The Daily Express last Monday published a column by Douglas Murray on polygamy in the UK and benefits payments to multiple spouses.
Murray begins by commenting on polygamy as practiced in the Mormon community in America, stating that “Fortunately, so far as we know, Britain does not currently have any significant populace of wandering Mormons. But the followers of another world religion are here in large numbers and have polygamists in their midst.
“Certain interpretations of the Islamic faith permit men to have up to four wives. Though forbidden in a number of Muslim-majority countries, in other parts the practice of taking multiple wives is widespread.
“Women are not allowed more than one husband. This enhances female servitude and the lowly status of women in many Islamic societies.
“Now like so many other customs – good and bad – some immigrants have brought polygamy with them. And here, as in so many other areas, our cultures collide.”
Murray further contends that “Many women who have got into these situations will not have done so through their own volition. Polygamy is a practice which positively encourages ill-treatment.”
Murray then goes on to explain the issue of loopholes in the benefits system which allow wives after the first marriage which are not recognised under UK law, to claim benefits as single persons.
He continues, “Nobody who is married to multiple women should again be able to come to live in the UK. The law should be clear and consistent. If some Muslim majority countries are able to stand against polygamy then why can’t we?
“The tougher question is what to do about the women who are already here? This is not easy. There are thought to be around 1,000 legally recognised polygamous marriages in Britain.
“If the men and women are here legally and do not want to leave then they must be encouraged to work.
“Many women in polygamous arrangements will have been forced into this by their own, or husband’s, family. Many will be entirely unready for life in a modern democratic country in which people are for the timebeing at least still generally expected to pay their way.
“So as well as making sure this never happens again we must get these people off benefits. It is intolerable that during a period when many people are struggling to support their own families or wondering whether they can even afford to have a family, we should collectively be subsidising a tradition which is alien to our most fundamental values.
“People who come here should respect our customs and our laws. If they choose not to do so then they should quite literally have to pay for it.”
Several things which Murray writes are worth noting. First of all, is his consistent reference to Muslims as an immigrant population, not acknowledging those who were born here or whose families have resided in Britain for several generations. Murray makes statements such as “some immigrants have brought polygamy with them”, or that “Many women in polygamous arrangements will have been forced into this by their own, or husband’s, family. Many will be entirely unready for life in a modern democratic country in which people are for the timebeing at least still generally expected to pay their way.”
The latter statement ignores those British Muslim women who are entirely accustomed to “life in a modern democratic country” and who enter into polygamous relationships entirely out of choice. Or lack of choice as this article in the Daily Mail puts it.
Murray's claim of taxpayers subsidising an 'alien tradition' is further illustration of his bifurcation of British Muslims and British society. Are not Muslims also taxpayers, and what constitutes the 'collective' subsidising the system if not all British citizens, Muslims included?
The deliberate representation of the issue as one that posits Muslims as external to British society is perhaps best reflected in Murray’s omission of the problem of absentee fathers and the cost to the UK taxpayer of agencies like the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission, the successor body to the Child Support Agency. The omission is telling indeed given that the matter of the state picking up the tab for fathers who refuse to pay child maintenance recently surfaced in debates concerning the Welfare Reform Bill.
Moreover, according to statistics released under an FOI request, there are seven parliamentary constituencies in the UK in which single-parent households form the majority. From an article published in Saturday’s Daily Mail:
“There are close to 2 million single-parent families in the UK and we have the highest proportion of children brought up in one-parent families of any major European country...Two years ago a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which represents industrialised nations, exposed Britain’s shocking record on broken homes.
“It found we have more children living in one-parent families than any other European country and more of our single mothers are unemployed and on benefit than anywhere else on the Continent.
“Jill Kirby, a social policy expert and former director of the Centre for Policy Studies, said: “Children need input from both parents in order to thrive.
“Research shows children growing up in fatherless homes are much less likely to do well at school and are at twice the risk of getting into problems with drink or drugs, or involved in crime. The UK welfare system has been partly to blame, by providing a substitute breadwinner rather than encouraging parents to stick together.”
Might we hear moralizing from Murray on the cost to UK taxpayers of single parent families, absentee fathers and state agencies set up to chase down child maintenance payments?
Very unlikely. None of this is at all surprising given Murray’s previous statements on Muslims in Europe. Remarks made in a lecture from 2006 in which he said, “All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop" and that "Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.
Finally, notwithstanding that situations do exist where women may be forced into polygamous marriages, Murray ignores completely those women who choose to enter into polygamous marital arrangements of their own free will. Women enter into these arrangements for various reasons. Apart from romantic reasons, one trend that has been noted is of women, and ‘career women’ in particular, entering polygamous marriages because they do not want to have ‘full-time relationships’.
Another issue which has been highlighted is the struggles of the increasing numbers of educated, professional Muslim women to find suitable partners who will accept ‘women who wear trousers’. It is a shame then, although all too familiar that Murray should peddle stereotypes about Muslim women as helpless victims of their faith, and of Islam as an immigrant religion.
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