The immigration of Muslims to Europe and America — in the U.S. the population has more than doubled from one million in 2000 to 2.6 million in 2010 — casts a light on conservative Islamic customs previously under the radar, among them arranged and forced marriages.
The issue has shot to the top of the legal ladder in Switzerland. That nation will soon adopt a law that will criminalize compulsory nuptials. The bold move is poised to stir up a hornet’s nest about the assimilation of Muslims overseas, while exposing the harsh demands of a union which binds couples to their families and society, above each other, and puts the wife last.
Advocates are quick to point out a distinction between the two, but it’s a blurry line at best. Forced marriages apparently violate the religion because they’re obtained through coercion, blackmail, threats, fraud, and bribery, while arranged ones are agreed upon by both parties, supposedly guaranteeing marital success.
Marriages cooked up by relatives are more honorable than ones produced by love, claim believers, even though a 2008 report by the British-based Centre for Social Cohesion found that 17,000 women in the U.K. were victims of honor-related sex attacks, kidnappings, beatings, assault, and murder each year — an underestimate it assessed.
The figures support the perplexities confronting new generations of Muslims born in free lands and faced with forbidden new freedoms that cause inevitable contention at home. Teen rebellion, a rite of passage viewed in America, has morphed tragically in the Muslim diaspora into stifled suicides and hushed-up honor killings by families more concerned with upholding their badge of honor than with their offspring.
A British Pakistani couple on trial last month for allegedly honor-killing their 17-year-old daughter in 2003, and dumping her body in an embankment because she was too westernized, called her a liar on the stand.
She rose from the grave to defend herself when the prosecution read an application for emergency shelter she made to her town council just days before traveling to Pakistan for a marriage she emphasized was arranged.
“I have been prevented from attending college and my part-time job. I am scared of going back to my parents, and frightened enough to flee my home,” she wrote, adding ominously, “There has been a build up of violence toward me, and my mother told me I was about to go to Pakistan for an arranged marriage.”
Little has changed since 610 A.D. or even since a sad classmate of mine astoundingly announced that her Pakistani parents were marrying her off to a wealthy stranger 20 years her senior.
A few days later, our headmistress informed us that the teen had hanged herself.
Switzerland’s new law can’t hope to eradicate a time-honored tradition that thrives despite itself. But it will question — in a court of law — a rite that’s wrong.
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Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at email@example.com or by calling (718) 260-2529.