| ||As is wont of the Daily Mail when an issue crops up that requires a “brave Muslim” to speak out on, today’s edition of the paper carries a feature column by Saira Khan on the “brave speech” of Professor Steve Jones at the Hay Festival on “inbreeding” and the high incidence of children born with genetic deformities among British Pakistani communities. |
Khan lauds the professor’s bravery stating “…I’m grateful that someone has finally been prepared to stand up and say what many of us in Islamic communities have known for decades.”
Er, except, it’s not the first time someone has ventured into these waters and spoken up about this (see Phil Woolas’s comments on the same in February 2008).
Rehearsing anecdotal evidence of what Khan has witnessed among her own relations and what health statistics tell us about the nature and incidence of the problem, Khan enters into somewhat dangerous territory in her quest to reward Jones’s “bravery” with her own policy advice.
“One thing needs to be clear: these practices have no basis in religion — there is nothing in the Koran that dictates a man should marry his first cousin.
“And while I’m prepared to stand up and say how appalled I am at the indifference of my own community, I am every bit as outraged by the lack of interest shown by liberal Britain to this deeply troubling problem.
“Although as a nation we are quite prepared to storm into places like Libya and stand up for the human rights of their citizens, we do not have the same approach to social problems in our own country.
“I can only hope that David Cameron’s Government will not shy away from confronting a problem which for too long has allowed outrageous practices to flourish unchallenged in this country.”
She adds, “There should be a mandatory genetic screening programme and counselling for any first cousins planning to marry, to ensure they are aware of the potential health problems they could be passing on to their offspring.”
It’s an interesting concept but since genetic disorders among offspring can affect any otherwise healthy couples too, should we insist on genetic screening programmes being made mandatory for all just to be on the safe side and to catch any disorders before they develop? Preventative screening for all perhaps? And might we rightly hear indignation and disquiet at such government interference in the private affairs of citizens?
Khan cites the example of teen pregnancies and policy initiatives designed to educate young people about sex and unplanned pregnancy blighting the prospects of young women in the UK. She writes:
“When, for example, underage pregnancy was identified as a problem in the UK (and a drain on resources), efforts were made to educate the young, predominantly poor, white, women this was happening to.”
Evidence suggests that the policy is not entirely working and though borne of good intentions, and with an eager eye on the cost to the health sector and economy of teen pregnancy, in the end individuals will make individual choices – planned or otherwise – and best laid plans do not necessarily go to plan.
Efforts to educate people on the risks involved in cousin-marriages is important and just as welcome as government efforts to help Muslims, for example, quit smoking during Ramadhan, or understand the greater health risks of diabetes, coronary disease and high blood pressure among ethnic communities on account of dietary and other habits.
But what is most troubling in the comment piece by Khan is the presumption that “liberal Britain” is complicit in these hardships because they dare not speak out for fear of causing offence.
“Terrified of being branded Islamophobic, most people simply choose to ignore these issues and are more worried about causing offence than the plight of these poor, blameless children. But in keeping quiet out of a misplaced sense of political correctness, we are failing our own citizens.”
At a time when European governments are prescribing what Muslim women can and can’t wear, and financial support has been generously distributed by government to groups that peddle the right sort of Islam, is Khan seriously suggesting some issues are off-limits?
And as the case of Phil Woolas illustrates, this debate is a re-run. Maybe now we can move past framing Muslims and get on with the task of addressing the problem?
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