Domestic violence is illegal in this country. The term domestic violence extends to threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) and it doesn’t just affect spouses but also family members or members of the same household, irrespective of gender or sexuality. When an assault or threat of an assault is reported the police have a duty to investigate. Except in some cases they say they cannot undertake their duty lest they offend on grounds of cultural differences.
I am yet to encounter a culture where domestic abuse is enshrined as one of their respected practices. As in any culture across the world, the majority of people are peaceful and benign in their actions. They can be reasonable and resolve issues without resorting to harm. Islam, a religion that is touted as punitive and regressive to the development of women is often held up as an example by right wing pressure groups and media in the West of how men in the East continue to control their women because their holy book says so and somewhere in this book, it is alleged that God decrees domestic abuse as the right of man, it is not apparently a religion of peace as its followers believe but one of violence and control, oppressive and archaic. I’m not a Muslim by a long stretch of the imagination but I was institutionalised once upon a time. And I was victim to such abuses. However, I cannot say that I was abused because the good book said so. I was abused because the men in my family were hellbent on control.
Having arrived in the 60s, my grandfather (ex-army) had to muddle his way through British life by himself for the first few years. He found work as a foreman for British Steel. Without their wives and children, groups of men in their tens would share grotty bedsits in an effort to stay alive on the meagre wages they were paid but also to save so they could bring their families over. It was a time of deprivation and disorder; they were not wanted in this country. I think my grandfather was a very angry man, put upon and controlled by other men he could not afford to say boo to. And so the cycle began. They would bark orders at him and he would beat it down to her, my grandmother. She was a poor village girl he’d fallen in love with and eloped. Strange that my grandparents had what we term a love marriage whilst they forced most of their own children into marriages they did not want. I believe they did this because they felt they had to protect their culture. I remember my mother laughingly telling me how my gran had reacted to the news a distant relative had recently got married to a white man. My grandmother was adamant my sister and I should not hear about it, just in case we did the same.
Whenever any group migrates to new shores, they become insular, protective of who they are and where they come from. The culture in the Motherland will continue to move on and adapt, becoming modernised and globalised. When I went to Pakistan in 2002, I was shocked to find my girl cousins wearing short sleeves and getting their eyebrows done at the local beauticians. We were forbidden from doing such things. When your culture is not being oppressed, it is easier to move with the times. My cousins were not beaten, they were all studying and one was even going into engineering. Domestic abuse is not part of South Asian culture.
It is not part of Islam either. You’ll get the fundos with their beards and cropped trousers offering dawah, with their various takes on Islam and the role of the woman. One offered “if God did not exist (wait for him to finish saying his astagfirullahs) then woman would look to her man as her God”. Wait a minute, last time I checked it was women who had the power to create. If God did not exist (sorry god), then surely it is woman who takes the place of creator?
In relation to abuse, I have found two teachings which shed some light. Firstly, there is a passage on chastisement (domestic abuse to you and me). It is recommended, if the woman should speak out of turn (my mind usually wanders at such a sentence) then it is permissible to strike her on the arm with a ‘miswak’. A miswak is a twig from the Salvadora Persica tree which is used to clean the teeth. It is no bigger than your hand and about the thickness of a standard pencil. Texts are largely open to interpretation but I believe this to mean, you shouldn’t hit your wife. There is another teaching from the hadiths which suggest that if an argument ensues and your opponent is not a physical match to you, one must lay down on the ground. The change in stance has a calming effect. Perhaps I have chosen to focus on the bits where confrontation and violence are discouraged but when Muslims the world over call it the religion of peace, maybe it’s time we started listening.
Domestic abuse is not a cultural practice. It is the worst manifestation of control by people who feel the need to exert their control. I personally believe that statutory agencies are using this excuse to avoid having to deal with people they might not understand or actually care for. This excuse has gone on long enough, why are these agencies not putting some of their budget into courses designed to tackle culturally sensitive issues? For if they did, they might realise that saying domestic abuse aka ‘honour’ based crime is a cultural thing, they ‘d be saying the same about us Brits. Where one person has intentions to harm another’s body or state of mind, the state has a duty to protect. Irrespective of the excuses the perpetrators think up.