There’s a story from The Daily Mail about a young woman who was forced to marry her much older cousin in Pakistan. A few months after the marriage ceremony she was sent back to the UK, where she had been born and educated, to find work so her cousin-husband could get a visa to leave Pakistan and live with her in the UK.
After she returned to Britain, she decided her only recourse was to run away to be with her true love. She now lives in fear of her family finding her and forcing her to return to the marriage, which took place in Pakistan.
It’s a dramatic story, full of stolen love and living in secret, but the theme is more pop-MSM than it is reality (however anxious the reality has become for the young woman):
These days Khaleda Begum, 25, hardly leaves the confines of her one-bedroom flat.
And when she does, her heart thumps and she looks over her shoulder in terror. For, in the eyes of her Muslim family, Khaleda has done the unthinkable.
Disgusted by her arranged marriage to a cousin – a suitor found for her by her father – she has fled her family home and now, fearful of reprisals, lives [with her British boyfriend] under police protection.
For Khaleda, who was born in Britain and took GCSEs and A-levels at her British school in the hope of becoming a teacher in this country, was forced by her father to go to Pakistan and marry his cousin – a man 20 years her senior, who spoke no English and whom she had never even met.
And according to Khaleda – who today, having escaped “the marriage from hell,” lives in hiding with her British partner, Phil – she is far from alone.
She says: “Virtually every Asian girl I have ever met has an arranged marriage and the vast majority of them are to their cousins.
“It is well known within the community that such marriages do produce deformed babies. No one talks about it, but it is one of the reasons why I found such a marriage to someone so closely related to myself to be so very repugnant.
“Just before I was forced to marry I heard of one of my cousins who’d been forced to marry her auntie’s son.
“They had a baby daughter who died and when they asked doctors why, they were told it was because of inter-breeding. They were told the parents were too closely related to have a normal baby.
“And this was just one of many instances I would hear of. Anyone who thinks it doesn’t happen is in denial. As I know from the most painful and personal experience, it is barbaric and unnatural.
“Marrying someone who is related to you – and being forced to do so – goes against all your natural urges. It is not racist to tell the truth. What I cannot understand is why it is allowed to go on in this country at all.”
Well, for someone with such a good education, Khaleda doesn’t seem to know much about history, especially royal history in Europe. They intermarried so frequently that recessive traits did become a problem. Hemophilia, in particular, was a scourge for a few, along with the famous Hapsburg lip:
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A well-known example of royal intermarriage and interrelation today is that of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born a Prince of Greece and Denmark). Prince Philip is the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, whose mother Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine and paternal grandfather, Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine, were both members of the same paternal family. Princess Alice’s father’s brother, Prince Henry of Battenberg, meanwhile, married Princess Beatrice (a daughter of Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria). Their daughter, Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg married King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and her grandson, the present king, Juan Carlos, married Princess Sophia of Greece & Denmark, whose father was a cousin of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Alternatively, Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandfather, King Christian IX of Denmark, was also Prince Philip’s great-grandfather. They are also related several times through Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover…
Got that? It all sounds very West Virginian to me.
How come this well-known breeding behavior of European royals fails to be mentioned either by Khaleda or those interviewing her?
Is this simply the latest “Henny-Penny-the-sky-is-falling” media circus? Now that global warming is a dying flame, do we need a new horror to contemplate? Obviously, to make cousin marriage a horror, one has to ignore history a bit.
So the latest fanciful fear becomes all the deformed babies that the “Asians” are having…[Pakistanis, that is. For some reason beyond my ken, the media – and even the people themselves – refer to Pakistani immigrants as Asians. What’s that about? Perhaps some Brit can tell us?]
Meanwhile, the politicians are getting on the bandwagon of this new frightening situation:
…Labour MP Ann Cryer, who represents Keighley, West Yorkshire…first raised the issue more than two years ago after research showed British Pakistanis were 13 times more likely to have children with recessive disorders than the general population.
On Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, she said: “The vast majority of marriages in the Muslim community in Bradford, 80 per cent, are transcontinental.
“The vast majority of those are to cousins. Many of those do result in either infant mortality or in recessive disorders.”
Asked if the problem was recognised in the British Pakistani community, she said: “They are in denial. But I am hoping that now we have broken the silence, leaders will start to have a debate about it and perhaps even give advice and say ‘Look you can carry on marrying your cousins, but there is a price to pay’.
“The price to pay is often in either babies being born dead, babies being born very early and babies being born with very severe genetically transmitted disorders.
“This is a blight on that community, but particularly on specific families.”
Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, backed the calls to raise public awareness. He said, in general, mortality and disability almost doubled among marriages between cousins.
But he warned that the risks should not be overstated, adding: “Let’s bear in mind that families like the Rothschilds married their cousins frequently.
“In Bradford, the Office of National Statistics says there is an increase of about five or so infant deaths a year because of cousin marriage, particularly among the Asian community there…”
Leaving aside consanguinity for the moment, let’s return to Khaleda’s dilemma:
“When I was about 12, I remember saying: ‘You won’t make me have an arranged marriage, will you?’ I’d begun to realise that many Asian women were forced to marry, even forced to marry their cousins.
“The thought of marrying someone I didn’t know, and someone who was related to me, was disgusting.”
Yet, as Khaleda reached her teens her father became stricter.
“I went to local state schools but unlike friends who went to parties and clubs, I knew that wasn’t our way. It didn’t bother me – I accepted our culture was different.
“Instead, I concentrated on my studies – I was in the top set for virtually every subject and enjoyed family parties at weekends.”
Having gained nine GCSEs with top grades, Khaleda left school at 16 to go to college to do A-levels in English literature, Urdu and computing. Later, aged 19, she began courses in book-keeping and childcare.
As fate would have it, being out in the real world, she fell in love with “Phil” – obviously not an ‘Asian’ name, hmm? Despite the impending marriage, she and Phil continued to see each other, defying her family custom in secret. But the wedding plans went on inexorably:
“I even used to hear my brothers rowing with my father about it. I would lie crying in bed, hearing them shout they didn’t want me to be forced into marriage. But my father didn’t listen to anyone.”
Worse, was Khaleda’s father’s choice of groom. “Haram, my husband-to-be, was my father’s cousin and about 20 years older than me.
“My brothers nicknamed him Fatso because he was so overweight. As he spoke no English and had always lived in Pakistan, his life was a world away from mine and I couldn’t imagine how my father could have matched me with him.
“By now, Phil and I were very much in love. We regularly met in secret and I saw my future with him, not with some ugly man who I’d never even met.
“I told my mother I couldn’t have an arranged marriage but she said I had no choice. I had no one to turn to. [my emphasis -D] I knew then that refusing to get married would bring enormous shame on my family and that if I did, I may live in fear of reprisals from my family for the rest of my life.”
A date was set for Khaleda’s £25,000 wedding in Pakistan in December 2004 and preparations began in earnest with enormous shopping sprees to buy the ornate clothes, jewellery, decorations and food for the ceremony.
The celebrations, including dancing and singing, would last for two weeks.
Here’s an interesting note that is left unexplained. In reciting her story of the journey to Pakistan and the elaborate preparations for her marriage she says:
On the day of the ceremony, held at the family home, a priest arrived. Khaleda, adorned in a gold wedding dress and surrounded by family and friends, sat with her husband beside her, choking back sobs. She had only ever seen him from a distance before.
“I couldn’t look at him,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to speak to him. As a little girl I’d always dreamed of a perfect wedding day. The sick reality was I was marrying a relative. It was a nightmare.
Notice that sentence: On the day of the ceremony, held at the family home, a priest arrived. Is this a Christian family? Anglican, perhaps? There’s no law in the UK against cousin marriages. There’s no law against it in most states of the USA. In fact, one of the few institutions objecting to this custom is the Catholic Church. The intermarriages in the “hollers” of West Virginia are the subject of many non-p.c. jokes – jests who purpose is to prove how low intelligence results from inbreeding.
At any rate, no one explains or elaborates on Khaleda’s use of the word “priest”, which obviously contradicts the description in the beginning that she is a Muslim. So why is there a priest in the picture? Is this an… ummm, ecumenical marriage? We never find out.
We do know how unhappy she was, and why:
“My worst nightmare was that I would get pregnant,” she says. “But it wasn’t only the thought of having a baby with Haram that revolted me, I was simply terrified that any baby would be terribly deformed or even stillborn.”
Research has shown that babies born to cousins are twice as likely to suffer a birth defect than one born to a couple who are not related. While the risk is lowered if someone marries their father’s cousin, it is still “reasonably high,” an expert said.
So Khaleda refused to sleep with her husband and her whole family refused to speak to her.
Finally Khaleda takes off to be with Phil, but the author never tells us who this “expert” is who predicts “reasonably high” birth defects. Instead, the story continues with Khaleda’s desperate escape from her family and the forced marriage. She rejoins Phil and they flee to France for awhile, eventually returning to the UK.
They must have settled in the neighborhood since Khaleda’s family comes around threatening them. The police intervene and they establish a safe house for the couple – safe from the family, a house wired to an alarm at the police station. Unfortunately, family members come upon a friend of Phil’s and threaten him when he refuses to reveal the couple’s whereabouts.
So we are back to the beginning of the story, with some additional understanding of her circumstances:
These days Khaleda Begum, 25, hardly leaves the confines of her one-bedroom flat.
And when she does, her heart thumps and she looks over her shoulder in terror. For, in the eyes of her Muslim family, Khaleda has done the unthinkable…
Sadly, Khaleda’s future is far from clear. She longs to marry Phil but is still legally wed to Haram.
“I desperately want a divorce but I am too frightened to make contact,” she says. “And as for my career, well, I am too scared even to pursue my dream as a teacher.”
And so another young Muslim woman’s life is ruined by this outdated practice. Just how many more babies will have to be born deformed, or even dead, before it is finally stopped?
A dramatic rhetorical flourish and the tale is done.
Except it’s not.
Let’s run down some of the assumptions here:
Despite Khaleda’s fear, cousin marriages are not really that genetically risky. At least not if you avoid the European royalty’s experience of generations of inbreeding. That goes for the folks in the hollows of West Virginia, too. So do Pakistani families intermarry at the same rate as those two groups? No one tells us. The story only deals with two generations and lots of alarming generalizations, and fails to point out that Khaleda’s husband is not her first cousin at all. He is her first cousin once removed. Big difference genetically.
I can see her not wanting to marry a fat stranger whom she finds unattractive. I can see why she chafes at the restrictions. Her foolish parents sent her out into a British world to be educated and then tried to rein her back into the folkways of “home.” Definitely a recipe for intergenerational disaster:
“While I know I made the right decision to leave, I have lost all my confidence and I am frightened that a relative will see me and find out where I am, and there could be reprisals,” she says.
“Sometimes I just sit and cry and I’ve since been prescribed anti-depressants by my GP.
“I feel so guilty at the shame I know my family has suffered and not a day goes by when I don’t wonder how my mother is. I miss them so much.
“Even as a Muslim I have no idea why families want to intermarry like this. I can only think it is to keep wealth within the family. But unless this practice is outlawed, more young Muslim women like me will have their lives ruined.”
Khaleda’s life is not “ruined.” It is merely complicated.
A lawyer could represent her at a divorce. She need not be present. Or they could adjudicate a decision in which her situation is declared so dangerous that she gets to change her identity and start over somewhere else. I helped an American woman do that once, with the gracious aid of an attorney working pro bono.
If she hasn’t the spine for that step yet – and it takes nerve for a young person to defy their family traditions – she and Phil could certainly move to another part of the UK, one where she could teach and they could have a normal life. It is not hard to cover your tracks in Britain.
But staying in the vicinity of her family while she takes anti-depressants and lives with on-going anxiety is not doing anyone a favor. At the very least such a decision harms her health and perhaps strains her relationship with Phil.
Throughout her story Khaleda has not mentioned violence directed toward her. In that she is fortunate. There are thousands of ‘Asian’ women who face forced marriages and violence, according to police chiefs:
Up to 17,000 women in Britain are being subjected to “honour” related violence, including murder, every year, according to police chiefs.
And official figures on forced marriages are the tip of the iceberg, says the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
It warns that the number of girls falling victim to forced marriages, kidnappings, sexual assaults, beatings and even murder by relatives intent on upholding the “honour” of their family is up to 35 times higher than official figures suggest.
The crisis, with children as young as 11 having been sent abroad to be married, has prompted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to call on British consular staff in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to take more action to identify and help British citizens believed to be the victims of forced marriages in recent years.
The Home Office is drawing up an action plan to tackle honour-based violence which “aims to improve the response of police and other agencies” and “ensure that victims are encouraged to come forward with the knowledge that they will receive the help and support they need”. And a Civil Protection Bill coming into effect later this year will give courts greater guidance on dealing with forced marriages.
Commander Steve Allen, head of ACPO’s honour-based violence unit, says the true toll of people falling victim to brutal ancient customs is “massively unreported” and far worse than is traditionally accepted. “We work on a figure which suggests it is about 500 cases shared between us and the Forced Marriage Unit per year,” he said: “If the generally accepted statistic is that a victim will suffer 35 experiences of domestic violence before they report, then I suspect if you multiplied our reporting by 35 times you may be somewhere near where people’s experience is at.” His disturbing assessment, made to a committee of MPs last week, comes amid a series of gruesome murders and attacks on British women at the hands of their relatives.
Marilyn Mornington, a district judge and chair of the Domestic Violence Working Group, warned that fears of retribution, and the authorities’ failure to understand the problem completely, meant the vast majority of victims were still too scared to come forward for help. In evidence to the home affairs committee, which is investigating the problem, she said: “We need a national strategy to identify the large number of pupils, particularly girls, missing from school registers who have been taken off the register and are said to be home schooled, which leads to these issues. Airport staff and other staff need to be trained to recognise girls who are being taken out of the country.
That article cited from The Independent, has statistics and anecdotal information, horror stories of honour killings, degradation, and the like. By comparison, Khaleda has gotten off lightly.
And it sounds like “the system” is ratcheting up an effective response to the problem of “honor” marriages, i.e., life-long relationships forced on women who are truly trapped.
It’s not a case of kissing cousins being the problem here, it’s a bad cultural dynamic in which people are forced into relationships with strangers they come to loathe. Yes, it’s true, despite what the elites proclaim to the contrary: not all cultures are equally healthy. Being a woman in a Muslim culture is definitely not a benign situation.
But marrying your cousin? It isn’t a big deal, unless your family has been doing it for generations. John Stossel cites a study funded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors:
[It] revealed that assumptions about cousin marriage are unfounded. The risks of birth defects or mental retardation are 2 or 3 percent higher among married cousins, but other parental risk factors are higher. Age, for example, increases the risk much more: There’s a 6 to 8 percent chance that a woman over 40 will give birth to a child with birth defects.
It would be ridiculous, however, to prohibit middle-aged women from having children. It’s equally wrong to prohibit cousins from marrying. There are risks and challenges in any marriage, but it should not be for politicians to decide such intimate matters as whether you get to marry the person you love. Love, marriage and procreation are personal choices better not left to “experts” who are often repeating myths.
Stossel points out a definite downside to cousin-marriage: divorce. You can divorce your spouse, but there you both are, still in the same family…thus your aunt may not be your mother-in-law anymore, but she’s still Aunt Sally. How do you deal with that?
It’s enough to make any cousin hesitate…
Hat tip: Weasel Zippers