Wednesday 15 August 2012

Opinion: The Cultural Ghettos of Parenting in Diaspora

I could have been a lawyer
If I had not taken that decision to switch from the liberal arts and social sciences to pure science and mathematics in the second term of the penultimate year of my secondary school education, I might well have become a lawyer with the career path towards becoming a judge.
Nothing excites me more than to read the conclusions of judges when delivering judgements on socially sensitive issues. The clarity of thought that is presented in the simplicity of expression leaves no one in doubt as to the persuasion that inspired their words.
I have worked with lawyers before and any legal drama in television especially Perry Mason has always caught my fascination.
Cultural parenting in Diaspora
Sadly, the cases I will refer to in this blog pertain to parenting issues of immigrant communities in the United Kingdom that need scrutiny and addressing. There have been too many instances of cruelty towards children meted out in brutalisation passing for discipline, honour killings to restore parental honour in their communities, Female Genital Mutilation, witchcraft stigmatisation, bizarre and macabre rituals, to mention just a few.
Parents who have come within the crosshairs of the law have usually claimed racial prejudice and a miscarriage of justice. They protest that they are innocent and though there is nothing on God’s good earth that can justify their actions, the rights their children may not have in their home countries in what we delusionally call 'our culture' are all too well protected in the West.
Children have rights
The first lesson any immigrant parent must learn by observation or through coercion is a child in the West has rights and the State where those rights are found to have been violated will prosecute the parents to the full extent of the law.
Whilst one can understand the fears of parents who have in their own upbringing have been given the big stick and very little carrot. I dare say, the emphasis is more on size of carrot and when it is offered in the West – it can be more than just effective, the relationship that stems from love rather than the duty of parental provision – most Western kids are not unruly, ill-disciplined, uncontrollable and disastrously beyond redemption.
You’re now in Rome
The narrative is the same in many immigrant communities, the parents come from a country with different cultures and practices to live in the West, they have their children born and bred in the West, the children might be aware of their parents' heritage but they are essentially Westerners in mind, outlook, expression and culture.
No amount of community activity apart from the core environment of the home country is going to turn those children into cultural carbon-copies of their parents. As they say, when in Rome, do as Romans do.
Integrate or lose out
Again, one can understand the comfort a sense of community provides people, but like I have written many times before, these communities have a tendency to ghettoise to the extent that they become time-capsules of practices from home countries that probably have been jettisoned decades ago.
Parents who fail to integrate properly in host countries are at risk of first running afoul of the law leaving them unprepared for seriously dire consequences – brutalisation and murder leading to long terms of imprisonment – all of which could have been completely avoidable.
The honest truth is those who fail to integrate end up not being able to cope with the cultural clashes they face and they take out their frustrations on their usually vulnerable children who are caught between the freer world beyond their doors and the hell at their homes – it need not be so.
What horror!
In the case of the Nigerian couple [1] jailed for brutalising their six children, it is a damning indictment of parenthood to have a 9-year old write. “My mum is the worst mum ever because she can’t cope with five of us, her broken hand and being pregnant. She always leaves me out so I always starve and I am forced to work. If I don’t get enough house work done, I am beaten without mercy with the wooden end of a broom. I have scars all over me to prove it. I can’t stay here. I would like a new mum.” Your heart just bleeds. I can honestly say, this is not Nigerian culture, it is just wickedness.
However, the one pertaining to Pakistani parents who murdered [2] their daughter for thwarting their desire to put her into a forced married in what is commonly known as an “honour killing” just shows what many children could face in the West.
Just beyond reason
The Sentencing Remarks [3 PDF] of Mr. Justice Roderick Evans in the case of R v Iftikar Ahmed and Farzana Ahmed should be classic text for the reading of any parent in an immigrant community – what reads as so particular here is as general as you can have an assessment of issues of parenting in Diaspora.
The first question he asks sets the tone for what follows. “What was it that brought you two – her parents, the people who had given her life – to the point of killing her?
Her father who apparently had lived in the United Kingdom from the age of 10 probably suffered what many multi-cultural kids suffer in being told that they are not this or that enough. Having first married a Danish lady, had issue and even lived in Denmark, there is no doubt that he had adopted Western customs and values until he returned to Pakistan to marry a village girl who appeared to roll back his years of Westernisation to the customs of rural Pakistan.
Pakistan in Warrington
The judge being almost too perceptive for words continues – “You chose to bring up your family in Warrington but, although you lived in Warrington, your social and cultural attitudes were those of rural Pakistan and it was those which you imposed upon your children.
Shafilea was a determined, able and ambitious girl who wanted to live a life which was normal in the country and in the town in which you had chosen to live and bring up your children. However, you could not tolerate the life that Shafilea wanted to live.
The judge clearly identifies with Shafilea here as what you would expect of a child; any child regardless of parental heritage born and bred in the UK. The life she wanted to life was normal for the town and country she lived in and that is where the conflicts with a distant, unknown, strange and alien rural Pakistan of her parents knew began.
You wanted your family to live in Pakistan in Warrington. Although she went to local schools, you objected to her socialising with girls from what has been referred to as “the white community”. You objected to her wearing western clothes and you objected to her having contact with boys.
The short paragraph above with what I have highlighted “Pakistan in Warrington” or “Nigeria in Peckham” is a kinder reference to the immigrant ghettos that foist strange and stringent adherence to alien community standards on the parents. The subtext here is that the United Kingdom is a white-majority country, you cannot bring your children up cocooned from that reality and culture.
Children need a reference point
She was being squeezed between two cultures, the culture and way of life that she saw around her and wanted to embrace and the culture and way of life you wanted to impose upon her.” The children sadly have no reference point for what the parents believe in.
Your problem was that, in what you referred to as your “community”, Shafilea’s conduct was bringing shame upon you and your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than your love of you (sic) child.
Therein is the real sad chapter of this heart-rending tale, the willingness of the parents to sacrifice their child on the altar of a belief system or way of life that meant more to them than the love for their child.
To have killed their daughter in the presence of her siblings and successfully used that terror to make them adhere and conform to what was literally an oath of silence for over 7 years is as evil as any parent can get.
In conclusion
For them, I really have no sympathy, there is much else the judge said that could be read in the judgement but the points I want to make are clear.
Parenthood comes with great responsibilities and along with that should be a good understanding of the environment in which your children are growing up. For them to be well-adjusted in their upbringing, it is important that the children recognise in their parents what they also see about them.
Most crucially, the children have rights, rights that will be defended to the utmost by the State; that is part of what civilisation is about, giving everyone born into this world a sense of dignity, pride and respect from the cradle to the grave.

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