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When I read the Daily Mail article from the UK entitled I was forced to marry my cousin – it’s normal in my culture, but SO WRONG all I could say was ugh! Why? Let me explain.
However, except for trying to tell the depressing tale of Khaleda, there is something horribly wrong with this article. The Daily Mail successfully depicts all Muslim and Pakistani families as tyrannical, heartless, cruel, and most of all, perverse.
The demonization begins immediately with the title of the article. The title appears to quote Khaleda as saying that being to forced to marry one’s cousin is the norm in Pakistani culture. This idea is constantly reinforced throughout the entire article by quoting Khaleda as saying:
“Virtually every Asian girl I have ever met has an arranged marriage and the vast majority of them are to their cousins.”
“And this was just one of many instances I would hear of.”
Additionally Alison Smith-Squire, the writer, ends the article with “(a)nd so another young Muslim woman’s life is ruined by this outdated practice.”
As someone who is of Pakistani descent, the ubiquity of forced marriages to cousins is new to me. I have never heard of this being a problem. Cousins are often married to each other but to say that the majority of these marriages are forced is an amateur guess at best. To generalize this or any practice to ane entire culture, one with millions of people, is extremely unprofessional and not to mention irrational and nonsensical.
Yet, the worst aspect of this article is not the insinuation that forced marriages to cousins are common, but rather that this practice is disgusting, barbaric, and backward. This sentiment is repeatedly presented throughout. Let’s look at what they say.
“Disgusted by her arranged marriage to a cousin…”
The disgust here is not presented as a result of the age difference or the lack of physical attraction, which would seem to be the more likely reason in this case, but rather as a result of their relation as cousins. Throughout the article, Khaleda expresses her disgust with being with her husband, with having him touch her. However, the sense one gets is that this disgust is due to the extreme lack of attraction toward her husband.
“I kept brushing them (her husband’s hands) away, repeating ‘no.’ Tears rolled down my cheeks and, even now, I cannot talk of that night as it totally disgusts me.” (Khaleda speaking of her wedding night)
But according to Khaleda and Smith-Squire this disgust is solely because he is her cousin.
“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.” (Khaleda)
This quote tries to ‘prove’ how disgusting the Pakistani community really is. To allow such a disgusting practice to continue, knowing full well how disgusting this is, must be a sign of a perverse mentality.
“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.” (Khaleda)
This quote is accepted without question. No place in the article does Smith-Squire speak with a doctor. For Smith-Squire to accept Khaleda’s version of the story when it could be hearsay is extremely unprofessional.
“…it is barbaric and unnatural.” (Khaleda)
This quote is clear. Smith-Squire is using an ‘insider’ to demonstrate the ‘reality’ of the practice of marrying one’s cousin. If someone who has experienced this situation, as extreme as it may be, declares the practice as barbaric and unnatural, then outsiders are much more willing to revile the practice.
“Marrying someone who is related to you…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.” (Khaleda)
Although stated by a Pakistani-British woman, this statement can still be read as racist. It may not be racist to state that one thinks such an act is barbaric and unnatural. But it is racist to assume that all Pakistanis engage in this practice and to paint Pakistani, as well as Muslim, culture as unnatural is racist and Islamophobic.
“Research has shown that babies born to cousins are twice as likely to suffer a birth defect than those 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.”
“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)
This is completely simplifying the issue. To say “even as a Muslim” implies that most Muslims want to intermarry. How commonly it occurs within a culture is not necessarily related to what Islam states of the practice. Although marrying of cousins is allowed in Islam, it is not encouraged, therefore not meant to be common. It is allowed to give flexibility to families and provide an opportunity for marriage. It is meant to be a last option. However, unfortunately, very often, families prefer relatives, who are the known, for a variety of reasons, one of which may be financial. Additionally, the practice of marrying cousins is common among non-Muslim Arabs and South Asians as well. This is not just a Muslim issue. This quote, as well as many others in the article, imply that this practice is exclusive to the Muslim populations of the world.