The story of Rashana offers a glimpse into the rather invisible depths of Muslim immigration in the West. Of Pakistani origin, she grew up in Oldham, a rough place in the north of England. Something was wrong in the family, the newspaper reports don’t specify exactly what, but as a child Rashana was ceaselessly hit and injured badly enough to need being taken to hospital regularly. “My aunties, uncles and grandparents knew what my mum was doing to me,” Rashana says. Teachers at school and other English adults reported the girl’s bruises, her unhappiness, her suicide attempt. Social workers came to the house — and here’s the extra horror — the social workers were themselves Muslim, and as Rashana explains, “because of the culture they were always going to side with my parents.” In that culture, she adds, “the family closes ranks when there is a problem and outsiders are kept out.” At one point in her childhood, she told her teacher that her older brother had raped her. The police and the social services were called in again, but Rashana was forced by them to go back home. Eventually she was placed with a foster family.
Rashana managed to go to university, and graduated with a degree in business. She’s 32 now, and seven years ago she started a legal process to sue Oldham Council for negligence because they had full knowledge of the way she’d been abused. At last, in an out-of-court settlement, she has been awarded about $200,000 compensation, though whether the Council will be able to claim the money from the family is an open question.
The Oldham authorities evidently believed that the cruelty going on before their eyes should not be prevented on the grounds that Muslim culture is like that. That’s a form of racism, as well as a shameful denial of our own culture, indeed of simple human empathy for other people. “All my life I have longed to belong somewhere and I cannot see any kind of future for myself,” is Rashana’s summary of where she is now.
Britain has just accepted officially the institution of sharia courts, where the inequality of women will find Islamic sanction. How are the Rashanas in our midst to be protected from wilful and legal perpetuation of a culture that discriminates against them and must obstruct their hopes of belonging and having a future like other British women?