The Cowardice of the Liberal Press

Imagine if white racists in Norway or Britain had targeted Deepika Thathaal, the former pop singer who has recently made her first feminist documentary, Banaz: An Honour Killing, which was shown on ITV1 at the end of October. As a brilliant and beautiful 17-year-old she had mixed the influences of the Asian music her immigrant parents knew with the sounds of Massive Attack and Portishead to become one of Norway’s first Asian stars.

Her opponents dialled her parents’ home and bellowed out poisonous threats. They burst into her classroom and screamed that she was “a slut, a whore, a prostitute”. They attacked her on the street and stormed the stage during a concert in Oslo. She moved to London and relaunched herself as Deeyah, “the Muslim Madonna”. With a touching naivety, she thought that Britain would be a safer country to work in than Norway. (She had visited as a child and been impressed to see Asian women outdoors in Western dresses without men attacking them.)

One thought disturbed her reverie: “Why do I have this market all to myself? Why am I the only Muslim woman on the scene?”

She soon found out. She was forced to hire bodyguards. She was spat at in the street and warned that she would be cut into pieces. Deeyah could not take it. She and her liberal parents were living in fear. She announced that she was giving up on her dream of being a star, and fleeing the horrors of Europe in 2007 to find sanctuary in America.

I am not being fanciful if I imagine that had her tormentors been Norwegian neo-Nazis or the BNP, Deeyah would have become an anti-racist hero: a Muslim Stephen Lawrence. Artists would make her struggle against prejudice their struggle. Politicians would invite her to Westminster and the European Parliament. The BBC would see to it that she was never off air. Liberal society would embrace her and define itself by its response to prejudice and violence.

The men who persecuted Deeyah in Norway and Britain were every bit as prejudiced and violent as neo-Nazis, but as it happens, they rallied under the banner of radical Islam rather than the swastika. A tiny difference, you might think. A mere trifle. But that tiny difference made all the difference in the world. No one came to Deeyah’s defence. Not liberal-left or compassionate conservative politicians. Not the BBC or liberal press. Not Amnesty International or the “concerned” artists who take up so many leftish causes. No one cared. To defend an Asian woman from unprovoked attacks by Asian men was to their warped minds a racist or Islamophobic act. Unprotected and unnoticed, Deeyah slunk off to live in an anonymous suburb of Atlanta, and begin the long task of pulling herself together.  

After the Jimmy Savile scandal, the British have looked back on the 1970s with self-satisfaction. How could our predecessors have been so indifferent to abuse back then, they ask. How shocking that we once ignored suffering and pretended that it did not exist. Couldn’t happen today, of course. No, no, no, we are a better and kinder people. Not when it comes to women and children with brown rather than white skin, we aren’t. When a 15-year-old white schoolgirl runs off to France with a teacher, the story leads the news. When the parents of a Pakistani girl pull their daughter from class and force her to marry an old man from the other side of the world—that is, when they organise her abduction and rape—polite society stays quiet. The genital mutilation of girls is a criminal offence in Britain, which sounds like an advance. The only trouble is that the police and Crown Prosecution Service will not enforce the law, and doctors and social workers will not expose the abuse.

Deeyah retreated to her asylum in Atlanta. If you are a woman, she was to write later, you “cannot be who you are, you cannot express your needs, hopes and opinions as an individual if they are in conflict with the greater good and reputation of the family, the community, the collective.” Deeyah did not collapse under the pressure of collective violence. Rather magnificently, she stopped wanting to be a celebrity, and decided to step up a gear and become a feminist activist instead. Banaz: An Honour Killing is the first result of her change of course. Her film (originally titled Banaz: A Love Story) tells the story of Banaz Mahmod, the daughter of Kurdish parents, who lived in Mitcham, South London. They married her when she was 17 to a Kurdish man, then aged 28, whom she barely knew. Her husband assaulted her all the time. “When he raped me it was like I was his shoe that he could wear whenever he wanted to,” she explained. “I didn’t know if this was normal in my culture, or here. I was 17.”

Banaz ran away, and began to see Rahmat Sulemani, a young friend. The love between the two appalled her family. Her father, uncle and two cousins arranged and executed her murder.

Deeyah had all kinds of problems turning Banaz’s story into a film. Rahmat Sulemani was so frightened he would not appear on camera. Banaz’s older sister Bekhal, who put her own life at risk by giving evidence against her family, would appear only from behind a veil. As viewers of ITV can testify, the documentary is a triumph because of the cooperation of the police. They gave Deeyah footage that did them no credit. The audience sees a desperate Banaz telling police officers: “People are following me, still they are following me. At any time, if anything happens to me, it’s them.” The police did nothing and her murder followed. As important, the Met gave Deeyah access to the remarkable Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, who led the murder inquiry. Nothing would stop her solving the crime. Two of the murderers fled to what they assumed was the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. Goode organised the first successful extradition of suspects from Iraq to Britain. Because of her efforts, the Met now treats murder victims equally, regardless of the colour of their skin. Perhaps I am being over-optimistic but the police appear to be moving beyond the hypocrisies of multiculturalism.

If the British look back in 2040 and wonder how their “anti-racist” predecessors tolerated genital mutilation, kidnap and murder, a change for the better will have come about because of the lonely work of women like Deeyah and DCI Goode, not because of anything done by those cowardly little s***s, who call themselves “liberals” today.

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