to improve the way in which they deal with HBV. There has been an improvement in dealing with suspected cases, as well as the number of cases dealt with (as Poorna Shetty points out), while specialist HBV officers have been trained and posted around the country. The Goren case occurred before all the changes. Senior police officers like Steve Allen have emerged as experts on HBV, and the police are more willing to work with, and listen to, HBV charities. Nor are situations where the victim has not been taken seriously been confined to HBV cases, with one woman being murdered by an ex-partner despite alerting the police numerous times, while a mother and her daughter killed themselves after months of vicious bullying while the police did nothing.
The 2007 Forced Marriage Act allowed for forced marriage orders to be issued (most famously in this case), and was designed so that people could escape marriage without their parents being prosecuted (studies found that the vast majority of victims didn’t want their parents to be prosecuted, so the Act was a way of ensuring that they could come forward). Jaswinder Sanghera’s statistics about the distribution of forced marriage orders is damning though, which suggests that much more needs to be done is schools and other community centres to publicise how victims can escape and how their friends can help them, and makes one wonder about the complicity of the state. I donâ€™t know if social services have got better at dealing with such situations either.
The state can only do so much. It can educate, deter, prosecute, and provide funding. It has got better at doing all of those things in recent years, yet, especially with regards to funding, it needs to do more. Where the state is limited is when it comes to mentalities. HBV tends to be marked by a premeditated thinking, a cold-blooded need to reassert a person or family’s standing in the ‘community’ (which is what marks it out from other areas of domestic violence). The question is, how do you remove that need to reassert a person’s ‘honour’ in the eyes of their ‘community’?
History provides only a partial answer. For hundreds of years, Europe was blighted by men (and women) fighting each other to defend their ‘honour’, whether in the classic duel, or ambushes, and so on. Yet that phenomenon doesn’t exist now, as a result of centralising states (which cracked down on duels and feuds since they threatened public order), and a shift from a culture that prized martial prowess to one that put more emphasis on learning and culture (and a few other factors). So in the end it was the combination of the state and contemporary opinion that reduced the need to defend one’s ‘honour’ through violence. Can the same thing happen to ‘honour-based violence? I hope so.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,History